An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (foreign contributions)

Sponsor

Blaine Calkins  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of May 8, 2019

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-406.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to prohibit foreign contributions to third parties for election advertising purposes.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 8, 2019 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (foreign contributions)

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2019 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-406 under Private Members' Business.

The House resumed from May 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (foreign contributions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2019 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Madam Speaker, first of all, I want to thank all my colleagues in this House for taking the opportunity to speak to this bill. I do not agree with all the information I have heard, but I appreciate the fact that we have had the debate.

I must take umbrage with some of the arguments that have been used against this piece of legislation. We have heard opposition MPs say that this bill is extrajudicial and would cause problems and that we cannot enforce this law outside our borders. That is simply not true. This is actually about registered third parties inside Canada and whether they accept money from overseas. That is a simple thing to do. There is no extrajudicial or extraterritorial component to this piece of legislation, because it deals with the Canada Elections Act and registered third parties in Canada.

As for the penalties, I have heard it suggested that there is no penalty section. There is a catch-all penalty provision in every piece of legislation. There does not need to be. It is just a red herring thrown in. There do not need to be any specific penalties laid out because the general catch-all provisions in the Canada Elections Act for penalties are already there.

Speakers talked about whether Bill C-76 addresses this problem. It clearly does not. Bill C-76 does not address this problem, because it actually continues to allow third parties to receive foreign funding from foreign entities, be they state actors, individuals, corporations or other third party organizations registered as charitable organizations elsewhere in the world. What it requires is that if that money is actually used for an election purpose, an investigation has to be conducted by the election officials. At that particular time, one cannot sort out the molecules of where the money actually came from, just as one cannot sort out the molecules of what oil patch the gasoline in one's car came from. One cannot sort that stuff out at that point.

Bill C-76 actually allows backdoor financing from state actors, corporations that are not registered or are not conducting business in Canada, individuals, foundations and organizations to influence Canadian elections, especially in election advertising in the pre-writ and writ periods. That is the period leading up to an election and the period of the election itself.

Why on earth would we have laws that say that only Canadian individuals are allowed to donate to political parties for the purpose of an election and then allow unions and corporate interests and other interests outside our country to fund third parties during an election in Canada to change the results, the results, by the way, that organizations like Leadnow proudly display in their campaigns?

Is Leadnow, as a Canadian organization, allowed to engage in the politics of Canada? Of course it is. All my bill is saying is that if it makes the choice to take that money from outside Canada's borders, it cannot use it anymore. It cannot be allowed to participate in the election game, because it is not fair. If it cannot convince Canadians to donate to its cause and take part in what it is trying to do, it should not be allowed to justify the ends by means of getting money from outside Canada's borders.

It is not just small groups of individuals at bake sales. Leadnow, Tides and others are using things like the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation initiative or things like the PNCIMA initiative to have massive amounts of foreign money coming into British Columbia and the eastern slopes of Alberta to block pipeline projects. It is disingenuous for the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley to say that it is a couple of people and a bake sale trying to stop a pipeline. It is simply not true. It is maybe one story out of 100 about foreign money influencing that pipeline project.

This bill, Bill C-406, is a good piece of legislation. It basically says that if one is going to get involved in the election, one should know in advance that if one takes money from outside the country, one will not be allowed to play in the game anymore, because it is cheating. It is cheating because elections belong to Canadians. Only Canadians should be allowed, with their opinions, with their information and with their money, to decide the fate of our country.

One can only assume, then, why other political parties in here would not have the patriotic sense of duty to ensure that our elections are free, fair and only conducted in the realm of the Canadian intellectual space, the economic space and the debate space we have during these elections. One can only assume that if members vote against this legislation, it is because they are willing to use any means possible to justify whatever ends they want. That means that they are willing to sell Canada's soul down the road for a little bit of money to pay for an election campaign.

