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Truth in Politics

September 2012
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Two news items from this week have prompted my blog post today. These are promos for the season opener for CBC’s Marketplace and the letter written this week by three Conservative MPs to the London Free Press stating that “centrepiece” of NDP economic policy is the implementation of a carbon tax.

The Marketplace opener concerns the labeling of so-called “Green products.” It looks at some of the worst examples of misleading labeling on products. The letter to the London Free Press suggests the NDP, on election would implement a carbon tax, despite the point that a carbon tax has never been proposed by the NDP. In truth, they consistently have supported a cap-and-trade system, similar to that which was an important point in the Conservative Party’s election platform in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections.

Why are these two items related? The first concerns the fact that many terms used in labeling in Canada are not regulated. This makes some sense when one asks questions such as, “What does eco-friendly or green really mean? Given that there isn’t an empirical definition of both, expecting regulation to cover such labeling is unrealistic (on a side note, I am a little surprised to discover that the labeling term “non-toxic” isn’t regulated, either.) This means that there is no requirement to prove claims on labeling that uses these terms. In short, the terms, given their open nature, can be blatant lies. Maybe, it is past the time where some definition of these terms be determined and regulations that protect Canadians from the use of such misleading terms be enforced.

Pull quoteThe tie-in is that we expect political parties and their advertising to be truthful. After all, most people are aware that laws exist to protect us from false or misleading advertising. Therefore, many of us expect that claims made in political campaigns and advertising can be substantiated.

The body in Canada responsible for ensuring our protection from misleading or false advertising is the Advertising Standards Council. Their code outlines what can and cannot be claimed in advertisements. However, what many people do not know is that the code specifically exempts political and campaign advertising from the rules against misleading and false advertising.

Like expressions such as “green,” “earth-friendly,” and “non-toxic” on product labels, claims by political parties and politicians should also be held to a standard where we can expect such claims to be able to be substantiated. When the rules specifically permit falsehoods to be put forward as gospel truth, the rules should be rewritten to ensure our protection as citizens. After all, choosing a government every four or so years is one of our most important tasks as citizens. Doing so with some confidence that claims about other political parties can be verified should be considered a right, and may drag some campaign advertising out of the sewer where much of it seems to reside…

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