By Dale Miller
Proposed revisions to the SU’s election bylaws may not be unconstitutional, but according to a constitutional law expert they are too restrictive to political speech.
“Political speech is the most important form of speech,” said Dr. Patricia Hughes, Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. “Any restrictions have to be carefully justified, they have to have a very good reason for doing it, and they have to be as narrow as possible in terms of not restricting it unnecessarily.”
The Students’ Union wishes to revise their election bylaws to prevent individual candidates from pooling their money behind a single candidate to give him an unfair advantage, as was seen in this year’s General Election.
To prevent the concentration of funds, the revised bylaws would state that a “candidate shall not make reference to the identity of another candidate on campaign materials.”
After its first reading in the July 27 Students’ Legislative Council the proposal was amended to exempt webpages, email, media interviews and references made by a candidate to other candidates nominated for the same contested position.
There is no mention of election funds in the proposed revisions.
“One thing that is interesting is the restriction on naming anyone in the campaign materials,” said Dr. Hughes. “[The SU] have given a good explanation as to why they’re saying that, but they clearly mean it to be a way of people getting around the [funding] cap by focusing on one person. That’s a bit broad, and the court might say that you should write in a way that gets at the actual issue you are concerned about and not restrict everybody from doing that.”
According to Dr. Hughes the Supreme Court of Canada has recently ruled some spending restrictions in elections as justifiable. She also felt any restriction to political free speech would be unacceptable in an election affected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Currently there are no such restrictions in municipal, provincial or federal elections.
“Imagine a federal election where you couldn’t refer to another candidate in your material? Imagine the American election without the Democrats referring to George Bush?” she asked. “I think that would be difficult.”