National Press Theatre - Remarks on the introduction of Bill C-76: the Elections Modernization Act

Speech

Good afternoon,

Today, in the House of Commons, I was pleased to introduce the Elections Modernization Act. The changes we are proposing in this legislation will update the Canada Elections Act to better address the realities facing our democratic institutions in the 21st century. And it will make real, tangible improvements, to make elections more efficient and effective for all Canadians.

The changes we are proposing under the Elections Modernization Act will:

  • Make the electoral process more accessible to all Canadians;
  • Modernize the administration and enforcement of elections;
  • Make the electoral process more secure and transparent;
  • Protect the integrity of the Canadian electoral system; and
  • Better protect the personal information and privacy of Canadians.

Making the electoral process more accessible

Nothing is more fundamental to the health of our democracy than ensuring the trust and participation of Canadians in our democratic institutions.

It is equally important that everyone has the chance to participate in the democratic process by running in an election, if they so wish.

That is why one of the central pillars of this Bill promotes a more accessible electoral process.

People today are busier than ever. Canadians work irregular hours, do shift work, travel for business and pleasure, and have parenting or caregiver responsibilities that start before dawn and end late in the evening.

While more and more people are voting at advance polls, we are making it even easier for hard-working Canadians to vote by increasing the hours that polling stations are open and giving Elections Canada the ability to make polling places operate more efficiently.

Currently, there are barriers in place that have made it more difficult for some Canadians to take part in the democratic process. This includes persons with disabilities, members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadians living abroad. This legislation will make the electoral process more accessible.

Canadian Armed Forces members make tremendous sacrifices defending our democracy, and we must ensure that they are able to easily participate in it as well.

We are giving our soldiers, sailors, and air personnel the option to vote using any available method that best suits their needs, in addition to the existing option of military polls.

We are changing the law so someone with a disability will have the option to vote at home, vote in another polling station with better accessibility, or take advantage of mobile polls.

We are creating incentives for political parties to make campaign materials and events more accessible to people with disabilities.

And we will return voting rights to more than one million Canadian citizens living abroad.

Participation in Canada’s democratic system goes beyond casting votes.

There are obstacles in place that may have prevented some Canadians from running for office.

That is why we are also making it easier for disabled Canadians and Canadians caring for a young, sick, or disabled family member to run for federal office.

With this legislation, a candidate who must pay for childcare expenses while campaigning, or a candidate who must cover the cost of homecare or healthcare for a family member, would be reimbursed at a rate of 90 percent, and these costs would be exempt from campaign spending limits.

Modernizing the administration and enforcement of elections

We must ensure that our democratic system is efficient, effective, and keeps pace with our changing society. This Bill will modernize the administration of elections to make it easier for Canadians to vote and more difficult for elections law-breakers to evade punishment.

To ensure compliance with the law, we are proposing new powers for the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

We will strengthen the Commissioner’s powers, by:

  • providing the power to lay charges for violations of elections laws
  • providing the power to administer monetary penalties – or fines – for minor violations, and
  • giving the Commissioner the ability to seek a court order to compel testimony

This means real change in the way elections laws are enforced. We will also be moving this office back to Elections Canada to ensure greater independence from political actors in government.

Making the electoral process more secure

The integrity and fairness of Canada’s electoral process is of paramount importance. All democracies around the world are facing these challenges. Canada is not immune to threats from foreign influence and online disruption.

Today, we are proposing changes related to foreign influence and online disruption that the Government of Canada can address within the Canada Elections Act

We are closing the loophole that has allowed foreign entities to spend money to influence our elections. Currently, foreign entities can spend up to $500.

With the passage of this bill, foreign entities will no longer be able to spend any money whatsoever to influence federal elections. All registered third parties will be required to have a Canadian bank account, and any organizations – online or offline – that sell advertising space will be prohibited from knowingly running election advertisements paid for with foreign funds.

In order to combat “fake news,” a new provision of the Bill would prohibit the distribution of materials in any form – print and online – that intend to mislead the public as to their source.

In addition to what you see in this legislation, we are working hard across government to strengthen the defence of our democracy and to ensure that we are taking advantage of the knowledge, skills, and expertise that exist within the Government of Canada.

Making the electoral process more transparent

The spirit of our electoral system rests on a fair and level playing field. It is crucial that the political actors with the deepest pockets do not dominate the discourse. Canadians want to hear – deserve to hear – from all sides.

Our changes will enhance transparency and ensure this fair and level playing field by defining a pre-election period with reporting requirements and spending limits. The pre-election period would begin on June 30 in a fixed-date election year, and would extend until the writ is issued.

Rules on third-party spending will now cover:

  • partisan pre-writ advertising
  • election advertising
  • partisan activities; and
  • election surveys during the writ period

During the pre-election period, third parties will be required to register with Elections Canada if they spend more than $500 on partisan advertising or activities. They will also be required to report on all contributions they receive for election-related activities.

And as with political parties, third parties will now be required to use identifying taglines on all partisan advertising in both the election and pre-election period, and publicly report on their expenses to Elections Canada.

This means more publicly available information for Canadians – and the media – about spending before and during an election.

Empowering political parties to better protect Canadians’ privacy

By educating, mobilizing, and engaging with voters, political parties play a unique role in our democracy.

Campaigns have long gone door-to-door, sent mail, and made phone calls to talk directly with Canadians about the issues that are important to them.

Political parties go to where their constituents are, which is now – increasingly – online.

As more and more information is available online, Canadians are concerned about their private and personal information.

We believe they deserve to have this information protected.

The final set of changes we are proposing will ensure that political parties are doing their part to protect Canadians’ personal information.

We are implementing privacy standards for political parties. Through this legislation, we will require political parties to have a publicly available, easy to understand policy outlining how they use, collect, and secure Canadians’ personal information.

Parties will be required to submit their privacy policy as part of their application for registration (or re-registration) with Elections Canada.

This publicly available privacy policy will need to include:

  • A statement outlining how, and what information is collected;
  • A statement on how the party will protect personal information;
  • A statement informing Canadians on how the party will use personal information and under what circumstances personal information may be sold;
  • A statement on employee training regarding the collection and use of personal information;
  • A statement on the collection and use of personal information from online activity and the party’s use of cookies on its website; and
  • The name and contract information of a designated person to whom privacy concerns can be addressed.

I will also be asking the House of Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to revisit their recent decision about privacy standards for political parties and will ask them to conduct a longer-term study about political parties’ privacy responsibilities.

Conclusion

This legislation incorporates the provisions introduced in Bill C-33 and has further benefited from the input of the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. I would like to thank them for their hard work, and to note the role the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer has played in helping to pave the way for the Elections Modernization Act.

In the few months that I have been Acting Minister of Democratic Institutions, and in my slightly longer time as a federal politician, I have seen first-hand the hard work of Elections Canada employees. They keep our electoral system moving smoothly, and never stop working to ensure that Canadians are ready for the next election. I want to thank them for the work they do for all of us. With them, our elections are in good hands.

We are committed to strengthening Canada’s democratic institutions. We are committed to maintaining the trust of Canadians in our democratic process. We are updating our law to ensure our democratic institutions are modern, secure, and transparent, and removing barriers to make our democracy more accessible for all Canadians.

Thank you. I will now take your questions.


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