Every time the rules are circumvented, trust and confidence are eroded. If we are going to have trust and confidence in our electoral process, we should send a signal loud and clear to the Canadian people that we are not putting up with it anymore by voting in favour of Bill C-406.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2019 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Madam Speaker, in light of the words of the member for St. Catharines, always when we open fire on others, we have to understand that if people have a house made of glass, they do not throw stones. This is what happened with the government side. The Tides Foundation's fingerprints are everywhere in the last election and that situation continues now. This is not a time to start pointing fingers at one another.

Bill C-406 is a great example addressing the need to strengthen our system and our democracy in order to be able to protect our system from any manipulation and any interference from the other side. I was hoping that the member for St. Catharines from the government side would have taken this opportunity to appreciate the notion of the bill and what it intends to do as it is coming from the official opposition, our Conservative Party.

I am very pleased to to rise today and speak to the legislation of my colleague, the member for Red Deer—Lacombe. Bill C-406, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act with regard to foreign contributions, which, if passed, would prohibit foreign entities from contributing funds to Canadian third party groups for election advertising.

This legislation is not only vitally important but is also very timely. With the next election just around the corner, this legislation is a way that we can take a tangible step to safeguard our democracy from foreign actors looking to insert themselves into our democratic process for malicious and self-serving reasons.

The world has been changing rapidly, and we now know without a shadow of a doubt that there those who are trying to undermine the political systems of democracies across the world. There are people and organizations out there that want to attack our political system and the freedom that it represents. With all the technologies that have been developed over the past decade, their access has been greater.

The time when only complex state actors can interfere is over. Small organizations can have a significant impact. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Democratic Institutions have made it clear that they are expecting foreign actors to try to interfere.

As Canadians, we have a duty to combat this, but I believe that the onus on us as parliamentarians is even greater, and I look forward to voting in favour of this legislation and encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to support it. This is a call to the government to stop playing politics with useful bills and start supporting those bills that are going to enhance our democracy and our democratic systems.

We all know why this legislation is important. Canadian elections should be decided by Canadians. It is fundamental to our political system. Bill C-406 would change the Canada Elections Act to prohibit foreign entities from donating to third parties for the purpose of advertising.

In terms of who it prevents from contributing, it uses the criteria already previously established in the act. If those contributions are made to a third party for political advertising, the official representative of that third party will have an obligation to return contributions, unused, to the contributor. If that is not possible, the same amount of the contribution or the equivalent value of it, if it is not monetary, must be paid to the Receiver General. All these things must be done within 30 days of determining that the contribution was ineligible.

This is very reasonable and will prevent a repeat of what occurred in the last election, when money was funnelled in from outside the country, largely the United States, to swing ridings in an attempt to affect our election outcome and put in place a government that these groups felt would better advance their interests.

Regardless of which party was the beneficiary of such underhanded efforts in the past, all members of the House have a responsibility to ensure that they do not occur again.

As an Albertan, I must admit that I am particularly outraged by this sort of tactic, as our province has been harmed by these types of tactics in the past. We know that corporate actors in the United States have been have long been funding anti-resource development groups in Canada to try to prevent responsible resource extraction in Canada. While I believe that many of the people here in Canada benefiting from this arrangement are generally engaged and concerned Canadians whose opinions are valid and important in increasing the quality of the national dialogue on these important issues, the fact is that millions are being pumped in by our international competitors to derail our industry and increase the profits of foreign corporations, which has been an issue for years.

We often hear people question why certain activists target the Canadian oil sands but remain silent on the industry in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Venezuela, where there are concerns about not only the environmental impact but also about labour rights and the complete lack of commitment to fundamental human rights more broadly. I believe that this is one of the main reasons, because behind the scenes, backers do not necessarily have much common ground with the groups they are funding. They are merely using them as a means to an end to advance their business interests, and they are far more concerned about preventing us from getting fair value for our resources than in addressing the issues of climate change or the denial of human rights by the world's worst offenders.

