We are losing our most basic, fundamental, democratic rights in our polling-based, follow-the-leader, horse-race, media-manipulated politics.

Many decades ago in Canada, political party names were not even on ballots.

The party membership approved the campaign policies their leaders and candidates ran on, which were implemented by those who won power.

Elected MPs and MPPs represented their constituents, were listened to by their leaders and were allowed to vote with their consciences.

Today, party members have been reduced to little more than cheerleaders and campaign backdrops.

The leader’s office — in or out of government — manipulates local candidate nominations, party executive elections, party policy and constitution conventions, dismissing or not even allowing appeals.

Incumbent federal Liberal MPs are seeking exemption from local nomination races.

There are complaints and lawsuits by would-be candidates for the Ontario Progressive Conservative party heading into next year’s provincial election.

Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne recently appeared as a witness for the Crown at an ongoing trial involving allegations of bribery by senior Liberals during a 2015 byelection in Sudbury.

In the face of all this, newly-appointed Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Ian Nordheimer made a ground-breaking ruling in a recent Ontario Superior Court case involving judicial review of the federal NDP’s refusal to approve a leadership candidate.

While ruling against the candidate’s bid to insert himself into the race, Justice Nordheimer also found: “The decisions that political parties, especially the major political parties, make in terms of the candidates they put forward, the policies they adopt, and the leader that they choose, do have a very serious effect on the rights and interests of the entire voting public. The voting public, therefore, has a very direct and significant interest in ensuring that the activities of political parties are carried out in a proper, open and transparent manner.”

While corporate and union campaign contributions of cash and goods and services that promote or oppose a candidate are now being made illegal in some jurisdictions, the loopholes in election and broadcasting laws and regulations regarding “bona fide” partisan political news coverage have not been closed.

The lack of enforcement of existing “equitable” time rules in our broadcasting and election laws by government agencies and election officials, has allowed US social media corporations to affect our elections in harmful ways.

Social and new media companies also follow our mainstream media’s egregious restrictions on election debates, by working with the major parties, private organizations and special interest groups to exclude leadership candidates from any but the major political parties.

(Sun Media is one of the few media companies that regularly publishes articles and editorials written about and by smaller parties.)

South of the border, the U.S. Federal Court recently ordered the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to properly deal with longstanding complaints about excluding small party candidates from presidential debates, effectively giving an enormous financial advantage to the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees.

The University of Pennsylvania Law School’s, The Regulatory Review, reported that a recent FCC complaint included evidence that getting a 15% showing in national polls in a presidential race, “is virtually impossible” without the financial support of a major political party.

In other words, a third-party presidential candidate would have to raise an unheard of amount of over $250 million, simply to participate in a presidential debate.

To achieve a 5% threshold in Canada in order to be included in leadership debates, polls and mainstream media coverage, a smaller or new political party would have to spend many times the total legal campaign limit.

The commercial value of what are, in effect, corporate contributions by the mainstream media to the political campaigns of the major political parties, through political news coverage of their leaders and campaigns during elections, are worth millions of dollars in every election.

With little coverage by the media, and exclusion from major televised debates, how can smaller and new political parties ever get to the 2-5% threshold of votes cast to even qualify for subsidies?

The new NDP BC government has introduced similar legislation to that in Ontario and Ottawa that effectively tilt political campaign subsidies in favour of the large and established political parties.

It is past time that all voters and candidates, including those of smaller and new political parties, should be empowered to participate in free and fair elections on a level playing field, respected by the major parties, pollsters, media and election officials.

Vezina is co-author of Democracy Eh? A Guide to Voter Action and Leader of Ontario’s None of the Above Party.

[source: http://www.torontosun.com/2017/09/23/democracy-eh]