Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before the procedure and House affairs committee on Bill C-76.
Before I get into the bill, I'll make some general comments about political finance regulation in Canada. We've been regulating spending and contributions for candidates, parties, and third parties in some form or another since 1974. Every once in a while, the rules get reviewed or reconsidered in light of new realities with respect to democracy, elections, political culture, and things like that. At the heart of all these debates about political finance are some fundamental questions about democracy and political expression. It's always a balancing act between freedom of expression and the public interest, and maintaining a level playing field for political competitors. Neither of these is pursued by regulation to the complete detriment of the other: we need the balance, and that's where the charter comes in. The charter protects that.
It's been the norm historically, in connection with the charter, for political finance laws to end up in court, and there's been some very thoughtful jurisprudence on the role of the state in regulating money in politics. The terrain is shifting now, however, and I would say that money is no longer a reliable proxy for political expression. It used to be that debates and paid prime-time ads were the way to reach people, but now—and in connection with Mr. Cullen's comments—it's Twitter, Facebook, clickbait, Instagram, and micro-targeted email messages. This type of political expression poses a completely new regulatory challenge because, for the most part, it is low cost or free. Talking about spending limits and contribution limits is a little bit offside. Spending limits only get to part of the issue, and, I would suggest, an increasingly smaller part as we go on.
Nevertheless, here we are on Bill C-76. The theme is modernization. Democracy is changing for many reasons, and the law needs to catch up. The bill, as members are aware, covers a lot of ground. Some major areas of concentration, like establishing pre-writ spending limits for parties and third parties, aren't a huge surprise. We've seen this in Ontario. Given the constant campaign, campaigning all the time, imposing limits only once the writ is dropped is seen as arbitrary. The bill limits the writ period to 50 days. It increases transparency around the activities of third parties in a few ways: by requiring third parties to identify themselves in political advertising; by requiring them to keep separate bank accounts to allow their political activity to be seen a bit more clearly when you open up the books; and including things like polling in the expenditures that are limited, which is not the case now. It's an area where third parties are now able to spend in a way that's unlimited, but political parties are not. Also, there are measures to make voting more accessible, including the creation of a register of future electors.
I have a couple of comments on what the bill doesn't do. Third parties can still take unlimited donations from organizations, while political parties and candidates cannot. For over a decade now, contributions coming to candidates and parties from organizations, as opposed to individuals, have not been allowed. This creates an unbalanced playing field and perhaps creates an incentive for wealthier people or organizations to make unlimited donations to third parties.
The issue of foreign money is very tough to regulate, and largely because third parties are often doing many things. They're not just political actors, and they're not just contesting elections. They're also doing charitable work, advocacy work, educational work, and working with partners in other countries. So it's very difficult to impose particular rules during the campaign period or for election spending by third parties. You used to be able to take foreign money for some things, but now for this purpose, during this time, you can't. It's very difficult to police. On some level you don't want to go too far with it because then you're choking off funds used for other purposes, and we want organizations to be able to do those things, presumably. It comes down to how to regulate third party spending and activity that relates to elections.
Many observers have expressed concern over the possibility of foreign involvement in Canadian elections. We have to work on that. We have to be able to make Canadians feel that it's not going to be a problem, and that we are aware of what foreign influence could look like. Again, I think this relates significantly to issues of digital democracy, cybersecurity. Regulating money is not really going far enough and it's not really getting at what people's major concerns are.
I'll leave it there and allow my colleague to speak.