What they have been doing to attack the resource industry is not unlike what they are doing to our elections. Foreign funds have already had an impact on the last election. Some organizations have bragged about flipping dozens of swing ridings in 2015, despite the fact that they received funding from abroad for their activities. It has been well documented, and we have a duty to combat it. Therefore, I believe Bill C-406 is an excellent next step.

The first steps have been taken by the government in Bill C-76, and there are some who have suggested that Bill C-76 makes this bill redundant, such as the member for St. Catharines, who suggests we reject it completely. However, while Bill C-76 prevents the use of foreign funds for advertising, Bill C-406 would prevent a third party from accepting the funds in the first place. This is an important distinction between the two bills.

When we have potentially malicious organizations trying to undermine our electoral systems, the standard should be strengthened. Canada has weak prohibitions on foreign interference, and it is time to change this situation. Changing the standard to not allow organizations to accept funds in the first place will help prevent any uncertainty about compliance for domestic third parties here in Canada and for foreign entities elsewhere.

Protecting against this sort of uncertainty and confusion is important not just because of the value that we place on our democratic institutions and the integrity of our elections, but also from a national unity standpoint. We do not have to make the same mistakes as our allies and other established democracies in order to learn from them. Our friends and neighbours to the south continue to have an extremely important conversation and continue to investigate various levels of interference in their recent elections.

As many members in the House well know, the interference ranges from alleged direct Russian interference with the president's campaign to social media troll farms and shell organizations creating competing events in close proximity to each other with the hope of sparking conflict. We must learn from these serious matters and implement safeguards in our system in order to help prevent divisive problems of that magnitude in our society and the erosion of confidence in our institutions that would come from them.

We have a prime example of how harmful these types of incidents can be to our national unity and respectful public discourse. I think we can all agree that it is better for us to work to prevent them in the first place than to try to sort it out afterwards.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2019 / 11:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

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.

Bill C-76 better addresses the problems Bill C-406 is trying to resolve.

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.

The House resumed from February 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (foreign contributions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take a few minutes to speak to Bill C-406 and more specifically to two clauses of the bill that are essential to any self-respecting democracy that wants to manage its own democratic affairs and that does not want to give others the chance to influence its democratic process.

I just listened to my colleague's speech and I have to wonder whether he agrees with the Clerk of the Privy Council and cabinet secretary, who shared his concerns with the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this afternoon.

He said, “I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election, and we're working hard on that.”

The purpose of the bill introduced by my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe is to prevent this foreign interference in the next election. Groups like Tides Foundation and Leadnow invest millions of dollars to defeat candidates and influence the democratic process even here in Canada. If a Canadian group took Canadians' money to try to influence the election, it would be part of the democratic process. We have a major problem when we let foreigners interfere in our elections, with money obtained who knows where, by targeting very specific ridings where candidates are standing up for their values and their country and hoping to represent their constituents.

The interests of these groups are not those of the voters. These groups become involved because they perhaps have a chance to beat someone in a riding, to get out their message and to score points on the international scene by stating that they influenced the outcome of an election in Canada. That is something that happens and it will happen again if we do nothing. Therefore, we must guard against this interference.

I am pleased that the Clerk of the Privy Council raised his concerns this afternoon about the major role that this foreign interference could play in the next election. That is why our colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe is asking that we prohibit any foreign entity from making a contribution to a third party for election advertising purposes. It also proposes to prohibit any foreign entity from making a contribution to a third party for election advertising purposes that comes from money, property or the services of another person or entity that was provided to that person or entity for that purpose.

That is clear. I believe that Canadians are mature enough to make their own decisions. I believe that Canadians who want to influence the election can make a donation to the various political parties and strictly Canadian organizations. Why would we allow foreigners to meddle in our electoral process? That is completely unacceptable.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 6:15 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I would like to address a number of the points my colleague across the way raised this evening.

