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Government Action on Foreign Financing in Elections

Hon. Linda Frum: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The Commissioner of Elections Canada, Yves Côté, recently appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Mr. Côté confirmed that it is legal for a Canadian-registered third party to receive unlimited sums of money from a foreign contributor to use during an election. Furthermore, if the funds are received at least six months plus one day before the writ drops, there is no requirement to disclose the origin of any foreign funds. Mr. Côté said:

If the money was received before the six months, it becomes mingled into the funds of a third party and the third party, under the regime that we have now, is free to use that money.

The question about closing this loophole surrounding foreign influence in our elections law, the Minister of Democratic Institutions said on February 14 during Senate Question Period that this is something she would look into and would definitely consider.

My question, leader, is: Has Minister Gould looked into this matter since her appearance in February, and if so, how does she intend to close this serious loophole in the Canada Elections Act?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for raising this matter yet again. I have not discussed the follow-up subject with the minister but will be happy to do so and report back.

On September 19, 2017 the Liberal Government provided the following answer:

The Government takes the threat of foreign interference in Canadian elections seriously. The Minister of Democratic Institutions’ mandate letter includes a commitment to have the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to analyze risks to Canada’s political and electoral activities from hackers, and to release this assessment publicly. Further, our Government has asked CSE to offer advice to Canada’s political parties and Elections Canada on best practices when it comes to cyber security.

The Minister of Democratic Institutions released an analysis of cyber threats to Canadian democracy on June 16th, 2017. This was the first public report of this kind. Since the release of the threat assessment, CSE has briefed federal political parties and provincial elections agencies on cyber security. CSE will continue to provide advice and support as requested.

Moreover, our political financing regime ensures that Canadian elections are for Canadians to decide. Using foreign contributions for election advertising purposes is an offence under the Canada Elections Act. The potential penalty on conviction is a fine of up to $2,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than three months, or both, in the case of third parties. Participation by foreign third parties is also strictly limited – they cannot spend more than $500 in advertising expenses. Individuals who are not citizens or permanent residents are prohibited from directly influencing the outcome of Canadian elections.

The Chief Electoral Officer has made recommendations on third party activities that are currently being considered by the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and were central to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs’ Seventeenth Report entitled, Controlling Foreign Influence in Canadian Elections, presented on June 8, 2017. We are open to considering ways to further strengthen and protect our electoral system.

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