Law targeting new election threats

The Canadian Press
Joanna Smith

OTTAWA–The federal Liberal government wants to make it easier for Canadians to cast a ballot while making it harder for political parties–or foreign entities–to violate their privacy or persuade them who to vote for using falsehoods or vast sums of money.
“We are committed to maintaining the trust of Canadians in our democratic process,” Treasury Board president Scott Brison, who is acting as democratic institutions minister while Karina Gould is on maternity leave, said yesterday.
Brison introduced legislation yesterday meant to address several promises Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made in 2015, including by tackling how much political parties and third-party advocacy groups can spend before and during election campaigns.
It also is meant to buttress the Canadian electoral system against new threats to democracy by reining in the proliferation of so-called fake news and barring any organizations, including social media sites, from knowingly selling election advertising bought with foreign funds.
The proposed measures include forbidding the spreading of materials, whether on paper or online, designed to mislead Canadians about their source.
“Canada is not immune to threats from foreign influence and online disruption,” Brison said.
The proposed legislation, if passed, also would introduce a limit on how much political parties can spend on partisan advertising leading up to the official campaign period, which would be about $1.5 million in 2019.
There currently is no cap on the amount of money political parties can spend at that time.
Third-party advocacy groups, meanwhile, would be limited to spending $10,000 per electoral district–up to $1 million in total–on partisan advertising, activities, and election-related surveys.
After the writs are dropped, however, those third parties would be able to spend up to $500,000 in 2019.
That’s more than is currently allowed, but it would cover a wider range of activities and none of it could come from foreign entities.
Bill C-76 also would give the federal elections commissioner greater investigative powers.
Brison said that, coupled with the $7.1 million over five years in the 2018 budget, would help the watchdog improve the ability to respond–even in real time.
Still, Brison acknowledged the proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act cannot be the only solution and that the federal government would continue to work with other countries to boost cybersecurity.
“This is inherently a global issue,” Brison noted.
The bill also would push political parties to be more proactive about online privacy, an issue that hit close to home this spring when Facebook acknowledged the data of more than 620,000 Canadians likely was shared improperly with political consulting company Cambridge Analytica.
The proposed legislation would require all political parties to create and publish a policy on how they will protect the privacy of voters, including what information they are collecting from potential voters, how it will be safeguarded, and how it will be used.
Bill C-76 also contains measures to make voting easier, including by allowing someone with a disability to vote at home, and having advance polls remain open for 12 hours in an effort to reduce wait times.
It also would create a registry of Canadians aged 14-17 who would be allowed to vote within the next few years.