The first is something we do not do enough, which is to recognize the incredible role Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections play in ensuring one our fundamental pillars of democracy is healthy. I would argue that it is envied around the world.

People from many countries around the world come and visit our election officials. Apolitical election officials are often requested to visit numerous countries so they can explain why Canada has been as successful as it has been over the years at ensuring it has a very healthy and vibrant democracy.

I appreciate and recognize the importance of the independent offices, whether it is the Ethics Commissioner, or the ombudsman or Elections Canada. We appreciate their contribution to our system of parliamentary procedures and democracy as a whole.

One of the most interesting comments I heard about the bill was by the parliamentary secretary, and members should take note of it.

A great deal of effort was put into bringing forward Bill C-76. When it was debated at second reading, we clearly indicated that if members had ideas on how to improve the legislation, they should bring them to committee. We often hear that from this side of the House, something we never heard when Stephen Harper was prime minister. The Prime Minister and other members have talked about bringing issues to committee.

In fact, there were a number of ideas raised at committee. It was interesting that the parliamentary secretary made reference to Bill C-76. The original bill only prohibited the use of foreign funds during an election period. However, once it went to the procedure and House affairs committee, amendments were put forward to make it illegal for third party to use foreign funding at any time to engage in partisan activities.

This brings it in line with what Bill C-406 proposes. It is not a perfect alignment, as has been pointed out. The opposition believes that if we pass a law here, we will have no issues in implementing it outside Canada's jurisdiction. That is questionable.

What Bill C-406 hopes to achieve was achieved by Bill C-76. There was debate and presentations were made at committee to enhance the bill and make it stronger. This should have been taken into consideration with respect to the bill before us now.

Bill C-76 has now received royal assent. The member who introduced Bill C-406 was not necessarily aware of that. We need to reinforce the fact that it is now the law of the land.

I have been around for a number of years. I can remember the legislation that was brought in by former prime minister Stephen Harper in regard to reforming the Canada Elections Act and the incredible resistance to the changes that the Harper government received. There was very little support for the legislation. There was a great deal of opposition from political parties. More importantly, many different political stakeholders in Canada, whether they were academics or average citizens, were talking about issues such as the identification cards and how people were being disenfranchised and so forth. That was the type of legislation that Stephen Harper brought in when he was Prime Minister.

As to the support that we have for Bill C-76, and when I say “we” I am referring to something more than just the Liberal Party or the Government of Canada, there was widespread support for many of the changes for the modernization of our elections act. It received wide support.

I talked about changes at committee stage then and it fell on deaf ears. Today we have a government that is committed to more transparency and more accountability, especially when we talk about the issue of elections—

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 6:05 p.m.
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Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-406, tabled by my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe, which would amend the Canada Elections Act to ban foreign contributions to third parties for election advertising purposes.

Some of the comments we heard prior to my intervention go to the very reason I think this legislation is so important. I want to point to the comments from the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, who was very clear that he is not going to support this legislation, but then said that there is no proof whatsoever that there has been any interference in Canadian elections in the past. That just proves how naive the Liberal government is in the situation we are facing right now. We have a group out there, Leadnow, that is, on its website, bragging about how many ridings it influenced in the 2015 election. It is a third-party group that spent more than $1 million in the 2015 election, and almost 20% of those dollars were raised by foreign actors.

The government is saying, and I guess we really should not question this, because it has sort of been the government's theme all week, as well as in the last couple of weeks, when it comes to SNC-Lavalin, “There is nothing to see here, nothing to fear. We have everything under control. Just go to bed at night and sleep well.”

The proof is there that there was certainly influence in the 2015 election by foreign entities funding third-party groups in Canada that were going to specific target ridings and having an impact on the Canadian election.

