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Liberals target ad spending, privacy in long-promised election reform bill

Liberals target ad spending, privacy in long-promised election reform bill

Liberals target ad spending, privacy in long-promised election reform bill
April 30
22:38 2018
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OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government wants to make it easier for Canadians to cast a ballot, while making it harder for political parties to spend vast sums to persuade them who to vote for — or to violate their privacy.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison introduced a bill Monday meant to address several promises Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made on the campaign trail, including by tackling how much political parties and third-party advocacy groups can spend before and during election campaigns.

“We know that the protection of our electoral system is absolutely essential and over the years, we have seen new threats and new challenges appearing that may affect the integrity of our electoral system,” Trudeau said Monday in Vancouver.

Brison is acting as democratic institutions minister while Karina Gould, who usually fills that role, is on maternity leave.

The proposed legislation, if passed, would limit how much political parties can spend on partisan advertising leading up to the official campaign period, which would be about $1.5 million in 2019.

Third-party advocacy groups, meanwhile, would be limited to spending $10,000 per electoral district — up to $1 million in total — on partisan advertising, activities and election-related surveys.

After the writs are dropped, however, those third parties would be able to spend up to $500,000 in 2019, which is more than allowed now, but none of it could come from foreign entities.

The bill is also meant to modernize the Canada Elections Act to reflect the fact that a lot of campaigning now takes place online, introducing a number of new risks to the privacy of Canadians.


President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, April 30, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Justin Tang /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The proposed legislation, known as Bill C-76, would require all political parties to create and publish a policy on how they will protect the privacy of voters, including what information they are collecting from potential voters, how it will be safeguarded and how it will be used.

Bill C-76 also contains some measures to make voting more accessible, such as allowing advance polls to remain open for 12 hours, and creating a registry of Canadians between the ages of 14 to 17, who would be allowed to vote within the next few years.

The Liberal government introduced some reforms in November 2016, aimed at undoing some of what the Conservatives introduced through their Fair Elections Act — including restoring the use of the voter identification card as a valid piece of ID.

That bill, stalled at the introductory stage ever since, will be rolled into the new one.

The legislation does not, however, come through on the promise to create an independent commission to organize televised debates among party leaders.


Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair listen as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper take part in the first leaders debate Thursday, August 6, 2015 in Toronto. FRANK GUNN/AFP/Getty Images

FRANK GUNN /

AFP/Getty Images

Last week, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, which the Liberal government had tasked with hosting roundtables on the issue, released a report concluding it is more important to make sure that particular reform is done correctly than it is to do it quickly.

“The commission should be built to last,” said the report.

“It should be adaptable to evolving voter preferences, party configurations, and social context,” said the report. “It is more important, therefore, to get it right than to get it soon.”

The Liberals are confident the changes will be in place in time for Canadians to vote in the next federal election.

“We want to have these measures in place by the election in 2019, because Canadians expect elections to be reliable and safe,” Trudeau said.

But acting chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault said last week that anything meant to apply in 2019 should have been in place by now.





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