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Loophole helps teachers expand purchasing power Add to ...

Faced with a limit of $150,000 to advertise its issues during the coming provincial election campaign, the BC Teachers' Federation has found a loophole that will allow teachers to expand their purchasing power.

There are 66 B.C. teacher organizations now eligible to take out ads during the campaign.

Elections BC has registered dozens of third-party organizations - anyone other than the political parties who wants to spend money to inject their opinions into the campaign - from The Vancouver Board of Trade to the Terrace Yacht Club.

Some unions have several locals registered, but no other organization has cloned itself to the degree of the BCTF, the lead opponent of the so-called gag law that limits spending.

"We're very well organized - we're teachers," said BCTF president Irene Lanzinger.

Not only is the BCTF a registered sponsor, but every local teacher organization as well, from Abbotsford to Windermere. There is also an association for retired teachers and one that represents Vancouver elementary school teachers.

Each, in theory, could spend $150,000, although in reality most will be confined to the $3,000-per-riding rule. Under the rules, the locals cannot pool resources nor use money transferred from the BCTF to pay for ads, but they can use a portion of members' dues to run their own campaigns.

"We have followed all the rules and we are absolutely determined to get the voices of teachers out there," Ms. Lanzinger said. The government sought to limit spending by third parties to the 60 days leading up to the May 12 election, but last week the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the limit can only apply to the 28-day campaign. The province sought to have the ruling suspended but lost, prompting an advertising blitz that is expected to carry on until April 14, when the writ is dropped.

Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association, said his group expects to spend $250,000 on ads in the pre-writ period, and another $150,000 once the campaign starts. The ICBC's "VoteSmart BC" ads target the New Democratic Party as the "wrong party, wrong leader, wrong time."

Although many business organizations such as the Mining Association of British Columbia, the B.C. Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association, and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce are registered, he predicted business will be outgunned by trade unions in election spending. "It's really small business against big unions," he said. "It's a battle of flintlocks against carpet bombing."

Kenn Faris, spokesman for Elections BC, said the teachers are within the rules to register each individual local.

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