Madam Speaker, I rise today in the House to participate in the report stage debate of Bill C-76, the elections modernization act. The bill represents a generational overhaul of the legal framework that governs our federal elections, one of the most important events in our Canadian democracy. I would like to pay particular attention in my intervention to one of the key challenges that Bill C-76 addresses, that is the use of foreign funding by third parties for activities that would aim to influence the outcome of Canadian elections. Madam Speaker, I am sure you have heard a number of questions related to this, so I am hoping I will be able to answer some of them in my comments.
The use of foreign interference in domestic democratic processes is a very complex one that requires government-wide response. The government is taking these threats very seriously, and the Minister of Democratic Institutions is working closely with her colleagues to protect our electoral processes from these nefarious acts.
Before I continue with my remarks on this important issue, I would first like to thank our colleagues who are members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I will refer to it as PROC or the committee from now on. They have conducted a thorough study of this important piece of legislation and have advanced the proposal that we are now considering. There was a total of 100 hours of study, and I really want to commend them for their work.
Even before the bill was introduced by the minister, the comprehensive study of the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, which the committee conducted over the last year, greatly contributed to the development of this strong piece of legislation. I want to reiterate that over 85% of the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations are included in the current piece of legislation. Further, the discussions held by the PROC committee on the bill, including hearing from expert witnesses last spring, have resulted in amendments that are making this important legislation even stronger, including with respect to combatting foreign interference in Canada's federal election.
I would like to take a few moments to remind members of the House of important measures that are included in the bill, as introduced by the Minister of Democratic Institutions. The government believes these measures would help ensure that only Canadians get to influence the outcome of our Canadian elections. First, Bill C-76 prohibits foreign entities from spending any money to influence elections. Previously, they were able to spend up to $500 without being regulated. Canadians who are watching might be thinking there is no problem with $500. While it is true that it might not seem like a lot of money, when compared to hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent by political parties and candidates during an election campaign, this gets to be problematic. That said, a zero tolerance approach tells foreign entities to stay away from of our election, in unequivocal terms. It is, therefore, an important loophole that C-76 is closing. The message is clear: Canadians elections belong to Canadians, and it is not the place of foreigners to have a say in who should have a place in this chamber.
Another important feature of Bill C-76 that also contributes to this objective is the creation of the pre-election period, with spending limits imposed on political parties and third parties. This measure is necessary to respond to the reality that fixed-date elections have changed how political actors behave in the lead-up to an election campaign.
During his testimony before PROC last spring, Mr. Michael Pal, a renowned professor of constitutional law, stated that the creation of the pre-election period “...is an extremely important and overdue amendment to the Elections Act.” The government believes that failing to impose limits in the lead-up to the issue of the writ would create a real risk for a level playing field, a feature of our democratic life. That is why we are committed to adapting the legislation to modern realities.
These changes related to the pre-election period also provide for additional transparency measures for third parties. Among these measures, we count the obligation that the election-related transactions be processed through a Canadian bank account, opened specifically for that purpose. Third parties, whether organizations or individuals who receive contributions for more than $10,000 or have relevant expenses in that amount, would be obligated to submit reports to the Chief Electoral Officer detailing expenses incurred and contributions received.
These interim reports will be due upon registration and on September 15. A final financial report will continue to be required after polling day. Making these reports public as soon as possible in the pre-election period will provide Canadians with more tools to know who is trying to influence their votes. It is our responsibility to ensure that Canadians have access to all the information possible so they can make an informed decision.
The amendments approved by PROC will strengthen this third-party transparency regime even more. Members of the standing committee adopted an amendment that would require reporting of the expenses of third parties, organizations, or individuals during the election period. More specifically, they would have to submit reports to the Chief Electoral Officer 21 days before polling day and seven days before polling day. This is an important improvement for ensuring greater transparency, particularly when we think that third parties do not face the same limits as political parties and candidates in receiving contributions from individuals or other entities. I commend the members of PROC for this measure, which nicely complements the set of amendments to the Canada Elections Act that were already introduced in the bill by the minister.
There is another key amendment that was adopted by PROC that relates to foreign influence. Indeed, PROC adopted a new prohibition on third parties using foreign funding for their partisan activities at any time. Let me be clear that the Canada Elections Act already prohibits the use of foreign funding for election advertising by third parties during the election period, irrespective of when the money is received. Bill C-76 has already expanded the scope of third-party activities that are covered by this prohibition. Not only will it be prohibited to use foreign funding for advertising, but it will also be prohibited to do so for partisan activities or election surveys.
Further, the Elections Modernization Act also extends this prohibition to activities during the newly established pre-election period. The amendment to the bill that was passed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs extends this idea further by prohibiting the use of foreign funding by third parties for partisan advertising and activities at any time. This addition to Bill C-76 will reinforce the rules that frame the participation of third parties in our federal elections. What will this prohibition mean concretely? It would mean that it would be prohibited for anyone, an individual, a corporation or a non-government organization, to use foreign funding to conduct activities or transmit advertising supporting or opposing a specific political party.
I will say it once more that Canadian elections belong to Canadians. Bill C-76, which was improved by the work of our colleagues on the PROC committee, makes giant steps toward ensuring that our elections will be protected from foreign intervention.
Once again I would like to thank the members for their insightful study of Bill C-76. The elections modernization act will make our election processes more secure, transparent and accessible and will modernize the administration of elections in this country. It is an important piece of legislation to reinforce the protections against foreign interference in our democracy and for the future of Canadian democracy.