Feds beef up bill to prevent foreign interference in Canadian elections

Making it easier for Canadians to vote and harder for foreign entities to interfere

The Trudeau government is beefing up legislation aimed at making it easier for Canadians to vote and harder for foreign entities to interfere in federal elections.

It has sponsored a number of amendments to Bill C-76, including one that would ban advocacy groups from ever using money from foreign entities to conduct partisan campaigns.

When the bill was introduced last spring, the government proposed only to prohibit the use of foreign money by so-called third parties during the weeks immediately prior to an election being called and during the actual campaign, known as the pre-writ and writ periods.

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It is now proposing a blanket ban on the use of foreign funds at any time for the purpose of supporting or opposing a political party or candidate.

The government is also sponsoring an amendment that would require online platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to create a registry of all digital advertisements placed by political parties or third parties during the pre-writ and writ periods and to ensure they remain visible to the public for two years.

Facebook allows users to view current partisan ads but they disappear from the platform once the ad buy wraps up.

The government is also proposing a number of other amendments, primarily aimed at bolstering the ability of Elections Canada to enforce election laws.

Bill C-76 is an omnibus bill that would reverse a number of changes wrought by the previous Conservative administration’s widely denounced Fair Elections Act. The new legislation would restore the use of voter information cards as a valid form of identification and do away with measures that critics argued were designed to benefit the deep-pocketed Tories.

Among other things, it would limit spending by parties and advocacy groups during the three-month period before an election is officially called. Conservatives, who’ve been stalling the bill at committee since last spring, argue that unless government spending announcements, ads and ministerial travel are banned at the same time, the pre-writ spending cap amounts to Liberals trying to rig next year’s election in their favour.

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The bill also represents a first stab at grappling with the spectre of social media being abused by bad actors — foreign or domestic — to manipulate the results of an election, exacerbate societal divisions, amplify hate messages or instill distrust in the electoral system. It comes in the wake of scandal over Russian interference in the last U.S. presidential contest and the misuse of personal information of millions of Facebook users during the United Kingdom’s Brexit campaign.

Among other things, the bill would require political parties to put in place and publish policies designed to protect the privacy of Canadians whose personal information winds up in their massive voter data bases. But there would be no requirement for independent monitoring or enforcement of those policies.

New Democrats are seeking to amend the bill so that privacy laws would apply to political parties. They’re also proposing to change the traditional Monday voting day in Canada to Sunday.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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