Alberta's election laws are muzzling a labour-sponsored web campaign calling for higher provincial corporate taxes, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour.
After Alberta Premier Jim Prentice announced that slack would be created in the provincial budget through cuts to public sector wages, a coalition of public-sector unions launched the Better Way Alberta campaign in early March, 2015.
The $500,000 campaign is aimed at saving public services from deep cuts, and encouraging the provincial government to address its budget woes by fixing what the unions call the province's broken revenue system.
In a press release the Alberta Federation of Labour wrote that the campaign website gave Albertans the opportunity to "explore the various ways in which the provincial government has destroyed the revenue system, and given away billions of dollars to big corporations and to very wealthy individuals."
Or at least, that's what the website was intended to do, before it was shut down.
Since the election was officially announced on Tuesday, April 7, the website has been deemed to be in violation of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act (EFCDA), which regulates third-party spending during elections.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, which maintains the website, is not allowed to register as a third-party advertiser under these rules.
To avoid incurring major fines, the AFL is complying with the legislation and closing the website for the duration of the elections.
"We are not necessarily opposed to restrictions on third-party advertising during elections," said AFL president Gil McGowan in a press release, "The government's goal when they introduced the current Elections Finance Act was to stop organizations with deep pockets from flooding the airwaves during campaigns -- and we support that goal. However, they've gone too far when they start telling advocacy groups that they have to shut down their websites."
According to the law, any piece of text, audio, or video that is intended to persuade the public on issues related to government policy and has been paid for by anyone other than a political party, will be deemed political advertisement for the purposes of the Act. The Alberta Federation of Labour points out that this means that many documents produced by right-wing and libertarian could also be deemed unlawful campaign advertisements.
"Yet, it's only the Better Way Alberta campaign -- which calls for increased taxes on corporate profits instead of cuts to public services -- that is being shut down. That's a double standard," said McGowan. "And it leads me to believe that this law isn't really about protecting the public interest and the sanctity of elections; it's about muzzling individuals and groups who disagree with the government."
The AFL says that it will consider legal recourse, such as launching a Charter challenge against the Elections Act on the grounds that it violates union members' right to free speech.
Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern and an associate editor at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.
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