Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to apologize to the committee for my tardiness. As the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley noted, I am going to blame my three-month-old son for that, who decided he was hungry just as I was leaving. Anyway, I want to thank the committee for inviting me here and for your commitment to study Bill C-76.
I would also like to thank Minister Brison, who acted as Minister of Democratic Institutions during my parental leave.
I am accompanied today by two officials, as you mentioned, Mr. Chair, from the Privy Council Office: Allen Sutherland, the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet for Machinery of Government; and Manon Paquet, Senior Policy Adviser, Democratic Institutions Secretariat. The DI team at PCO is small but mighty. I cannot say enough about the work they have done to prepare Bill C-76. I really want to thank them for their hard work and dedication on this issue, but also on all things in our file.
Our government is committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions and restoring Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes.
We believe the strength of our democracy depends on the participation of as many Canadians as possible. By undoing the unfair aspects of the Conservatives' so-called Fair Elections Act, we are making it easier and more convenient for all Canadians to vote.
We are making the electoral process more accessible to Canadians with disabilities, as well as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and we are restoring voting rights to more than one million Canadians living abroad.
We are strengthening our laws, closing loopholes, and bringing in robust enforcement regimes to make it more difficult for bad actors to influence our elections. We are requiring greater transparency from third parties and political parties so Canadians can better understand who seeks to influence their vote. This legislation will result in a modern, robust, and enforceable election law that addresses the realities of a modern election campaign.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of this committee last year while it studied the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, or CEO, after the 2015 election.
I believe you will find your work reflected in the legislation. Approximately 85% of the CEO's recommendations are contained in Bill C-76. This committee has already agreed in principle with over 50% of this bill.
There are also components of Bill C-76 that this committee has not studied. I appreciate that the committee may want to focus on these elements of the bill. Please be assured that my officials and I are prepared to provide whatever assistance you need.
Bill C-76 makes our electoral system more accessible for all Canadians. It increases the opening hours of advance polls, strengthens obligations towards Canadians with disabilities, expands voting rights to about a million Canadians living abroad, and makes it easier for Canadian Forces members to vote. The elections modernization act also encourages candidates and registered parties to campaign in a manner that will be more inclusive of persons with disabilities.
This bill also modernizes the administration of elections to make it easier for Canadians to vote, while maintaining strong and proven integrity measures.
As Minister of Democratic Institutions, one of my top priorities is to lead the Government of Canada's efforts to defend the Canadian electoral process from cyberthreats. Recent events on the international stage are a reminder that Canada is not immune from such threats. Bill C-76 proposes changes relating to foreign influence and online disruption that can be addressed within the Canada Elections Act.
While foreign entities were already banned from making contributions to political parties and candidates, our government is closing a loophole that allowed foreign entities to spend up to $500 on election advertising during the election period. In addition, all third parties will be required to maintain a Canadian bank account for all of their election-related revenues and expenses.
I also want to address the concern that foreign funds can be donated to third parties before June 30, then used during the writ or pre-writ period. Under Bill C-76, third parties are required to disclose the source of all funds they used during the writ or pre-writ period, regardless of when they received the funds. Further, any attempt to conceal the use of foreign funds for regulated activities in the pre-writ or writ period will be illegal under Bill C-76.
New provisions of the Canada Elections Act will clearly prohibit publications and advertisements—online and off-line—aimed at misleading the public as to their source. Similarly, fraudulent uses of computers aimed at affecting the results of an election will be strictly prohibited.
We all have a responsibility to combat foreign influence in our elections. Therefore, organizations selling advertising space will be banned from knowingly accepting foreign-funded election advertising.
In order to ensure compliance and enforcement, the elections modernization act includes several measures designed to make the commissioner of Canada elections more efficient and independent. The commissioner will now have the power to compel testimony and we will restore his power to lay charges. A new enforcement tool and administrative monetary penalties regime will also be at the commissioner's disposal.
Canadians expect electoral processes will be fair and transparent. They want to hear from all sides, not only from voices with the deepest pockets. These values have shaped Canadian electoral and political financing regimes for over 40 years.
However, the advent of fixed-date elections has been a game changer. Political actors and third parties are now able to plan partisan advertising campaigns ahead of the election period and, by doing so, circumvent the spirit of our laws.
Bill C-76 will define a pre-election period during which reporting requirements and spending limits will apply to registered parties and third parties.
The pre-election period will begin on June 30 of a fixed-date election year. It will provide more transparency by requiring third parties who spend more than $500 on partisan advertising, partisan activities, and election surveys to register with Elections Canada. Third parties will also have a legal obligation to identify themselves in advertising messages.
New spending limits will also apply to both third parties and political entities during that pre-writ period.
Mr. Chair, we cannot take for granted Canadians' trust in their democratic institutions. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that our electoral process is transparent, accessible, reflective of modern best practices, and secure and sheltered from undue influence.
I look forward to your questions.