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.