Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to share an update with Canadians on our efforts to safeguard the 2019 federal election.
As everyone knows, Canada's 43rd general election will take place this October.
Elections are an opportunity for Canadians to be heard and for Canadians to express concerns and opinions through one of the most fundamental rights, the right to vote. However, this election will also experience an unprecedented amount of scrutiny.
In recent years, we have witnessed foreign actors looking to undermine democratic societies and institutions, electoral processes, sovereignty and security.
Their malicious, multi-faceted and ever-evolving tactics constitute a serious strategic threat. Tools that were once used to strengthen civic engagement are being used to undermine and disrupt democracy.
Such malicious activity strikes at the heart of trust. It threatens to erode faith in democratic institutions. We must be prepared for this. We cannot allow this trust to be broken.
I can assure the House that our government takes this issue very seriously. A growing awareness of global cyber-threats has, if anything, strengthened our resolve to preserve the things we treasure.
We have taken steps to understand the possible threats to our democratic institutions, where they come from and how they could affect our electoral process.
We have a comprehensive and solid plan to anticipate, recognize and respond to these threats.
This plan is based on four pillars: enhancing citizenship preparedness, improving organizational readiness, combatting foreign interference and expecting social media platforms to act.
The plan builds on the important legislative changes made in Bill C-76 regarding the online ad registry, banning platforms from knowingly accepting foreign funds for ads, strengthening enforcement provisions, and clarifying the language around false statements and impersonation of candidates, parties and electoral officials.
It is impossible to halt all attacks, but we must work together to mitigate the impact of interference in our democratic processes.
This includes governments, political parties, social media platforms and citizens.
Canada has one of the most-connected populations in the world. Almost three-quarters of Canadians use online platforms regularly like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Online platforms have had a revolutionary impact on Canadians’ lives. They bring us together in ways unimaginable to previous generations. They make possible the sharing of ideas on an unprecedented level.
Yet, throughout the world's democracies, we see an online threat environment where malicious actors interfere with and try to influence the outcome of elections. These attacks are malicious. Sometimes they can be well masked and hard to detect. These threats can weaken our confidence in our democratic system and processes.
In January, as part of our plan of action to protect the election from foreign interference, we announced our expectation that digital platforms would step up their efforts to combat cyber threats and foreign attempts to manipulate their communities.
I am here today to update Canadians on our progress in securing voluntary action from major platforms. We have been engaging digital platforms in ongoing, good-faith discussions.
We have attempted to reach consensus on a common set of expectations to protect the integrity of the 2019 election.
We have had productive conversations, but these discussions have not come without challenges. Our guiding objective throughout these discussions has been simple. We want to see meaningful action to protect our democracy and our citizens.
The best way to do that is to be transparent, to be transparent about what we as a government are doing, but also insisting that platforms be more transparent with Canadians about where their information is coming from, who is behind the information they consume and with whom they are engaging online.
The better we understand the information we are consuming, the more empowered we are with how we use that information.
That is why today I am presenting Canada's declaration on electoral integrity online. It details basic responsibilities for digital platforms and the government.
To ensure the integrity of online content, we expect platforms to intensify efforts to combat disinformation and inform Canadians about efforts to safeguard the Internet ecosystem, to promote safeguards to address cybersecurity incidents, to protect against misrepresentation of candidates, political parties and key electoral officials and to ensure privacy protection.
For its part, the government will ensure that platforms have clear points of contact for election-related matters during the pre-election and election periods.
To promote greater online transparency, we expect platforms to help users to understand when and why they are seeing political advertising and to ensure that terms and conditions are easily accessible, communicated in a manner that is easy to understand and enforced in a fair, consistent and transparent manner.
For its part, the government will implement the critical election incident public protocol to ensure that public communications on potential incidents are clear and impartial.
To provide greater authenticity, we expect platforms to remove fake accounts and inauthentic content from their platforms, assist users to better understand the sources of information they are seeing and block and remove malicious bots.
In return, platforms and the government will work with civil society to support efforts aimed at improving critical thinking, digital literacy and cybersecurity practices and will facilitate the sharing of information within relevant legal mandates on emerging developments and practices that help to protect Canada's democracy.
We are encouraged that Microsoft and Facebook have agreed to support this declaration, and on behalf of Canadians, I urge other platforms to follow suit in the coming days.
I wish to stress that the wild west online era cannot continue. Inaction is not an option. Disinformation must not stand.
Our citizens demand and deserve no less.
In recent years we have seen foreign powers strive to manipulate online platforms to achieve their narrow disruptive goals.
We have seen false information presented as fact. We have seen divisions stoked. We have seen concerted efforts to undermine democracy and unravel social cohesion.
The government has a responsibility to protect Canadians from such foreign threats. We will continue our work with platforms over the next few months to measure progress against the expectations set out in this declaration. I commit to keeping Canadians informed of that progress.
This is a call to action for digital platforms, the latest call amid a growing international demand that platforms do more to protect their users.
I call upon digital platforms that are operating in Canada and that care about protecting our election to join Microsoft and Facebook and publicly commit to meeting these expectations.
Democracy is rooted in the trust people have in the process and in the legitimacy of the outcome. Canadians are knowledgeable and engaged.
Canadians can be reassured that as they prepare to exercise their right to vote, we are working hard to prepare for a free, fair and secure 2019 federal election so that we can continue to uphold the trust and confidence we all share in our democracy.