moved that Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (foreign contributions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, Canadian citizens hold the basic fundamental expectation that when they vote, that when they cast their ballot to determine their local representative, the composition of the House of Commons and the political direction of our country, their voice will matter. Unfortunately, in previous general elections the voice of every Canadian citizen has been drowned out, diminished and undermined by foreign entities that would unduly influence our legitimate and democratic electoral process.
Foreign interference has been widely reported in elections in numerous other democratic countries, and Canada is by no means different. Our electoral process is just as vulnerable to the sort of undue foreign influence we have seen take place in the United States, in Britain and elsewhere.
This occurs in our country most frequently through the wilful contravention of the Canada Elections Act, whereby registered third parties receive contributions from foreign entities, which are subsequently used to fund various political activities, including for election advertising purposes.
The need to prohibit such foreign influence is clear. Canada's former chief elector officer from 1990 to 2007, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, stated unequivocally:
We simply cannot allow any kind of money that is not Canadian to find its way into the Canadian electoral system...A general election is a national event, it’s not an international event and foreign interests have no place and for them to have found a back door like this, that is not acceptable to Canadians.
I think the overwhelming majority of Canadians care about foreign money playing a role in our elections, regardless of what party they favour. This issue is about the overall fairness of our elections, about keeping a level playing field.
Last year, the former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director and national security adviser, Richard Fadden, confirmed that it was very likely that foreign countries had attempted to influence the 2015 general election.
Looking ahead, a report by the Communications Security Establishment found that foreign entities were well positioned to influence the next federal election and that Canada would not be immune from it.
Indeed, prior to and during the last federal election, numerous registered third-party organizations in Canada received significant contributions from foreign entities to achieve certain political objectives.
For instance, the Tides Foundation, which is based in the United States, donated more than $1.5 million to numerous different third-party organizations in Canada. Leadnow, one such third-party organization, which was one of the most active third parties in the last election itself, attributes more than 17% of its funding from foreign sources. Each of these groups spent thousands and thousands of dollars in elections advertising in the 2015 general election.
Meanwhile, the number of registered third-party groups is higher than ever, as are concerns about them. Between the previous two elections alone, complaints about third-party groups by everyday Canadians increased by 750%, from just 12 in 2011 to 105 in 2015. Sadly, many of the political causes advocated by these groups directly benefit the economic or political interests of foreign countries and directly disadvantage the economic and political interests of Canada.
As the member of Parliament for Red Deer—Lacombe, I am particularly concerned, as are my constituents, that many third-party groups receiving foreign contributions for elections advertising purposes are dedicated solely to undermining the Canadian oil and gas sector. This is no secret. Amid record low oil prices in Canada, foreign entities like the Tides Foundation have trumpeted their accomplishments in preventing Canadian oil from reaching international markets. Their success in doing so can be attributed in part to their ability to finance the elections advertising of collaborative third-party groups.
Numerous instances of this kind of foreign influence have been revealed through the dedicated work of researcher, Vivian Krause. Vivian has worked tirelessly to follow the money trail and uncover the many connections between U.S. oil interests and Canadian environmental groups that are working together and making use of elections law loopholes against the interests of the broader Canadian public.
However, this is just one of many issues related to foreign influence. Foreign influence in all our elections should be of concern to all members of the House and all Canadians, regardless of their political persuasion.
Why are we allowing foreign entities to influence our elections in this manner?
This question was formally investigated by the Commissioner of Canada Elections at the behest of my colleague, the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton. The commissioner's office determined that third parties are subject to much less stringent regulations than other political entities but concluded that there was no technical breach of the Canada Elections Act, as it is currently written.
Crucially, the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections noted that pursuant to subsection 359(4) of the act, there is no requirement for a registered third party to report to Elections Canada funds used for election advertising if those funds were received outside the period beginning six months before the issue of the writ and ending on election day. Therefore, in effect, foreign entities or organizations like the Tides Foundation are currently permitted to make unregulated financial contributions to third-party organizations for election advertising outside the pre-writ period. These sorts of contributions would otherwise be prohibited at any other time.
From this it is clear that there exists a serious loophole in the Canada Elections Act that must be addressed. We must stem the significant flow of foreign money in our elections and help restore the full sovereignty of our democratic process. It is for this reason I introduced the legislation before us.
