Elizabeth calls for increased transparency of social media companies in light of the 2019 federal election

Madam Speaker, I have just recently relocated so this is the first view I have had from this corner in eight years. I have always been in another corner and my desk may have a different microphone. We have accommodated the new Green Party member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith and I have been moved to a space where I have a much better view of the Speaker and do not need my earpiece to hear discussions even with heckling all around me, as in question period.


I want to respond to the minister’s comment. The minister’s speech on the subject of digital platforms and how we protect ourselves during elections is a critical issue. I want to put on the record that as leader of the Green Party, I do not suspect for one minute that the current government is trying to rig the election. I was quite shocked by the comments of my friend from Calgary Midnapore. I want to put on the record that the idea that the leaders debates are being in any way rigged must be called out right here, right now.


In the 2015 election campaign, as leader of the Green Party and member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands, I was invited to participate in those debates by the media consortium. The Conservative leader, the prime minister at the time, Stephen Harper, said that he would not participate in the debates run by the media consortium. Joined by then the NDP, he managed to get the debates, which reached over 11 million Canadians in 2011 and had been the way in which leaders debates had been run since 1968, cancelled, depriving Canadians of the opportunity to hear leaders of the various parties state their positions and appear on the same stage in the same format.


To now have a member representative of the Conservative Party attacking an attempt to create a non-partisan panel of experts, headed by our former governor general David Johnston, saying that this is an attempt to interfere and rig an election, I am sorry. I have been in too many election campaigns as leader of the Green Party. Every time, the person and the party trying to keep the Green Party off the stage was Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada. I will not stand by and pretend that it is not important for democracy that we have leaders debates and that they be televised.


I would really like to know whether the current leader of the official opposition is prepared to give his word that he will show up. The connivance and the backroom trickery around leaders debates has to come to an end. I have said this before that it would have been better if the Minister of Democratic Institutions had brought forward as a part of Bill C-76 a panel to run leaders debates.


However, I really find it offensive. I reject the notion about a panel where the debate commissioner is known to us. It is our former governor general David Johnston. That process is, by my appreciation at this moment having watched it unfold, a fair process despite missteps in not having it grounded in full consultation with all parties. It is a fair process and I want to step up and make it very clear that what the member for Calgary Midnapore said is not how I observed the process. It is an attempt at fairness after many elections that have been unfair, given connivance and backroom operations to shut down debates.


In this case, I do not see what the minister is offering as further evidence of Liberal connivance to rig the election. However, I do entirely agree with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transconathat this is not enough.


This does appear to be a request of Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter to do better. It is a request of those platforms to live up to our standards. I know those operations are trying to clean up their act. I have heard apologies in various media from the U.S. Congress where they have appeared. I have heard Mr. Zuckerberg say that he is sorry that Facebook information was misused. We are in a very serious crisis for democracy if the best we can do is hope for better from multinational digital operations that will see the Canadian election as small potatoes.


Digital platforms missed the boat. They did not pull down fake platforms, fake identities and fake users, as they should have. I recently saw that although they admitted that a video of Nancy Pelosi that has been placed on Facebook was altered to make her appear disreputable, they were not prepared to pull it down.


I do not want to go into the 2019 election trusting in the good intentions of Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. We are going to need to actually regulate. We are going to need to make sure that they pay fair taxes. There are many things we are going to need to do.


I appreciate the spirit in which the minister has brought forward this new declaration on digital platforms, sharing of information and keeping Canadians informed and up to date. However, much more is going to be required. I do not think we will get very far with kind entreaties. We are going to need to say that election campaign ads and the placement of profiles online will start requiring cleaning up the space, from abuse, misogyny and racism and giving oxygen to white supremacists.


We have to stop allowing any of the digital platforms to provide publication rights on their platforms to people who are not transparent about their names and addresses, and they must be verifiable. We must ensure that we apply the same kind of publication identity to digital platforms that our print media have from time immemorial. We do not allow someone to write to The Globe and Mail and publish something using someone else’s name and identity. The newspaper requires people to give their names, addresses and daytime phone numbers. The same thing should be required for Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and any of the accounts out there that have the potential to steal an election.


By the way, as a small addendum, for anyone who does not understand the power of these entities to steal an election, I recommend the film Brexit. It was made as a dramatic film, not as a documentary. It is very close to being produced in real time. If members are is not aware of how dangerously these instruments can be used in a democracy to mislead and lie to people, they specifically target people who are prepared to believe a certain argument. They find out who they are. They run fake contests to collect people’s information. That is why our dear friends in the Parliament of Westminster are in an ongoing hell on earth. It is because of the very actors we are talking about today.