OTTAWA – Amendments to further legislate foreign spending and political advertising leading up to, and during Canadian election campaigns could be made to the government's key piece of election reform legislation this week, as MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee are beginning what’s set to be a marathon series of meetings on the bill.

Monday afternoon the committee began its line by line consideration of the bill. There are nearly as many amendments as there are pages of the legislation. It’s expected to take days to go through the proposed changes.

All sides have presented amendments to the more than 300-page bill that was tabled in April. Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, makes wide-spanning changes to Canada's elections laws, including new limits on spending and foreign participation, while also aiming to boost accessibility and participation in democracy.

Bill C-76 includes implementing spending limits for third parties and political parties for a prescribed time period before an election call, adds new reporting measures for third parties conducting partisan work, enhances privacy requirements, and wraps in several changes already introduced but not advanced by the government in a previous piece of legislation.

The committee has been studying the legislation since May, hearing from elections experts, as well as provincial electoral officers, and representatives from Twitter and Facebook.

All told, there are over 300 amendments the committee will have to go through. According to a copy of the package of amendments, the government has put forward 65 amendments; the Conservatives have more than 200; the NDP brought forward 29; the Green Party has presented 17; and the Bloc Quebecois have put forward two amendments.

Among the suggested changes to the bill are two government amendments that seek to further beef up the legislation around foreign spending and political advertising.

The government is supporting an amendment to ban the use of foreign money from being spent at any time—whether in an election period or not—to support a candidate’s campaign, or political party. As the bill was tabled, the proposal was to ban foreign money from being spent in both the run up to, and during the election campaign.

The Liberals also want to impose a considerable punishment if this ban is not obeyed. If a person or organization is found to have given foreign funds to a Canadian campaign, they'll be forced to pay a fine of five times that amount.

As well, the government is leaning on major social media companies to tighten up their reporting requirements when it comes to political advertising. An amendment calls on platforms like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to create a registry of all digital advertising published and paid for by third parties, political parties, and nominated and prospective candidates during the pre-writ and writ periods.

The registry would be hosted by the respective online platforms, and would include a copy of the message the ad contained, the name of who authorized the ad, and keep that information for five years.

The Conservatives' wide-spanning slate of detail-oriented amendments include trying to shore-up voter identification measures, which are being amended in this bill, changing measures brought in under the hotly contested previous Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act.

As of the conclusion of Monday’s session of clause-by-clause review, just one Conservative amendment had been successful.

It proposed that the “Register of Future Electors” -- a new list this bill will create of Canadians aged 14 to 17 -- not be permitted to be shared with the provincial electoral officers.

Though, other Tory amendments were defeated, including one that sought to have the House of Commons and Senate approve any change to the voting method or technology used—such as a form of electronic voting -- before it could be used in an election. As well, an attempt to stop the Liberals from restoring voter information cards as a valid form of identification at the ballot box did not pass.

Among the New Democrats’ proposed changes was one to make the regular voting day a Sunday, and not Monday as is current law. It was defeated, amid some division among the committee members, with some consideration for potentially studying the possibility of Sunday voting down the road.

The hearings have also provided their share of procedural wrangling—as the committee, also known as PROC—has developed a reputation for.

The agreement to move to clause-by-clause review of the bill came only after the Liberals agreed to increase how much money political parties can spend in the lead-up to a federal election, as the Conservatives had called for.

Initially the bill proposed a $1.5 million spending limit for pre-writ political parties’ partisan advertising, though now the government has increased that to $2 million.

The Tory MPs on the committee had ground proceedings to a halt, filibustering a few meetings where members were trying to plan out the schedule for holding the clause-by-clause of the bill.

Monday afternoon, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould  appeared before the committee for the third and likely last time on this bill, before MPs get down to presenting and pushing for their preferred changes.

During her testimony, Gould spoke to the government amendments mentioned above. On the political advertising proposal, she said it was an important measure to enhance transparency, because foreign actors in other examples have been seen to try to influence people online with posts without disclosing who is behind them.

Amid questioning Gould could not say concretely that the proposed blanket ban on foreign money going to election activity would prevent foreign actors from attempting to interfere in the next election, just that the government is doing what is possible within the law.

The minister also faced questions about why the government is set to vote down amendments related to enhancing the privacy requirements for political parties and bolstering the legislation with further measures to help encourage women and people from diverse backgrounds from running federally.

The committee has agreed to hold daily meetings for extended hours to debate and vote on the stack of changes, up until Friday. Come 1 p.m. that day, all outstanding amendments that the committee has not made will just be voted on one by one, without debate.  



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