Here’s a picture of Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s plane:
Allow me to draw your attention to the “carbonzero” logo that is displayed on the fuselage.
What is carbonzero?
Carbonzero is a company that provides carbon offsets. They were commissioned by the Liberals to provide offsets for that party’s travel during the campaign so that the Liberal could say they are “carbon neutral” during the election.
Here’s an information sheet provided by Elections Canada to reflect their interpretation of the Elections Act when it comes to “The Purchase of Advertising Space at Political Events”.
I’d like to highlight sections 6, 9, 11, 13 which read:
6. Corporations and other groups or associations sometimes offer to purchase “visibility” or advertisement space at political conventions or fundraising events. They may also offer to provide certain goods or services to attendees of these events.
9. Accordingly, when a corporation purchases advertising space at a political event, the political entity that sells it must be able to establish that the amount paid by the corporation represents the commercial value for such advertising (that is, the lowest price someone who is in the business of providing advertising would charge for this service in the area where it was provided).
11. Similarly, if the advertising space to be purchased constitutes banner space at a political event, the commercial value would be the lowest rate charged for equivalent visibility of commercial advertising placement in public areas such as bus shelters, billboards, etc.
13. The political entity must also be able to demonstrate that attendees of the event represent a market for the purchaser of advertising space. If this is not the case, the transaction would constitute a contribution.
Why is this law in place? Suppose I was a political party and my candidate was giving a speech. Suppose company X wants to advertise at my event by putting up a banner. Company X figures this is worth $50,000 and hands me a bag of cash. Elections Canada would raise a red flag on this practice. Did company X really receive $50,000 worth of advertising. If not, are they circumventing the corporate donations limit?
Back to “Profess-air” (the nickname of Dion’s campaign plane) and this election. I would argue that this election campaign constitutes a political event and I’d suggest that one of three scenarios exists here.
a) Carbonzero paid the Liberal Party to put their logo on the Liberal campaign plane.
b) Because Carbonzero reflects positively on the campaign and makes the point that the Liberals are carbon-neutral, the Liberals put the logo on their plane for free.
c) The Liberal Party paid Carbonzero to put their logo on their campaign plane.
The question is: who receives value for the display of the Carbonzero logo on the Liberal campaign plane and how is this value determined?
If the display of the Carbonzero logo is valuable to the Liberals, did they pay fair market value for its display? This may go above and beyond what the Liberals paid for carbon credits. If they didn’t, it may be argued that the difference represents a corporate donation.
If the display of the Carbonzero logo is valuable to Carbonzero, did Carbonzero pay fair market value to the Liberals for advertising their company on the Liberal plane and if not, does this reflect a corporate donation?
In my opinion, it’s best for political parties to stay away from sponsorship opportunities during elections because it is very difficult to determine the value of the market (the electorate, the news media?) and it is tricky to measure which party to the sponsorship agreement benefits and to what degree. Of course, this is possible to determine in everyday real-world scenarios, but this is one that is governed by Elections Canada.