Bill C-76: Election Spending, Foreign Influence, Voting Process

Bill C-76: Election Spending, Foreign Influence, Voting Process

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

UPDATED May 1, 2018 9:08amET


Details of Bill C-76 have been released following its tabling in the House of Commons. The proposed changes to Canada’s election law touch on everything from the voting process, to foreign and third-party spending, to the information that political parties collect on voters.

MPs from the three major parties offered reaction on PrimeTime Politics with Peter Van Dusen:

Watch the full news conference with acting Democratic Institutions Minister Scott Brison:

Read the text of the bill:


 

Legislation on Canada’s federal electoral process in on today’s Notice Paper, less than one week after Elections Canada told MPs that time is running out to make major changes ahead of the 2019 campaign.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison, the acting democratic institutions minister, is holding a news conference in Ottawa at 5pm ET / 2pm PT following a background technical briefing for journalists on “modernizing Canada’s federal elections.”

THE TIME FACTOR

Stéphane Perrault, the acting chief electoral officer, told the Commons procedure committee last Tuesday that “we are now at a point where the implementation of new legislation will likely involve compromises.”

Changes that involve computer technology and cyber security would bring “considerable risks” without enough time for proper testing, Perreault said in his prepared remarks.

“Our window for integrated testing is September 2018,” he said. “Therefore, there may not be sufficient time to automate new processes. Less optimal paper or manual solutions may have to be used instead.”

POTENTIAL CHANGES

Two other election-related bills remain in Parliament: C-33 (House of Commons, first reading) and C-50 (Senate, second reading). The former reverses many of the changes to the Canada Elections Act passed by the previous government. The latter deals with political party fundraising.

And Elections Canada offered the government several recommended changes to electoral law in September 2016, including:

  • a maximum length to federal campaigns, such as 50 days
  • Election Day on Saturday or Sunday instead of Monday
  • repealing the ban on foreign inducements to voters
  • a ban of posting photos of a marked ballot on social media
  • more options for disabled voters, including home and curbside voting
  • earlier opening times for advance polls
  • mobile polling stations for remote locations
  • more types of media subject to broadcasting rules during campaigns

Perreault pledged the agency would fulfill its mandate to find ways to implement what Parliament decides to enact.

But he added: “it is also my responsibility to inform you that time is quickly running out. Canadians trust Elections Canada to deliver robust and reliable elections, and we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where the quality of the electoral process is impacted.”

Meanwhile, the procedure committee has recommended an independent commission to oversee televised leaders’ debate — with a dissenting report from the Conservatives. The 2015 Liberal platform made the same pledge. Last week the Institute for Research on Public Policy released its own recommendations.

The new also bill comes as a parliamentary committee continues its study of Facebook’s data collection and the Cambridge Analytical scandal. The federal privacy commissioner has called for stricter regulation of how political parties gather and use voters’ personal information.

CYBER THREATS AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Will social media and digital technology play a role in new legislation?

Those 2016 Elections Canada recommendations include “a specific offence for the creation and distribution of false candidate or party campaign communication material, including false websites or other online or social media content, with the intent to mislead electors.”

Facebook announced a “Canadian Election Integrity Initiative” last year in the lead-up to 2019. Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould told reporters at the time that she was considering updates to the Canada Elections Act itself.

As for foreign influence, a June 2017 assessment by Communications Security Establishment (CSE) concluded:

We expect that multiple hacktivist groups will very likely deploy cyber capabilities in an attempt to influence the democratic process during the 2019 federal election. We anticipate that much of this activity will be low-sophistication, though we expect that some influence activities will be well-planned and target more than one aspect of the democratic process. € Regarding Canada’s democratic process at the federal level, we assess that, almost certainly, political parties and politicians, and the media are more vulnerable to cyber threats and related influence operations than the election activities themselves. This is because federal elections are largely paper-based and Elections Canada has a number of legal, procedural, and information technology measures in place.

(Canadians will still vote with traditional paper ballots next year. The government agreed with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform’s call to not implement online voting — though a 2017 report prepared for the government recommended that Elections Canada consider trials for remote voters.)

CPAC In Focus: Electoral Reboot

South of the border, U.S. intelligence agencies have already warned of likely Russian interference in this November’s midterm elections: “At a minimum, we expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”

That followed the assessment that Russia’s 2016 effort combined “covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls’.” And Russian access to several U.S. state and local electoral commissions — but not actual vote-tallying systems.

-Andrew Thomson