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Bill C-50: An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act - Second Reading

Honorable Senators:

I rise today to speak as critic of Bill C-50 an Act to Amend the Canada Election Act (Political Financing).

After two and a half years in government, Bill C-50 is the Liberal government’s one and only piece of legislation passed by the other place and sent to the Senate to address the supremely important issue of election reform in our digital age.

Whether it be deliberate misinformation campaigns sponsored by hostile foreign governments, or an uneven playing field between registered political parties and registered third parties, the abuse of election advertising laws or the distorting effect of powerful social media conglomerates on politics: there is a crying need for legislation designed to protect Canada’s elections from fraud, interference, hacking, data mining  and foreign influence.

Does Bill C-50 address, or even attempt to address any of these real and serious challenges to Canada’s political and electoral sovereignty?  The answer is no. 

Instead – all our government has managed to come up with is a pale re-write of an existing law regarding the transparency of political fundraisers.

There is almost nothing in Bill C-50 that doesn’t already exist in law.  The only change it makes is that those who attend political fundraisers where the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers or a party leader is present, and who contribute over $200, must have their names published within 30 days of the event.

The prompt for Bill C-50 was a political pay-for-play scandal that involved the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister, for which Bill C-50 was the communication department’s solution. 

The more obvious solution, it seems to me, would be for the Prime Minister and his cabinet to simply follow the rules as they are already written.  These rules can be found on the Prime Minister’s own website:

  • Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.
  • Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
  • There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
  • There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.

But no matter that these rules already exist, we are now asked to deal with Bill C-50.

Honourable Colleagues, I suggest we get on with it.  Let’s pass this do-nothing, public relations attempt immediately – so that we can get on with the real business of urgent electoral reform on the issues which actually threaten our democracy, such as considering my Bill S-239.

Bill S-239 was introduced on June 2nd, 2017 nearly a year ago, and has been stalled by the Independent Senate Group ever since.  It seeks to close a loophole that was identified by the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Elections Canada which is that foreign entities are allowed to contribute to Canadian third parties for election related activities.

It’s worth noting that when the well-respected and non-partisan Public Policy Forum conducted its study on the pressing need for effective electoral reform, they did not mention Bill C-50.  They did however underscore many, if not all of the same points I have been trying to impress upon colleagues here for the past 11 months, some of which are addressed in Bill S-239.

For your edification, here is a summary of the eight recommendations put forward by the PPF report:

 

  1. Allow only eligible voters to make political contributions, eliminating foreign money in the process.
  2. Level the playing field for donations to registered third parties by imposing the same limits as for political parties.
  3. Extend campaign – spending limits for political entities to kick in six months prior to the fixed election date.
  4. Enhance regulation, transparency and disclosure around third parties.
  5. Maintain the current balance between public and private funding.
  6. Lower the threshold for public reimbursement.
  7. Regulate in-kind contributions through administrative penalties.
  8. Increase transparency around social media and micro-targetting.

 

Honourable Senators, these are the issues that public policy leaders interested in meaningful reform would like to see.

As for Bill C-50, let’s pass it, or let’s ignore it, but let’s not let anyone be under the illusion it accomplishes anything of value to democratic reform whatsoever.

Thank you.

 

 

 

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