Elections Bill: Government Seeks Changes to Spending, Voting Process

Elections Bill: Government Seeks Changes to Spending, Voting Process

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

May 9, 2018 3:55pmET


The proposed changes to Canada’s election law, which touch on everything from the voting process, to foreign and third-party spending, to the information that political parties collect on voters, is scheduled for debate in the House of Commons on Thursday.

CPAC In Focus: Introducing Bill C-76

C-76 proposes an array of changes to federal election law. Some come from recommendations sent to Parliament by former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand. Other sections seek to reverse policies implemented by the previous government.

Here’s more on what’s in the bill, what’s not in the bill, and the debate so far.

The Voting Process

When it comes to casting a ballot, the bill calls for:

  • An Elections Canada voluntary register of 14 to 17-year-old future voters
  • The return of vouching for a voter’s identity and residence
  • Voter identification card to again be accepted as identification
  • Streamlined procedures at polling locations to reduce wait times
  • Extending the hours of advance polls to 12-hour days
  • Expanding the use of mobile polls for remote communities
  • Optional at-home voting for Canadians with disabilities
  • Reform to the voting process for serving military members
  • Removing requirements for non-resident voters to have been outside of Canada for fewer than five years and planning to return
  • Allowing the federal immigration department to help Elections Canada ensure permanent residents and non-citizens aren’t allowed to vote
  • Returning the public education function to Elections Canada

Spending, Third Parties, and Foreign Money

C-76 would create an official “pre-writ period” that begins June 30 in the year of a fixed-date election (held on the third Monday of October). This would mean a 113-day pre-writ period in 2019 ahead of the expected October 21 election.

During the pre-writ period C-76 would require:

  • Third-party organizations that spend above $500 on partisan advertising or other activities to register with Elections Canada and be subject to financial reporting requirements.
  • Third parties to use a dedicated Canadian bank account for any election-related spending
  • Identification on all partisan advertising by political parties and third parties
  • Spending limits on advertising for political parties (estimated at $1.5 million in 2019) and third parties (estimated at $10,000 per riding in 2019, to a $1-million maximum)

C-76 would also limit the writ period – a.k.a. the official campaign – to a 50-day maximum. During the writ period, the bill would:

  • Ban any spending by “foreign entities” instead of the current $500 limit
  • Eliminate the pro-rated increase of spending limits based on the campaign length
  • Increase the third-party spending limit – estimated at $500,000 for 2019, and a maximum of $4,000 in any one riding)
  • Ban collusion between third parties to evade spending limits

Third-party organizations would be required to:

  • Register with Elections Canada if they spend more then $500 on “partisan advertising or activities” in the new pre-writ period
  • Use a dedicated Canadian bank account for “election-related” spending
  • Report all contributions for “election-related activities”
  • “Not collude with other organizations to circumvent the prohibitions on foreign third parties or the use of foreign funds”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer criticized the proposed spending limits Wednesday while questioning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — and wondered if similar limits would be imposed on government advertising and ministerial travel in the pre-writ period:

Also:

  • Candidates can use personal funds, outside of the campaign spending limit, to pay for disability-related expenses, childcare, or care for a sick or disabled family member — and the reimbursement rate would be increased to 90 per cent

Election Security

Amidst fresh concerns around the world about electoral integrity, cyber attacks, disinformation, and the role of social media, the government has proposed the following measures in C-76:

  • Organizations selling ad space would be prohibited from knowingly accepting ads from foreign entities
  • Banning the distribution of materials that are intended to “mislead” the public as to the source
  • Making the “unauthorized use of computers” to obstruct, interrupt, or interfere with the electoral process a new offence
  • Clarifying the scope of the Canada Elections Act offence of publishing false statements
  • Giving the Commissioner of Canada Elections the power to lay charges (as was the case before 2006), seek court orders to compel testimony, and issue monetary penalties for certain violations of the Canada Elections Act

Privacy Concerns Addressed?

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.

Under C-76, registered political parties would need to release a policy on personal information collection that includes:

  • what information is collected and how
  • measures to protect that information
  • how the information is to be used or potentially sold
  • how employees are trained to handle the information
  • how online information is collected and how the party’s website uses cookies

However, parties would not come under federal privacy law.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison told reporters on April 30 that: “If a political party were to violate its public privacy policy that would be a position in which no political party would want to be found.  That is something that first of all making transparent the privacy policies of political parties, making them standard and having them as part of the registration process is a significant step forward.”

Former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand told HuffPost the bill does not far enough on privacy.

No Commission to Oversee Leaders’ Debates

C-76 does not include an independent commission to oversee televised leaders’ debates.

For decades, the country’s largest broadcasters were solely responsible for organizing the televised debates: the time, location, questions, and which leaders could participate.

Past disputes over which party leaders were eligible to take part led the 2015 Liberal platform to promise an “an independent commission to organize leaders’ debates and bring an end to partisan gamesmanship.”

That same year, the Conservative Party of Canada rejected the traditional consortium for a series of debates held by Maclean’sThe Globe and Mail, the Munk Debates, and the TVA network. (Although the broadcast consortium did organize a French-language debate.)

In March the Commons procedure committee also recommended a commission — though with a dissenting report from the Conservatives.  And last month the Institute for Research on Public Policy released its own recommendations.

The Time Factor

Stéphane Perrault, the acting chief electoral officer now nominated to take the job permanently, told the Commons procedure committee last month 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.”

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.”

The year-plus needed to settle on Perreault’s nomination drew criticism from the NDP during Wednesday’s question period:


Read the text of Bill C-76:


Here’s what MPs from the three major parties told CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen when the bill was introduced on April 30:

-Andrew Thomson