If this had come up four years ago, I was one of those who would not have thought it was an issue. However, that changed significantly during the 2015 election campaign. Many of us here in this House helped our colleagues and friends in other ridings when they were doing their door knocking and canvassing. I remember going to Calgary Centre during the 2015 election, and I was shocked by the number of lawn signs I saw on public boulevards and public spaces. What surprised me was the fact that those lawn signs outnumbered every political party two to one. These signs were not Liberal, New Democrat, Green or Conservative. These lawn signs were put up by Leadnow and Tides. The amount of money those groups spent in that one riding was incredible. We had third parties spending more than $1 million in a campaign.

Let us put that in perspective. The average party in a constituency probably spends about $50,000 to $75,000. This group spent 30 times that in our election. To say that there is nothing to see here and that there is no proof of foreign funding having an impact on Canadian elections is extremely naive. It shows why this private member's bill, Bill C-406, brought by my colleague, is so important. I am very proud to support it.

When we talk about the activism that is going on in our country and having an influence on our elections, that should be extremely concerning to Canadians. In the presentations we have heard so far, I think everyone has said that Canadian elections should be decided by Canadians.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Brussels and meet with many of our NATO partners and representatives from those countries. We talked about foreign influence in their elections. It was a top priority for our NATO partners, who are doing everything they can to address cybersecurity and tightening up their own elections legislation to limit the opportunities for foreign influence.

Canada is not immune to this. We have a Liberal government that passed Bill C-76 with minimal strategies to address foreign funding. That is concerning. This private member's bill, Bill C-406 would close that loophole when it comes to the influence foreign funding would have on future Canadian elections. We are not immune. It has happened. If we do not do something about it, it is going to happen again. Elections are sacrosanct in a free and sovereign country.

Times have changed. Unfortunately we have seen it in the United States and in other western democracies. We have seen it in Canada. Our elections are open and vulnerable to foreign influences, whether at the cyber level or through the funding of third party organizations that are well organized and target specific ridings to make an impact.

We should not allow that to happen. Third party associations should not be allowed to accept foreign funding for use in Canadian elections. Bill C-406 would close that loophole to ensure that third party groups cannot not accept foreign funding, period. This would make things easier to enforce and track, ensuring that Canadian elections are protected.

However, we should not be surprised that the Liberals are leaving this loophole there. They have been quite clear that they have no issues with foreign entities and actors influencing Canadian policy. We have a Liberal government that ensured that Canadian taxpayer dollars were used to fund summer jobs for Leadnow and Tides, groups that actively protested against Canada's energy sector. Liberals should not allow these foreign funds to impact our decision-making on our own economy, on massive infrastructure projects, and on nation-building projects like pipelines.

We have seen what has happened with Trans Mountain, a project that is integral to Canada's economy, but they tell us not to concern ourselves with foreign actors influencing the Canadian economy and our natural resource sector, or with the more than 100,000 jobs that have been lost as a result of the activism that most often comes from foreign entities.

If Liberals are going to turn a blind eye to that, it only makes sense that they would turn a blind eye to foreign influences in Canadian elections. This is no mystery. Foreign money has been used, and as I said, these third party groups are actively, in the public and on their websites, bragging about how successful their efforts have been in influencing a Canadian election.

This is not a conspiracy theory. This is not speculation. It is proven. In fact, as I said, Tides spent more than $1.5 million on influencing the Canadian election. That got the attention of the Canada Revenue Agency, which is investigating Tides regarding how that money was raised and spent. For the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions to say this has never happened is very disconcerting. He is parliamentary secretary to the minister, who should be extremely concerned about the influences foreign entities and actors could have on the Canadian election. The parliamentary secretary was being quite honest when he said it was not an issue or a problem, and that we did not need any legislation to protect ourselves from this. In all honesty, I find that to be ridiculous. It is proven that this is happening.

We are now in an election year, and it is quite clear that the Liberals are not going to take this issue seriously. This is not something they are addressing earnestly. They are refusing to take steps to close the loophole.

