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Canada's Communists fight election law

By Tim Wheeler, People's Weekly World, 24 May 1997

Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) told the World this week that the CPC is fighting to overturn a repressive federal election law that barred the CPC from the ballot and confiscated its assets in 1993.

The CPC, he said, is challenging the law in the Canadian courts and has fielded 13 candidates across the country who are running hard against the Tories and other corporate- dominated parties and politicians in the Canadian elections set for June 2.

The law is the 1993 Elections Act which stipulates that political parties in Canada must field 50 candidates in each election and pay $1,000 each in registration fees, an impossibly high threshold for the CPC and many other parties that lack corporate backers.

After running eight candidates in 1993, the Party was "de- registered," ordered to sell off all its assets, pay all outstanding bills and surrender the balance to Canada's Receiver General under section 31 of the act. Two other minority parties were also de-registered.

Section 31 states that when a registered political party becomes de-registered for any reason, the chief agent of the party "shall, within three months ... liquidate the assets of the party, pay the debts of the party and remit any remaining balance to ... the Receiver General."

In other words, "once a political party has opted to become a registered party, it can never opt out," the CPC said in a statement last month. "It can never choose to run fewer than 50 candidates, as the Communist Party did in 1993. It can never choose not to run in one election, in order to support a united coalition slate for example, as has occurred in Europe and elsewhere. It can never choose to redirect its main focus and resources from the electoral arena to mass fightback in the extra-parliamentary arena."

Foes of the law won a round last week when Ontario Court Judge Anne Molloy ordered the Ontario election authorities to print ballots that identify Figueroa as the Communist Party's candidate for a seat in parliament representing a Toronto riding (district). Molloy also ordered the Ontario Attorney General to pay $20,000 to cover the Communist Party's legal costs. But a week later, a three-judge panel overturned Molloy's ruling. Arguments on the constitutionality of the law's ballot requirements are set for Nov.17.

"We're winning in the court of public opinion," Figueroa said in a telephone interview from the CPC's offices in Toronto. "It is positive in terms of Judge Molloy's ruling and all the media coverage we have received.

"We're not putting all our eggs in the legal basket" he said. "We're working on all levels. We are still running in the elections. All our literature identifies us as candidates of the Communist Party of Canada. But on the ballot, there will be a blank spot opposite our names. It makes it more difficult because voters will have to remember our names to vote for us."

There are four other CPC candidates in Ontario, three in British Columbia, two in Manitoba and one each in Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The Party's platform places "jobs the number one priority," with demands for a public works program to create two million new jobs and a 32-hour workweek with no cut in pay.

A CPC statement on the exclusion of the Party from the 1997 ballot charges that the Federal Election Act is intended to deny "regular or even reasonable access to voters during and between elections ... All told, these acts were effective in helping the big business parties to maintain their monopoly and in punishing the labor and people's parties, keeping them small and keeping them out ...

"It is in defense of the democratic rights of all Canadians that the Communist Party has launched its legal challenge, to see the worst sections of the act struck down and repealed. The cause of securing democratic electoral laws and fundamental democratic rights is a just and righteous cause. Democracy today is everybody's business."

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