Bill C-406 would address the growing issue of foreign influence in Canadian elections by prohibiting foreign entities from contributing to third parties for election advertising purposes at any time. Bill C-406 would also amend the Canada Elections Act to include this prohibition and would require any ineligible contributions to be either returned by the domestic third party to the contributor or to the Receiver General. With this prohibition in place, foreign entities would no longer be able to shamelessly flout the Canada Elections Act. Consequently, their ability to undermine our electoral process and unduly determine the political discourse in this country would be severely diminished. These measures would preserve the sovereign principle that Canadians, and Canadians alone, should decide who governs on their behalf.
The issue of election reform, including the undue influence of foreign entities, was debated in this chamber recently as we considered the provisions within the government's bill, Bill C-76. At that time, members on the government side explicitly stated that they consider this to be an issue of real concern. I note that the hon. member for Whitby declared that “Canadian elections belong to Canadians, and it is not the place of foreigners to have a say in who should have a place in this chamber.” Similarly, the hon. member for Humber River-Black Creek admitted that the last federal election was subjected to foreign influence and expressed her desire to see legislation that makes it “more difficult for the bad actors that we have out there to influence our elections.” Even the hon. Minister of Democratic Institutions stated that she supports measures that will “prevent foreign interference in our elections that could undermine trust in our democracy.” These are Liberal MPs.
I could go on, but regardless of my objections to aspects of Bill C-76, while debating that legislation, members opposite made it clear that they believe foreign influence to be a problem that needs to be addressed, particularly as another election will soon be upon us.
Members on the government side might like to suggest that Bill C-76, the elections modernization act, which is now being studied in the other place, renders the provisions to eliminate foreign influence in Canadian elections within my bill, Bill C-406, redundant. However, I can assure members that this is not the case. While Bill C-76 contains provisions to prohibit third parties from utilizing foreign money for the purposes of election advertising, Bill C-406 would prohibit the foreign entities themselves from contributing to domestic third parties in the first place. Therefore, the enactment of the provisions in Bill C-76 and Bill C-406 would be complementary, rather than contradictory or redundant.
Given that foreign entities are currently contravening the existing prohibitions concerning elections advertising in the Canada Elections Act, having further measures in place to prevent this from happening would be the most sensible thing to do and would prevent any uncertainty about compliance for domestic third parties here in Canada and for foreign entities elsewhere.
By ensuring that the legal prohibitions apply both to the contributing foreign entities and the recipient domestic third parties, Canadians will be much more assured in the security and sovereignty of our electoral process and in the legitimacy of their government.
It is undeniable that we live in an age of rampant misinformation, political disruption and an acute lack of confidence in traditional institutions. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, Canadians' trust in media, NGOs, businesses and government declined in 2017, and more than half of Canadians lost faith in the system. This should be concerning for all members of the House, especially since the barometer also indicates that the credibility of its own leadership is also declining among Canadians.
It is for this reason that Canadians especially deserve to have full confidence that our elections will not be tampered with or interfered in by foreign entities.
Members should take their seats here following an election only because they have the confidence and trust of their constituents who placed them here. Members should not have a seat here because some foreign entity preferred one candidate or party over another to pursue its own personal objectives and was able to use its significant resources to sway certain elections from abroad.
In less than a year's time, Canadians will have returned to the ballot box once more to have their voices heard. Enacting Bill C-406 before then to prevent foreign influence in our elections would go a long way in rebuilding the trust of Canadians in their institutions and, in particular, the validity of our election process and the credibility of the government.
The alternative is troubling to consider. Without the prohibitions within Bill C-406, our elections will be determined not by Canadians alone, not by those who have a vested interest in what is best for our country, but by those who have a vested interest in their own objectives, which almost certainly will not be in the best interests of Canada.
Worse still, if this practice continues unabated, Canadians will lose all faith in their electoral process and in the government itself, regardless of which party is in power. Such a profound loss of faith will be very difficult to earn back once it has been lost.
In the past few months, we have heard from the experts and officials responsible for administering our elections, as well as those who are tasked with keeping our nation and its institutions secure. Each of them has said that the issue of foreign influence in our elections is of concern, and is something that needs to be addressed prior to the election next year. Members from both sides of the chamber have echoed this sentiment and have shown support for other measures that would help curb foreign influence in our elections.
It is my sincere hope that all members of the House will take this warning to heart and join me in supporting Bill C-406. By doing so, members of Parliament will not only be ensuring that foreign entities can no longer unduly influence our elections, but they would also be sending a clear and specific message to all Canadians, that their voices matter and their voices will not be undermined or drowned out by those who should have no place or no say in our electoral process.