moved that Bill C-524, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (election advertising), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to begin the debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-524.
Bill C-524 proposes to makes changes to the Canada Elections Act, specifically to sections 320 and 352. Broadly, I believe that the changes outlined in the bill would result in greater transparency and accountability with regard to the output of political advertising. As a result, I believe this bill will allow voters to be more informed about the nature and origins of political advertisements. I would like to stress that in no way is this bill about censorship or about limiting the speech of candidates, parties, or third parties.
Currently sections 320 and 352 of the Canada Elections Act provide broad guidelines for authorization of messages transmitted during election periods. Bill C-524 proposes to mandate explicit requirements governing the transmission of advertisements. These proposed changes would be applicable to advertisements during both election and non-election periods. Current guidelines only pertain to election advertising during the election period.
I believe this first measure would go far in ensuring that Canadians are consistently well informed about the source of political advertisements. To this end, the bill proposes to make substantive amendments to sections 320 and 352 of the act.
Bill C-524 would amend the act to specify the nature in which authorizations must be made and who is responsible for authorizing advertisements made by candidates, political parties, and third parties.
Under the proposed changes in Bill C-524, advertisements would have to be endorsed explicitly; those transmitted by candidates would have to be personally endorsed by the candidates themselves, while advertisements transmitted to the public by registered parties would have to be endorsed by the party's leader. Finally, advertisements produced by a third party would require endorsement by the authorized representative.
For messages in print form, a written statement that identifies the sponsor would have to be included. In cases where the advertisement is produced solely by the candidate, the advertisement would have to include a message that identifies the member and their authorization of the advertisement. For advertisements that are produced for a registered political party, the party leader would have to identify himself or herself and the represented party. Finally, messages by third parties would have to be sponsored by an authorized representative of the third party, identify the third party, and specify that the party is responsible for the content of the message. The endorsement in print form would have to be legible by the recipient of the message and utilize a reasonable degree of colour contrast between the background and the printed statement.
For advertisements transmitted in audiovisual form, the endorsing message would have to be conveyed by an unobscured, full-screen view of the candidate making the statement, or the candidate could provide the endorsement in voice-over with a similar image of the candidate. All advertisements would also have to be accompanied by an endorsement in print form that is displayed for at least four seconds at the end of the message.
I have already mentioned the importance of Canadians being able to identify the source of information when they are exposed to a political advertisement. I do not believe anyone in the House can provide a convincing reason as to why we should not implement changes that would make it easier for Canadians to discern who or what group is responsible for a particular advertisement. Not only do I believe—and I am sure many in the House today would agree with me—that advertisement transparency with regard to the transmission of political messages is essentially the right thing to do, but I would also like to point out that research suggests that sponsored advertisements are beneficial to both the viewer and the candidate.
In a study by James Druckman that looked at the process by which individuals develop their conceptualization of issues, Druckman found that credibility and trustworthiness are factors in how viewers of advertisements or messages form their opinions on the content of those messages. His study found that sponsored advertisements allowed the viewer to ascribe a certain level of credibility to the source.
In these cases where it was clear where the information was coming from, participants were able to evaluate the credibility of the claims made based on that source, so adding a requirement that advertisements be clearly endorsed by their source would further enhance the process by which Canadians make informed decisions.
While the main objective of this bill is to increase transparency and accountability, I can appreciate that many individuals listening to me speak are interested in how the bill relates to attack ads and its likeness to the U.S. “stand by your ad” provision.
Again, I can understand that some see attack ads as a political strategy, and that is fine. I am not trying to take away the ability to produce negative ads. What I am doing is trying to ensure that candidates take full responsibility by making it clear to the viewer that they are the producer and endorser of their ad.
This bill is not about censorship. Its aim is not to affect the frequency of attack ads. A point of criticism often lobbied against the U.S. provision is that it has not made much of a difference in decreasing the number of negative or attack advertisements utilized by candidates and parties; therefore enacting similar legislation here in Canada would be of little use.
However, I would argue that Canada's political system and the prevailing attitudes that Canadians in general hold toward the use of attack ads differ from those in the United States. The difference, I believe, is what would make these changes I am proposing in Bill C-524 far more effective in a Canadian context.
A paper published and political studies by Annemarie Walter from the University of Amsterdam in 2014 found that the use of attack ads was lower in multi-party systems versus the more adversarial two-party systems, such as the United States.
Thus, in Canada, where we have a multi-party system, the attitude toward the use of negative ads differs from that in the United States, and I believe, as a consequence, the provisions I have proposed in Bill C-524 would have an impact on the type of advertisements that candidates, political parties, and third parties would be willing to produce and endorse.
While the intent of my bill is to increase transparency and accountability, I think it is also necessary to discuss what Canadians are saying across the country about the use of attack ads by parties and elected officials.
I have heard from Canadians in my riding about the general need for civil discourse in Parliament and in our democratic system, and no doubt, other members here today from both sides of the House have heard from their own constituents as well.
We can recall that the members for Edmonton Centre and Don Valley East, for instance, refused to send out mailers that originated from their party that attacked the member for Papineau last year.
While my bill does not target ten percenters, I believe the spirit of their actions reflects what many Canadians feel. In our efforts to represent Canadians, let us discuss policies and proposals that would contribute to a better Canada. Now, if parties, candidates, and third parties want to continue to utilize attack ads, then that is their choice to do so.
This bill is not about censorship, but I think it reflects what many Canadians across the country believe in; that is, civil discourse within our democratic system. This bill would ensure that, whether or not an advertisement is negative, the responsibility for its content is accounted for through the obligation to explicitly sponsor the message.
I ask my colleagues to reflect on my statement. I am sure everyone is very much aware. Hopefully we will be able to generate the support by allowing for a free vote on all sides of the House, and hopefully this bill will, in fact, garner enough support to allow it to go to committee, at the very least, where I know there is a great deal of interest in having direct public input from stakeholders and many others.