I find it interesting that the Liberals and my colleague from the NDP keep talking about this being a non-partisan issue. I am not saying this is a partisan issue. I am saying there is a very clear void in the legislation. We are bringing forward an opportunity to correct the mistake in Bill C-76, which did not have the teeth needed to ensure that Canadian elections are protected.

Elections are a foundation of Canadian democracy, plain and simple. If we cannot trust that our elections are fair and that Canadians alone are deciding who forms our government and who represents them in their constituencies, we have a very serious problem.

Bill C-406 would end any opportunity for foreign influence in a Canadian election. The integrity of our democracy and of our electoral system is at stake, and I would ask all members of the House to support Bill C-406. It is a priority.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 5:45 p.m.
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Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Lib.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions and as the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park to speak to the second reading of Bill C-406, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

This bill, which was introduced by the member for Red Deer—Lacombe, seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act to prohibit foreign contributions to third parties for election advertising purposes.

The spirit of 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. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs issued a report last year expressing concern that the Canada Elections Act did not “...sufficiently protect Canadian elections from improper foreign interference”. That said, the report further argued that the third party regime needed to be modernized to ensure transparency and fairness in our democratic system.

Our government takes this issue very seriously, and it is a pleasure to be addressing this topic in the House this evening.

When it comes to the issue of foreign interference and influence more generally, we are taking a whole-of-government approach to protect the integrity of our democracy by defending the Canadian electoral process from hacking and malicious cyber-activities.

More frequently than ever before, we are learning in the media about how western democracies are dealing with new types of threats and new types of attacks. There have been allegations of undue foreign interference in the British Brexit referendum, the United States' 2016 presidential election and the French 2016 presidential election, to name but a few. Canadians are rightly concerned about the potential impact of foreign interference in our elections as well.

I have heard from the engaged residents of my riding of Parkdale—High Park, and indeed from Canadians from around the country, that we cannot be complacent. In 2019, we need to anticipate and ward off the threat of foreign interference in order to secure and strengthen our democracy.

This is why our government recently announced its plan to safeguard the upcoming election. The plan is built on four pillars. One is enhancing citizen preparedness. The second is improving organizational readiness. The third is combatting foreign interference, and the fourth is working with social media platforms. In particular, Canada's security agencies will work to prevent covert, clandestine or criminal activities by foreign actors.

I would like to remind members of this House that Canada also has a robust political financing regime. We know that to date there is no evidence that foreign actors have unduly influenced previous elections in this country. As a result, Canadians can feel confident in the outcome of our past elections and in our democracy as a whole, but that does not mean we will rest on our laurels. To the contrary, we are being vigilant to address potential threats. Our government has already taken action to address potential avenues of undue influence in advance of the upcoming 2019 federal election.

In addition to the government's recent announcement, our government has passed Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, which received royal assent on December 13 of last year. The Elections Modernization Act strengthens Canada's democratic institutions and restores Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes. This generational overhaul of the Canada Elections Act will allow it to better address the realities facing our democratic system in the 21st century, including requiring organizations selling advertising spaces to not knowingly accept election advertisements from foreign entities.

Our legislation draws heavily on the recommendations in the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 2015 general election and on studies by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The member for Red Deer—Lacombe opposite has already outlined a number of measures in Bill C-406, measures that are redundant when one considers Bill C-76. This is because Bill C-406 has already been considered by our government as part of the Minister of Democratic Institutions' commitment to review 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.

While Bill C-406's objective of preventing foreign interference in Canadian elections is worthy in principle, the mechanisms outlined in this legislation would be ineffective.

Allow me to explain. A major issue with Bill C-406 is that it seeks to legislate the actions of people outside Canada, such as foreign entities or persons making a contribution to a Canadian third party. These provisions have an extraterritorial aspect, which would be extremely difficult to enforce. We know of these difficulties from other acts that have attempted to legislate actions outside of Canada.

