Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the second reading of debate of Bill C-406. This bill was introduced by the member for Red Deer—Lacombe in June of 2018, and seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act to prohibit foreign contributions to third parties for election advertising purposes.
This bill is no longer necessary, as our government has taken important steps in solving that issue that Bill C-406 seeks to address. For context, in June of 2017, the Standing Committee on Legal and and Constitutional Affairs in the Senate issued a report entitled “Controlling Foreign Influence in Canadian Elections”, which expressed concern that the Canada Elections Act “does not sufficiently protect [Canadians] from improper foreign interference” and argued that the third party election advertising regime needed to be modernized to ensure transparency and fairness.
Additionally, the Communications Security Establishment has a new report entitled “2019 Update: Cyber Threats to Canada's Democratic Process”. It concluded that it is “very likely that Canadian voters will encounter...foreign cyber interference [ahead of and during] the 2019 general election”.
Bill C-406 is part of a broader conversation regarding the role of money in Canadian politics and the potential for foreign actors to influence Canadian elections. Our government takes this issue very seriously. We understand the importance of ensuring a level playing field in our elections and protecting Canadians from foreign interference.
We are taking a whole-of-government approach to protecting the integrity of Canada's democracy by implementing initiatives to defend the Canadian electoral process from hacking and malicious cyber-activities. That is why our government announced, on January 30, the Government of Canada's plan to safeguard Canada's 2019 election. This plan is built on four pillars: combatting foreign interference, strengthening organizational readiness, encouraging social media platforms to act and enhancing citizen preparedness. Furthermore, we have three world-leading front-line security agencies that constantly adapt to an evolving threat environment.
Canada has a robust political financing regime informed by decades of reform and regulation, but we recognize that we are not immune to these threats and have made it even stronger. Our government has taken further steps to protect our elections by passing Bill C-76, Elections Modernization Act, which received royal assent late last year. The act is a generational change to Canada's electoral legislation and draws on inspiration from the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, the commissioner of Canada elections, studies by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, as well as stakeholder engagement.
As part of her mandate, the Minister of Democratic Institutions reviewed spending limits for both political parties and third parties. This review also examined third party financing and the potential impacts of foreign contributions and interference in Canada. As such, Bill C-76 already addresses many of the same issues that Bill C-406 is trying to solve, which makes the measures proposed by the member for Red Deer—Lacombe unnecessary.
With the passage of Bill C-76, foreign entities will no longer be able to spend any money to influence federal elections, and third parties are now prohibited from using foreign funds for their partisan activities and advertising, irrespective of when it is taking place. This is key. It means that even outside of the pre-writ and writ periods, no one is allowed to use foreign funds to support partisan activities and advertising.
Bill C-76 goes further, as all registered third parties are now required to have a Canadian bank account, and any organization, online or offline, that sells advertising space is now prohibited from knowingly running advertisements paid for by a foreign entity. The investigatory powers of the commissioner of Canada elections have also been enhanced so that he has more tools to do his job of ensuring the integrity of our elections.
This is a bit self-serving, as I am a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, but I would like to thank the members of that committee for their study of the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations and Bill C-76. Our electoral system, because of that work, is more secure, transparent and protected from undue foreign influence.
Furthermore, while the spirit of Bill C-406 is laudable, the mechanisms outlined in this legislation would largely be ineffective.
Instead, we took a more pragmatic approach. Bill C-76 would prohibit Canadian third parties from using foreign contributions. With Bill C-76, we developed a more comprehensive and workable regime to support our common interests, which is to ensure that Canadian elections are for and by Canadians.
In a previous session, we noted drafting errors in Bill C-406 that make the provisions difficult to enforce. Bill C-406 refers to subsection 363(1.1) of the Canada Elections Act, which is a provision that does not exist either in the act or in Bill C-76.
Bill C-406 would also create two new prohibitions on foreign contributions but neglects to enact corresponding offences, which would lead to significant enforcement difficulties. The two must go hand in hand, and they are absent in this legislation.
Additionally, Bill C-406 misplaces the new rules regarding third party election advertising, putting them in part 18 of the Canada Elections Act, the part that deals with financial administration of political entities, and not in part 17 of the act, which deals with third party election advertising.
I want to thank the member for Red Deer—Lacombe for his continued efforts in addressing the important discussion of foreign interference in our elections.
As a side note, I hope he takes these concerns to the office of the Leader of the Opposition, because we have heard troubling reports of secret meetings behind closed doors with big oil and reports of the Conservatives' ties to the United States and to the Koch brothers. We do not hear that in the speeches by the hon. members on the other side.
Now there is a lot of discussion. I think I have touched a nerve in expressing the concerns from Canadians that the Conservative Party is engaging with foreign actors. That should be worrisome to all Canadians.
I hope members on the other side will take the opportunity to speak to their leader's office and condemn those actions. There is laughter, and I do not know why, as this is a serious issue. I guess the hon. members enjoy their relationship with the Koch brothers.