TORONTO – In the wake of allegations of Russian interference in elections in the United States and elsewhere, the Canadian government unveiled sweeping legislation this week to ban foreign entities from spending money to influence elections, require “identifying taglines” on all political advertising and force political parties to reveal what voter information they collect.
The bill comes as concerns mount about the potential of foreign adversaries and social media platforms to influence elections and as questions are being raised about the secrecy of the techniques that Canadian political parties and others have developed to scrape and profit from voters’ data.
But the measure may be too little, too late: Even if the bill passes before lawmakers break for summer recess, there might not be enough time to implement the changes before the next federal election in 2019. And just passing the bill might present a challenge because it is likely to face opposition in the Senate.
Under the proposed reforms, foreign entities would be banned from spending money to influence elections when previously they could spend up to 500 Canadian dollars. Third parties would be barred from working with other organizations to flout the rules on foreign spending. Ads from political parties or third parties would have to carry “identifying taglines.” And organizations that sell advertising space, such as social media companies, would be prohibited from “knowingly” accepting election ads from foreign entities.
If the bill passes, Elections Canada would be empowered to clamp down on the distribution of false statements made or published on social media and elsewhere with the intent to influence the results of an election, and the elections commissioner would be able to compel witness testimony when investigating potential wrongdoing.
The bill also proposes changes aimed at enhancing the privacy obligations of Canada’s political parties. While private- and public-sector agencies are subject to Canada’s internet privacy and data protection laws, political parties are exempt from them.
The legislation would make it mandatory for political parties to publish a public statement outlining what information they collect on voters, how it will be safeguarded and whether it will be sold.