The threat of foreign interference in Canada’s upcoming elections is real, says Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins.
“I think it is a legitimate concern,” said Calkins this week, adding one of Canadians’ greatest responsibilities as citizens is casting their ballots.
“It’s imperative that we try and keep that process as honest and fair as possible and outside of the influence of everybody but Canadians.”
That Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election has been accepted as fact by that country’s security community.
Canada’s cyberspy agency warned earlier this week that foreign meddling on some scale is expected in the next federal election.
A report from Canada’s Communications Security Establishment suggests this country should count on foreign adversaries trying to sway voters by focusing on polarizing social and political issues, promoting the popularity of one party over another, or trying to shape the public statements and policy choices of a candidate.
Cybertools are used to target the websites, email, social-media accounts, networks and devices of political parties, candidates and their staff, the report adds.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland warned just last week that malicious foreign players had Canada’s coming election in their sights, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fingered Russia as a likely culprit.
Calkins said Freeland, Trudeau and the country’s defence minister have all alluded at various times to interference in the last federal election. However, when Calkins formally asked for details, he got no reply.
Calkins introduced private member’s bill C-406 last June to address what he sees as part of the problem. The legislation aims to fix a loophole in elections law that allows foreign entities to contribute millions to third party groups supporting one political party over another.
He says groups such as Vancouver-based Leadnow, which organized strategic voting initiatives targetting conservative politicians, are getting some of their funding from outside Canada.
Criticisms have also been raised by oil and gas industry supporters that environmental organizations opposed to oilsands development and new pipelines are getting funding from outside the country.
Calkins said his bill does not address that, focusing instead on election advertising. It is already illegal, he notes, for non-Canadians to donate to our political parties.
The bill would ban foreign contributions to third-party groups that will be spent on election advertising.
That funding is “kind of a back-door way for money outside our borders to find its way into our election process,” said the MP.
The legislation has passed first reading and is expected to come up for more debate early next month.
So far, the bill has had no support from the federal NDP and Liberals, and private member’s bills rarely pass.