Article appeared in Medicine Hat News August 3, 2018
In just more than a year Canadians will again return to the ballot boxes. In preparation, the federal government has unveiled changes to our country’s elections laws. While there are some measures in Bill C-76 that would improve the existing rules, the legislation comes up short in a number of ways.
One measure in the bill that could be seen as an improvement to our existing framework would limit the federal election period to 50 days (no more three-month campaigns). This would address voter fatigue by ensuring the election period is more condensed and predictable. Another proposal would make direct foreign spending during the election period illegal. At a time when democratic governments are trying to limit outside interference, this is a step in the right direction.
However, while the bill tackles direct foreign interference, it fails to address more indirect methods of influencing elections, namely foreign-funded third party groups. For example, during the 2015 general election the American-based Tides foundation, which is committed to stopping pipeline projects, transferred more than $1.5 million to groups in Canada. This included an organization called Leadnow, which boasts of influencing more than 25 seats in that election. Since then, the previously approved Northern Gateway Pipeline was cancelled, plans for an Energy East pipeline were terminated, and private investors were chased out of the Trans Mountain expansion project.
The government has also proposed introducing a vouching system whereby another person can “guarantee” for a voter so that they can vote without identification. Currently, the law requires a voter have valid documentation in order to vote. This includes a driver’s licence, passport or some form of government issued photo ID, coupled with an additional piece of correspondence (utility bill, phone bill, etc.) confirming name and address. As Canadians, we all require identification for numerous societal functions such as banking, driving privileges, airline travel, travel outside Canada, age restricted activities, etc. Canadians I have spoken with believe it is more than reasonable to maintain a requirement that all those wishing to cast a ballot provide proof of who they are and where they reside.
Additionally, Bill C-76 proposes to put severe limits on political advertising before elections. During the period preceding the start of an election, Opposition parties’ spending would be strictly limited. However, the government (currently the Liberals) would be able to continue to use taxpayer dollars to generate and disseminate “government only” advertising and campaign funding promises.
All Canadians, regardless of inclination, expect election rules that ensure that our democracy remains healthy and accountable. While this legislation contains some useful measures, we need a more rigorous approach that will prevent outside interference and the potential of voter fraud to ensure Canada’s elections remain fair and secure. It will be interesting to see if the Liberals will push this bill through the Parliamentary process in hopes of having it in place for the 2019 election
Glen Motz is the MP (CPC) for the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner