Election Financing (Minister of Democratic Reform)
Hon. Linda Frum: Minister, yesterday in Question Period you responded to a question on the subject of foreign influence in Canadian elections from the Member of Parliament for Banff—Airdrie by saying, "International entities cannot give money to political parties or candidates." However, under the current law, registered third parties are able to spend unlimited amounts of foreign money conducting election activities such as polling, operating websites and phone banking, to name just a few. This fact was confirmed by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand at the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, when he said:
Once the funds are mingled with the organization in Canada, it's the Canadian organization's funds. That's how they act is structured right now, and they can use their funds.
By "funds," he meant foreign funds.
Minister, you are mandated to:
Review the limits on the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during elections, and propose measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits as well.
Will you address this significant loophole in the election law that allows foreign money to be used in Canadian elections by registered third parties, and, if so, when can we expect to see relevant legislation?
Hon. Karina Gould, P.C., M.P., Minister of Democratic Institutions: Thank you so much, Senator Frum, for your question. The question I received yesterday in Question Period in the other place, as well as a similar question that I received on the House and Procedures Committee from the honourable member that you mentioned, is an important one.
In my mandate, a couple of things address this issue or will have us looking at it in greater detail. The first is the new element of my mandate letter that the Prime Minister has included with regard to working with the Communications Security Establishment of Canada to ensure that we are analyzing and reviewing the landscape in terms of potential threats via cybersecurity or cyberattack for our political parties. I'm already engaging in conversations with the CSE about how we work through this, and we provide that service and that information to political parties to ensure that they have the ability to protect themselves and to protect the information that they currently hold.
The other side of that, as you correctly point out, is the ability to limit campaign spending between elections. That's something I'm entering into conversations about right now. I think it's quite important to ensure that we do monitor the limits of spending.
However, with regard to foreign money in the Canadian political process, it's very important to note that in Canada we do have very strict financing laws when it comes to who can donate to a political party, a third party or a candidate during a writ period. For a long time, foreign money was not allowed to be part of that. It can be either up to a $50,000 fine or five years of imprisonment if that is found to be the case.
Senator Frum: Minister, would you agree that it is possible for foreign entities to make donations to third-party organizations outside of the writ period; that that money ends up getting used during the writ period; that this is the loophole I'm referring to; and that this is a very serious threat to our political sovereignty?
Ms. Gould: Thank you again, Senator Frum, for the questions. It is something that I will certainly be looking into. From the experience we have, we have found that this is not something that is currently present and so significant that it would impact the electoral system or the confidence that Canadians have during a writ period or during an election. However, I take your point and I appreciate it. It's something that I will definitely consider.