It is clear that the measures in Bill C-76 are enforceable, whereas those in Bill C-406 are problematic, because Bill C-76 addresses the problem from a different perspective. While Bill C-406 seeks to prohibit someone outside of Canada from contributing to a third party, Bill C-76, which has received royal assent, prohibits Canadian third parties from using these contributions. In this way, the problem of foreign influence is brought under the umbrella of our established domestic regulatory regime for third parties.

There are also a number of unfortunate drafting errors in the bill, which would further make the argument that the provisions are difficult to enforce. In one case, the bill refers to subsection 363(1.1) of the Canada Elections Act, which is a provision that does not exist in either the act or in Bill C-76. As well, while the bill creates two new prohibitions on foreign contributions, it neglects to enact corresponding offences, which would lead to significant enforcement difficulties. The two must go hand in hand, and the latter is absent here. There are no corresponding offences listed in the bill.

Further, Bill C-406 misplaces the new rules regarding third party election advertising in part 18 of the Canada Elections Act, the part that deals with financial administration of political entities, instead of placing them in part 17 of the act, which deals with third party election advertising. This would lead to confusion for Canadians and political actors about which sections of the Canada Elections Act apply to which entities.

I would like to mention that certain measures in Bill C-76 that have to do with foreign interference were strengthened by amendments adopted by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. When Bill C-406 was introduced in June 2018, the measures in Bill C-76 had not yet been improved by the committee's meticulous work.

Bill C-76 initially only limited the prohibition against using foreign funds to an election period, something I mentioned in my first contribution to this debate. However, there is now a new provision that stipulates there is no explicit time limit to this prohibition, thanks to helpful amendments brought forward at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This change brought Bill C-76 in line with the measures introduced in Bill C-406, which also do not stipulate any time limit. Canadians can therefore be assured that foreign influence will be guarded against at any time, rather than only during the pre-writ or writ periods of an election.

Strengthening and protecting our democratic institutions should not be a partisan issue. On that, there is agreement. In Canada, our free and fair elections contribute to our strong democracy, which is revered around the world. Canadians rightfully expect their elected officials to come together and work hard to ensure our elections are accessible and we are doing our utmost to ensure foreign money has no place in our elections, which is essential to the health of our democracy.

I want to thank the member for Red Deer—Lacombe for the chance to continue this important discussion on foreign influence in our elections. We can expect that Canadians will become more interested in this topic in the lead-up to the federal election this fall.

To conclude, while Bill C-406 identifies an important issue for Canadians, the tools the bill proposes cannot be effectively enforced, which is why the government will not be supporting Bill C-406.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 5:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Madam Speaker, the policing of this would be a lot easier.

The issue that I brought up in my remarks, the investigation initiated by my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton, was an inability for them to find any fault in the current legislative gambit that Elections Canada had in front of it. That is because when the money comes across the border, it becomes much more difficult to police and enforce. If we police it before it comes across the border, if we make it illegal for the foreign funding to come across the border in the first place, it is much easier to detect, much easier to track and much easier to enforce.

As I said, the legislation I am proposing, Bill C-406, builds on some of the things that were done in Bill C-76, but it would add and strengthen our elections and make them more secure. That is why I am hoping all members of the House will help pass it.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

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.

September 27th, 2018 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

That's certainly an interesting observation. It's important that we discuss this bill. It's important that we recognize, as well, that there are discussions happening on this bill, in places that are not in this committee. I think that a sign of good faith from all sides is, hopefully, forthcoming. We've been very clear on our side, to the minister directly, to the parliamentary secretary, of certain concerns we have, particularly as they relate to third party financing and foreign influence.

We do have a bill before the House of Commons—I believe it's Bill C-406—which directly deals with foreign influence. That's not dealt with as strongly as it should be in this bill.

We need that show of goodwill. There have been discussions going back and forth between our shadow minister and the minister for the past five to six days, since last week.

June 19th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Madam Chair, having heard the advice we just received, I would move that we not find Bill C-405 or Bill C-406 to be items that would need to be deemed non-votable.

