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Statements and Speeches

Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer

on Bill C-76

An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

before the

Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

November 28, 2018

Check Against Delivery

Thank you Mr. Chair.

I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about Bill C-76, which proposes a major reform of the Canada Elections Act. Overall I believe this is a very important piece of legislation that will allow us to modernize electoral administration in Canada, make the voting process more inclusive, and reinforce its integrity.

Bill C-76 wholly or partially implements a majority of the 132 recommendations made by my predecessor in 2016. I was very pleased to see that most of the key recommendations were unanimously supported upon review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

As I noted when I appeared in the Senate Committee of the Whole, Bill C-76 is a transformative piece of electoral legislation. Not only does it allow for more flexibility in the administration of the process at the polls, which will allow us to improve services to Canadians in the future, it also significantly improves the political financing regime in a manner that increases transparency and strengthens the level playing field.

In addition, the bill offers new tools to assist the Commissioner of Canada Elections to ensure compliance with the Act, including increased investigative powers and an administrative monetary penalty regime.

With respect to third parties and the possibility of foreign interference in Canadian elections, the changes contained in the bill are significant. If the bill becomes law, the activities of third parties will be much more extensively regulated, both before and after the writ, and their use of foreign funds will be greatly restricted. In addition, selling advertising space to foreign entities will be prohibited. I believe all these changes are improvements.

The bill also contains certain amendments designed to combat emerging threats related to digital interference and disinformation. These threats are complex and cannot be managed through legislative change alone. Nevertheless the bill contains some important new offences, as well as a requirement for online platforms to keep a register of political advertising.

Although it could undoubtedly be further improved, Bill C-76 is an essential reform and I hope to see it become law soon. As I indicated before the Committee of the Whole, time is critical. Implementing the bill requires, amongst other things, changes to 20 of the IT systems that are used during an election. Obviously there are considerable risks in introducing last-minute changes to these systems if there is not enough time to test them thoroughly before the event.

Our current plan is to be ready in January to start integrated testing of all IT systems. This would then allow us to run a field simulation in March and leave time for any necessary adjustments. As I indicated before the Committee of the Whole, I urge you to keep these dates in mind as you study this important bill.