Campaigns/Elections

Worthless Canadian Initiative

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Paula Simons on Canada's election-night gag order:

Here in the U.S., by contrast, full disclosure is the name of the game.

Back in 1938, when radio was king, Canada's election law was amended to include a ban on the "premature transmission" of electoral results across time zones. The idea was to prevent radio broadcasts of election results in Eastern Canada from influencing voter behaviour in the West.

The law, frankly, was always patronizing and paternalistic. There has never been any evidence that voting patterns in the West were, or would be, influenced by results from the East. Even if they were, why should the government deny voters in the West the opportunity to cast their ballots in the most informed way possible?…

The law is even more absurd today, when our country is in the middle of an interactive social media revolution, and when more and more readers get their news not from hard copy "newspapers" but from 24-hour live news sites.

You only have to look back to 2008, when we had our last federal election, to grasp how remarkably our media ecosystem has altered in just 2 1/2 years. [The law] has been rendered obsolete by new forms of mass communication, forms of media that could hardly have been imagined in 1938.

Realistically, Elections Canada cannot possibly enforce a nationwide ban on premature tweeting or blogging or Facebooking of election results. It's the equivalent of King Canute commanding the sea to go back.

Nonetheless, John Enright, who speaks for Elections Canada, says his agency has no choice but to administer the law as written. Citizens are allowed to phone or text friends, or send private e-mails. But posting to a Facebook wall, to a webpage or to Twitter will be considered a violation.

Don't think he means it? A decade ago, the Vancouver-based blogger Paul Bryan was fined $1,000 for prematurely posting some vote totals. "He fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds, with major media outlets from across the country joining his battle," Simons writes. "It did no good. In 2007, by a vote of 5-4, the court upheld Bryan's conviction."