Pre-election ad spree makes mockery of campaign spending limits: senator

Federal political parties are being challenged to publicly disclose how much taxpayer-subsidized money they’re spending on advertising during the unregulated pre-election season.

OTTAWA — Federal political parties are being challenged to publicly disclose how much taxpayer-subsidized money they’re spending on advertising during the unregulated pre-election season.

The advent of fixed dates for federal elections has turned the months leading up to the Oct. 19 national vote into a spending free-for-all.

Sen. Dennis Dawson says that makes a mockery of the strict spending limits imposed during election campaigns, which are meant to reduce the influence of money and level the playing field for all parties.

Dawson, who sits as a Liberal senator, had hoped to compel parties to disclose how much they spend on advertising in the three months before an election is formally called, and to have that count against their campaign spending limit.

But two attempts to pass a private member’s bill to that effect have gone nowhere.

So Dawson is now calling on the parties to voluntarily disclose how much they spend on advertising in the three months before the writ is dropped for the October vote.

Canadians have a right to know how much is being spent trying to win their votes, he said in an interview.

“If you’re going to be buying them, at least tell them how much you paid for them.”

Dawson is also calling on the parties to promise, as part of their election platforms, to put an end to “Wild West” pre-election spending — what he considers a “perversion” of campaign spending rules caused by the imposition of fixed election dates.

“When you didn’t have a fixed election date, you didn’t waste your money because you didn’t know if the election was going to be held six months later or a year and a half later. So there was a sort of self-discipline,” he said.

“Now that you know that the writ will be dropped in September, you’ve seen them all start spending over the last few days, few weeks, and you can only imagine that it’s just going to get worse.”

Last week, all three main parties released new television ads. None of the parties would reveal how much is being spent on them.

However, the Liberals said their latest offering constitutes the party’s largest ad buy ever, outside an election writ period. And the NDP said it was spending in “seven figures” for their ad.

Unions and advocacy groups, whose spending is strictly limited after an election is called, are also taking advantage of the unregulated pre-writ period to broadcast radio ads.

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