Fair Vote Canada Applauds Trudeau and May’s Commitment to Truth in Advertising Legislation

Fair Vote Canada was pleased to note that Green Party leader Elizabeth May emerged from her meeting with Justin Trudeau this week to announce the two share an interest in moving forward with truth in advertising legislation.

May stated:

“We also spoke of the need to bring in truth in advertising legislation as part of the political scene in Canada. We saw a very dirty election campaign in Canada. Our Elections Act could be reformed to include truth in advertising. He’s interested in that as well.”

Legislation on truth in advertising was part of the Green Party’s 2019 election platform. The NDP platform called for ethical and transparent government, to do more to stop the spread of disinformation and “fake news” online, and for the Auditor General to review taxpayer-funded government advertising to make sure that it is non-partisan.

Recently, the Liberal government has shown willingness to curb misinformation by legislating restrictions related only to specific kinds of lies: A political candidate’s profession, citizenship, associations and criminal offences.

These restrictions apply to the publication of misinformation, not just paid ads. This move indicates recognition by the government of a serious problem, but it means that political parties are free to advertise lies to the electorate on any other topics. Without immediate enforcement, the ability to remove an advertisement during an election period, and potentially serious or embarrassing consequences for violations, parties may have insufficient incentive to comply with the legislation. 

Fair Vote Canada is calling on the government to ensure that voters are not being lied to in political advertising, by making the legislation more comprehensive and ensuring swift and meaningful enforcement by a trusted, independent body, such as Commissioner of Elections. 

According to Réal Lavergne, Fair Vote Canada’s President, 

Canada needs an independent body to hold governments, parties and political advertisers accountable to very basic standards of honesty. Fair Vote Canada believes that voters deserve to make informed decisions based on accurate information. The very foundations of our democracy are at risk when election campaigns, referendums and public attitudes towards policy choices between elections can be shaped by advertisements that distort the truth. 

The Advertising Standards Code states:

(a) Advertisements must not contain, or directly or by implication make, inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations.

(b) Advertisements must not omit relevant information if the omission results in an advertisement that is deceptive or misleading.

Unfortunately, the Advertising Standards Code does not apply to political advertising. There is nowhere one can even file a complaint if citizens are being misinformed or manipulated.

Measures to ensure truth in political advertising are starting to take hold in other countries. In New Zealand, citizens can complain to the Advertising Commission about dishonest political advertisements. In South Australia, the Electoral Commission investigates complaints and can require a party to remove an advertisement and issue a retraction if it is determined that the advertisement is purporting to be a statement of fact that is inaccurate and misleading to a material extent.

It is time for Canada to review and enforce basic standards to ensure that political advertising is not egregiously misleading. Canadian voters deserve no less.

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Fair Vote Canada is a citizens’ campaign for proportional representation. Our position on truth in political advertising can be found at https://www.fairvote.ca/truth-in-advertising/

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