June 19th, 2018 / 1:15 p.m.
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David Groves Committee Researcher

As you can see from the document I distributed, it is my assessment that there isn't an issue. I'm going to go through my assessment.

The potential issue with Bill C-405 revolves around whether it concerns a question that is currently on the Order Paper, an item of government business. Specifically, Bill C-405 amends section 29 of the Pension Benefits Standards Act, the same section of the PBSA that Bill C-27 amends.

However, Bill C-405 and Bill C-27 amend different subsections of that section, so there's no formal overlap, and the substance of their proposed amendments differ. Bill C-405 amends the PBSA to allow pension plan administrators to sell off pieces of plans they are managing. Bill C-27 proposes amendments to allow the regulation of target benefit plans. I apologize, but I don't know enough about pension benefit plans to know what that is, but it's unrelated. It's a type of plan that involves fixed contributions.

As for Bill C-406, the same rule is potentially at issue, whether it concerns a question that is on the Order Paper as government business. Bill C-76 and Bill C-406 both amend the Canada Elections Act, and both deal with issues of political financing. They do not amend the same sections of the CEA, however, so there's no formal overlap, and in terms of substance, they also deal with different issues. Bill C-406 places a prohibition on foreign contributions by third parties who engage in certain types of political spending. Bill C-76 amends the Canada Elections Act to provide an expanded list of the kinds of activities that third parties cannot engage in, using unknown contributions, as opposed to foreign ones. But it also changes the definition of what a foreign entity is.

In my assessment, there is no direct formal overlap, and they deal with different substance. However, Bill C-76 provides a new definition for foreign entity, which means it would have an effect on Bill C-406. Moreover, Bill C-406 includes a coordinating amendment, so if Bill C-76 were to pass, the language inserted by Bill C-406 would change as well.

We are returning to the same criterion that has been before this committee twice already this spring. The criterion is that bills and motions must not concern questions that are currently on the Order Paper or Notice Paper as items of government business.

Unfortunately, from the rule, as I said in an earlier meeting, it's not clear what is meant by “question”, and it's not clear what is meant by “concern”. However, judging by decisions made by this committee already—it has come up twice before in the last couple of months—there was a private member's bill that SMEM found non-votable because it sought to establish a national strategy for dealing with abandoned vessels while a government bill on the Order Paper would establish a federal framework for abandoned vessels. Furthermore, SMEM found another private member's bill non-votable because it would have extended protections to a series of bodies of water in British Columbia that would, under a government bill on the Order Paper, have received very similar levels of protection. In both cases, the determination that the committee made was that the private member's bill and the government bill addressed the same issue and dealt with it in a similar enough way that, were the two bills to advance at the same time, one would be redundant.

The way I have been interpreting the words “concern” and “question” is to see their being about preventing a few problems. One is pure duplication: two bills that exist to do the exact same thing in the exact same way. Another is conflict: two bills trying to achieve two opposing goals using the same section of an existing act, so they could not exist at the same time. The last is redundancy: two bills trying to achieve a similar enough objective that, should they pass, one or the other would be of little additional value.

The reason we care about these three criteria—duplication, conflict, and redundancy—as I understand them, is that this committee is interested in providing members the fullest opportunity possible to use their private members' time effectively, so that if the bill or the motion would have little or no effect, they should be given the opportunity to replace it.

In the two cases before the committee, I do not see duplication, conflict, or redundancy to be significant concerns. Each bill is concerned with a particular subject that the relevant government legislation has not addressed, and they do not overlap formally.

It's important to note, too, that SMEM in the recent past has permitted PMBs to move forward even if they touched on the same legislation as a pending government bill would, since they addressed different subjects within the ambit of that bill. Typically it has been Elections Act-related bills that we permitted to move forward on that basis.

It is my assessment that these bills do not trigger that rule and, therefore, that they can be declared not non-votable.