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Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2018

What’s inside: The federal government’s election reform bill

After Trudeau’s Liberals promised to eliminate the first-past-the-post system, we see how the government’s election reform bill stacks up

Celie Deagle

On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heartily assured supporters of his commitment to reform Canada’s electoral system and “make every vote count.” Once in office, though, Trudeau’s enthusiasm fizzled out and no legislation was pushed through Parliament. Nonetheless, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-76 this April, which aims to overhaul the current Canada Elections Act in time for the 2019 federal election. But without an alternative to the “first-past-the-post” system and little time left until Canadians head to the polls, it’s unclear if C-76’s proposed changes will go far enough to fulfill the Liberal’s original promise.

Foreign entities, which can currently spend up to $500 to influence elections, would not be permitted to spend anything on Canadian elections, and organizations selling ad space would not be allowed to knowingly accept advertisements from foreign entities.

C-76 will require political parties to provide receipts for the millions taxpayers spend on election reimbursements. But the bill leaves a new loophole in its wake. A foreign entity could get around the ban on election spending by giving money to one Canadian organization, which could then pass it along to a second Canadian organization that would use the money for political purposes.

A new pre-election period, beginning on June 30 of an election year, would cap the spending limit for partisan advertising and election surveys at $1.5 million.

C-76 will require each political party to create a publicly available privacy policy that defines each party’s standards for the protection of Canadians’ personal data. In testimony given in June, Canada’s Federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien criticized the requirement as inadequate and noted that C-76 wouldn’t limit how much personal information is collected by political parties or the disclosure of personal information to others. Nor would it allow individuals access to their personal information, or require parties to seek consent before collecting information.

In a bid to get more Canadians to the polls, C-76 would allow voter information cards to be used as identification, increase the number of hours advance polls are open, and reimburse political parties for accommodating persons with disabilities.

Elections Canada has begun preparing for the bill’s changes, although it is uncertain if Parliament, which resumes in September, will pass C-76 quickly enough for the new measures to apply during the 2019 election.

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