If you want to run in a federal election, you have to meet certain requirements before Elections Canada will accept your nomination. They include gathering 100 signatures from voters in the riding you want to run in, a witness who will swear that those signatures were honestly provided, and – until last week – a $1,000 deposit.
A judge in Alberta ruled in October that the first two requirements are fine but the deposit is unconstitutional, because it raises an unreasonable hurdle for poorer Canadians who want to run for federal office.
The question now is, will Ottawa appeal? It shouldn't.
The case was brought by an Edmonton man who was barred from running as an independent in the 2015 general election because he didn't meet all the necessary requirements. Kieran Szuchewycz subsequently challenged the three rules mentioned above.
The judge found the first two – gathering 100 signatures and getting a witness to swear to their legitimacy – are reasonable limits on Canadians' Charter right to run for office.
But the $1,000 deposit was another matter. The need for a deposit was brought in more than 100 years ago to prevent "frivolous" candidates from running in federal elections. But, as Justice Avril Inglis noted, the rules don't define what constitutes a "frivolous" candidate. As well, "the deposit requirement cannot be said to be rationally connected to that objective" – in other words, any Donald Trump with $1,000 can run, while an intelligent, serious candidate who is short of funds can't.
The fact that the deposit is refundable if a candidate files paperwork after an election makes no difference, the judge said. In reality, all it does is serve as a filter "for those that cannot part with $1,000 for the duration of the election."
Independent candidates are part of a healthy democracy. They bring ideas and viewpoints to constituency races that are outside the boilerplate discourse of the major registered political parties.
And they do it with little hope of winning. The average candidate from one of the major federal parties spent well over $50,000 in the 2015 election, in addition to each party's national spending. The average independent candidate, in contrast, spent less than $5,000. And not one of them was elected.
That's not being frivolous. That's being courageous.