There are many ways in which political parties and governments can promote their agendas through the media and other activities. PACs or Political Action Committees are a common vehicle for doing this in the US.
In the US, PAC's are a legally-defined type of organization meant to promote various causes. Often they are simply used to promote large companies such as Pepsi or groups of professionals such as the American Banker's Association. When the organizations have a political link they often use their names to hide this link as in Republican's Mitt Romney's Super PAC Restore Our Future. In Canada, these types of organizations would be called "third parties". Before election campaigns, they and the political parties are able to advertise and spend free of the restrictions on spending that apply during the period of a formal campaign. We are already seeing American style attack ads on our TV screens.HarperPAC was apparently designed to counter union-backed ads. However, it did sponsor a radio ad targeting the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. After less than a week, its website shut down last Thursday. HarperPAC was started by a group that included a number of former Conservative staff members. The name and those running the third party group clearly brand it as on behalf of the Conservative government and party even using the last name of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its name. Perhaps Harper and the government may have decided that is a very bad idea given that Harper's ratings are not that high.The union-backed group that HarperPAC was meant to combat calls itself "Engage Canada". That group was started by former NDP and Liberal strategists. It is more anti-Harper policies rather than a direct promoter of either the Liberals, NDP, or unions. Its name sounds positively non-partisan compared to HarperPAC. Spokesperson for the Conservative Party, Kory Teneycke,pointed out a serious problem for the party in that the HarperPAC was using the name of the prime minister and raised money and ran advertising without input or control or even association with the Conservative election campaign. He said that Conservative supporters should show their support by donations at the party website:There are many ways in which various lobby groups can influence party policies. Stephen Harper himself was at one time president of the National Citizen's Coalition(NCC) The NCC early on campaigned against "socialized medicine" and the Canada Health Act. It now supports privatization, tax cuts, and government spending cuts. It opposes electoral laws that limit third party spending and wants "more freedom through less government". The NCC holds no annual membership meetings and does not provide financial statements to members. The group has headquarters in Toronto and an estimated annual budget of $2.8 million. dollars. There are also many "think tanks" that support either right-leaning or left-leaning policies. On the right there is the well known Fraser Institute and on the left Canadian Policy Alternatives. Many corporate bodies also push for policies that may help one party rather than others. For example the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has a great many ads promoting the type of energy development supported by the Harper government. A sample is appended but they are ubiquitous on TV. A very significant source of promotion for policies of the ruling party are government sponsored information ads which often combine limited information often one-sided with promotion of government policy or feel good shots as in the one appended starring cute and cuddly Stephen Harper and pandas.The former Canadian chief electoral officer worries that influence from big money using political action campaigns will undo decades of work that have tried to remove that influence from Canadian politics:
"What we were concerned with in this particular case is to a reasonable person, it appeared to be us. It appeared to be the Conservative Party, it appeared to be the prime minister,This other approach is sort of misleading and that's why we wanted to put an end to the use of, really, our name and our brand."He said there was no communication between the party and the group. This sounds very strange that people so close to the party would set up something like this and not communicate with the party and use Harper's name without discussing this with him and party officials. There are already anti-union groups working to counter groups such as "Engage Canada". The group "Working Canadians" is said to aim at countering excessive union influence over government, the economy, and society.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley says Canada is headed down the road well trodden in the United States, where political action committees, or PACs, raise and spend staggering amounts of money to influence elections, without the same restrictions that apply to political parties.The introduction of fixed dates for elections has resulted in many third party groups spending huge amounts on advertising without any restrictions before the actual election campaign period. Kingsley also said that the development was inspired by the American example. Kingsley complains:
"We are in, effectively, a free-for-all zone. It took us 40 years of scandal, sweat to come to a regime where we had the best in the world for control of money in politics ... now we are back in the jungle."While the NDP and Liberals are promoting their own anti-Harper campaign through the Engage Canada group and are also spending huge sums on ads themselves before the election campaign starts, the NDP at least has used the short-lived HarperPAC as a fund-raising device:
"This week, we learned that Stephen Harper's friends have set up a U.S.-style group called the HarperPAC to spend an obscene amount of money on Harper's re-election. It's the kind of money we've never seen before in Canadian politics, and it's up to us to fight back right now."I expect that HarperPAC like the Phoenix will rise from its ashes but with a thorough rebranding.