Former national security adviser questions feds' plan to prevent election meddling
Published Sunday, January 6, 2019 7:00AM EST
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's former national security adviser is questioning whether federal departments are prepared for the risk of election meddling in 2019 and whether the federal Liberals' legislation meant to tackle foreign interference goes far enough.
"I don't think that the reports that were issued by the government—by [the Communications Security Establishment (CSE)]—is comprehensive enough. I'm not sure the legislation that we have in place deals with all of this," Richard Fadden said on CTV's Question Period.
"It goes to the issue again, of fake news. This is a different version of fake news, and we haven't come to grips with it yet," said Fadden, who also advised former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, and previously headed up CSIS, Canada’s spy agency.
In 2017, CSE issued a report that found that Canada's democratic process is not immune to potential interference by outside actors.
Then, just last month, the agency issued a more broad report about the current cyber threat environment Canada is facing. It warned that foreign countries are "very likely" to try to sway Canadians' public opinion with misinformation online this year.
An update on the specific threats to Canada's democratic institutions is coming in spring 2019, with the next federal election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019.
As well, just before Parliament rose for the winter break, Bill C-76 passed, ushering in new elections modernization legislation. The bill makes changes aimed at eliminating foreign interference and spending. This includes stating that organizations that sell ad space cannot knowingly accept elections ads from foreign actors.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould has called this bill one of the "key cornerstones" towards making sure Canada is ready for the 2019 race, though the opposition parties had serious critiques of the bill throughout the legislative process.
Amid the improvements some stakeholders and opposing MPs called for—without success— were tougher privacy rules and oversight for political parties and the data they harvest from the electorate. This has been seen by some to be a key place vulnerable to being used improperly, whether by the party or a hacker who gains access to these databases.
Fadden said that Canada should be just as concerned as any other Western nation, citing England, France, and Germany as examples of countries other than the U.S. that have said they’ve seen some form of election meddling as well.
Election interference can come in many forms, from manipulating information online, to paying people off, Fadden said.
"I can see no rationale for concluding that we will not be the subject of meddling as well," Fadden said.
CTVNews.ca has previously reported on other major cyber security players saying that the 2019 election will be run in a different threat environment than past races, and stating that Canada should be concerned about election interference.
Canada has taken, and is still in the process of taking, additional steps to shore up the electoral system to keep out foreign spending; protect voting infrastructure from being hacked; and working with social media companies on plans to combat disinformation from interfering with public opinion during the campaign.
Though, even the minister in charge couldn’t say whether those steps will be enough.
"I think we’re ready. I have confidence in the process, but you know, you can’t always prevent everything." Gould told CTVNews.ca last fall.
In 2018, the federal government announced hundreds of millions of dollars for new cybersecurity initiatives. As part of this, the government is putting in $7.1 million over five years for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections to shore up Canadian electoral processes.
Trump an interferer?
Pollster Nik Nanos also floated the possibility of U.S President Donald Trump being seen as an interferer in the next Canadian federal election.
"By making derogatory remarks about the prime minister, we know that they don’t have a good relationship," Nanos said.
Trump launched personal attacks on Trudeau during tense moments in the NAFTA renegotiation.
After leaving the June G7 Summit in Quebec, Trump tweeted angrily about Trudeau’s comments during a concluding news conference, calling him "very dishonest and weak."
This move was largely seen domestically as a boost to Trudeau, spurring patriotic support for the prime minister as the object of American scorn, though there were critics that framed it as Trudeau being in over his head.
"That's going to cut both ways," Nanos said.