Madam Speaker, I begin this debate with a slight bias, because the author is a friend from Red Deer—Lacombe and my wife is from Red Deer, so initially I started off wanting to support the bill, because all good things come from Red Deer, generally speaking. This might unfortunately be the exception to that rule. I am unable to support the bill, for a couple of important reasons.
I hope my Conservative friends who worry about foreign interference can understand how foreign interference, in its full measure, impacts our democracy and how it fully involves itself in the hearts and minds of Canadians over such important issues. Big pharma is certainly involved, as are multinational oil companies, the banking sector and so forth.
Let us start with what this bill attempts to do, which is to minimize or eliminate the effects of foreign money on Canadian elections. It is a laudable goal, in part accomplished by the government's much-delayed and much-amended election bill, Bill C-76, yet there is a conspiracy the bill is trying to address, which is the following.
As the former prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, said, there are foreign-funded radicals. These foreign foundations, particularly in the United States, all have environmental agendas, “agendas” being a neutral word I suppose, to try to fight climate change. The conspiracy rolls out that these foreign foundations then seek to block oil pipelines to China in order to keep oil at a cheaper rate for American consumers. To follow that again, foundations that are established to fight climate change and bring about environmental initiatives are fighting for lower oil prices for American consumers.
There are two fundamental flaws in this conspiratorial logic, if we want to call it logic. The first is that Americans are net exporters of oil. The second is, why would somebody fighting climate change seek to have lower oil prices? Under this conspiracy theory, the same groups that advocate for a price on carbon and for less use of oil in our society are advocating for more and cheaper oil, going only to the United States and not to China. The conspiracy falls apart almost immediately, because those who are advocating, Ms. Krause and others, are also funded not by foreign foundations but by oil companies. They claim to be unbiased, neutral and just good Canadians, with their hearts on their sleeves, who are talking about what is important to them and their families while taking money from oil companies all along the way.
Let us look at what the bill attempts to do. I would argue that there is a flaw in the writing of the bill, in that it addresses only political advertising. Advertising is an important part of what happens in campaigns, but certainly we as elected people know that a campaign manifests itself in part through advertising on social media or newspapers and radio, but a large part of what happens in campaigning is door to door, community events and educational material. All of that is curiously excluded from this bill, and I do not fully understand why it would be absent.
The most dramatic flaw is that the bill only seeks to go after foreign foundations but exempts all companies that “carry on business in Canada”. One would think that this must mean a Canadian business, wholly owned and operated within Canada, maybe with subsidiaries in other countries. However, that is not actually the definition of “business” under the act. A business is anybody who carries on a business in Canada. That can be a single worker in a single office of a multinational pharmaceutical company, oil company, bank or whatever. That qualifies under this bill to be exempted. That business, which is carrying on business in Canada, is able to donate to advertising and education campaigns. One might ask why they are going after the charities.
If we recall the previous government, I must take umbrage with what the last colleague from the Conservatives said. I believe he was criticizing environmental groups for not being critical enough of foreign governments, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and whatnot. This is coming from the same government that sold Saudi Arabia tanks, light armoured vehicles that were weaponized and used to suppress democratic rights in Yemen. Therefore, it is a bit much for the Conservatives to say the environmental groups are not doing enough to criticize Saudi Arabia, when this is coming from the same Conservatives who sold it tanks. Sure, criticism is warranted and necessary, but enabling the Saudis to kill people seems to me a higher order of severity and certainly shows itself to be hypocrisy, coming from members of the opposition who were then government.
Here is a fundamental problem that I have, and we have seen this on the ground in northern B.C., which I represent. We have had many debates over pipelines. At one point, we had 23 LNG pipelines proposed across my region. We had one significant diluted bitumen pipeline proposed to go from Alberta all the way through two coastlines and 1,100 streams and rivers into Kitimat, down the Douglas Channel, allegedly, and then off to China, supposedly. Therefore, we have had our fair share of debate. We have had our share of environmental conversations, the jobs-versus-economy/jobs-and-economy debate. We have seen it on the ground.
The example I will use is the one closest to us, which was this entire debate around Enbridge northern gateway. This is a debate that occurred in my region of the world for about a dozen years, at least. It started to heat up and had a focal point in the long campaign over a plebiscite, a vote that was being conducted in the district of Kitimat, in the city of Kitimat itself, where the terminus was meant to be located. This was the first time in Canadian history that I am aware of when a community held a referendum or a vote on a major industrial project: Do we want this oil pipeline, and the terminus and tankers associated with it, to go ahead, yes or no?
For those who have not been to Kitimat, British Columbia, this is a town where the district side was built entirely for industrial purposes. It was initiated some 60 years ago as a planned community by Alcan, now Rio Tinto. It was a planned community to support a smelter. The Province of British Columbia essentially gave the company a river to dam and then use as very cheap power to smelt aluminum and create an entire industrial complex. Therefore, if there is any town in British Columbia, if not in Canada, that is pro-industry, one would say it is Kitimat. It has had many large industrial-type projects and it is quite proud of them.
This was the vote being held. On one side was a small group of local volunteers called the Douglas Channel Watch. These would be, in the conspiracy world of some of my colleagues, the foreign-funded folks. The grand total the group spent on the referendum was $875.
On the other side was Enbridge northern gateway, a subsidiary of Enbridge but the same company. It had raised, follow the numbers, $100 million to support and lobby for its pipeline, from 10 different upstream and downstream oil companies, many of them Chinese. That is $100 million to promote one pipeline. It was not to build it. It was not for construction costs, engineering, science or anthropological work, but just for promotion. Leading up to the referendum, the company was flying in employees from all over the place. They took out advertisements in every single newspaper along our highway, all the way through to Alberta, talking about how important this vote was, even though the vote was taking place only in one town. There were full-page ads, colour ads, radio advertisements, and on and on it went.
Therefore, if anyone is talking about an unfair conversation about a Canadian democratic choice, this was it. There were millions of dollars being spent on one side from foreign sources, which would remain legal under this bill that the Conservatives have proposed. On the other side, there was a locally funded charity that was having bake sales in order to have flyers so the organizers could go door to door and talk to people about the vote that was coming.
Despite all of that, the referendum passed against this pipeline, the terminus and the tankers, because the people in Kitimat said that where they live, a diluted bitumen pipeline and the supertankers associated with it, sailing down the Douglas Channel performing three 90-degree turns through some of the worst and most dangerous water in North America out to China, is not a good proposal for them, and that the risk versus benefit was not worth it. Therefore, they took the vote despite the lopsided campaign that had been initiated.
If the Conservatives actually want to get at the heart of this, and we think it is laudable to try to distance ourselves, remove ourselves, innoculate ourselves from foreign influence when we are having a democratic election, referendum or general election of any kind, we agree. However, it has to be equal to both sides. We cannot simply go after environmental groups because Conservatives just do not like them, meanwhile turning a blind eye to the corporate sector, which has vastly larger sums of money available and has deep interests that go beyond a single election and a single referendum into many decades.
We would encourage our Conservative colleagues to come to the fulsome debate and level the playing field in our debates. Let us shut off all foreign influence, absolutely, but let us do it on behalf of all Canadians, not just on behalf of those we happen to like.
Last thing, the Conservatives I know in Alberta, and Albertans in general, are not victims. They are good, hard-working people. This bill points to them as somehow being victims of some foreign influence.