Elizabeth’s brief summary of Bill C-76

On Monday April 30, 2018, a new set of amendments to Canada’s Elections Act was tabled. It is to be known as the Elections Modernization Act, C-76. It could be called the “Undoing Stephen Harper’s Unfair Elections Act, plus trying to prevent the Putin-Trump effect.”

If you are an electoral fairness nerd, like me, you’ve been wondering what happened to the Liberals’ last Elections Act amendment package, Bill C-33. C-33 was tabled for First Reading in November 2016 and that’s the last we saw of it.

C-33 undid the Unfair Elections Act. It restored vouching to be sure people are allowed to vote; it restored powers to the Chief Electoral Officer to warn the public of electoral fraud; it restored the rights of Canadians overseas to be able to vote in Canadian elections; it restored the use of the Voter Identification card as a valid piece of ID. On top of these reforms, it also established a new role for Elections Canada – registering young people 16-18 to register to vote in advance of when they gain voting rights at 18.

Everything that was in C-33 is now in C-76. I am very relieved to see those measures moving forward after a year and a half of sitting on a shelf.

As well, C-76 takes aim at the risks posed by mining people’s personal data from on-line profiles or other sources. Personally, I think this would be done more directly by making the Privacy Act apply to political parties. C-76 does this in a more convoluted way to requiring political parties to submit a privacy policy to Elections Canada. C-76 also creates new requirements and penalties for foreign influence, knowingly selling advertising space to foreign entities to allow undue influence or malicious use of computers to manipulate public opinion.

C-76 also takes aim at spending limits and the manipulation by Harper of creating a longer writ period, while also ensuring the Conservatives (and everybody else) could spend more for every additional day from the minimum writ period and receive reimbursement from the people of Canada for 50% of all they spent. The new law will set a maximum writ period of 50 days. As well, we go back to the pre-Harper rule of a fixed amount allowed to be spent in the writ no matter if it is 36 days or 50 days. For the first time, there will also be spending limits of pre-writ spending, defined as from June 30 to the writ drop. No party will be allowed to spend more than $1.5 million in that period. Spending limits are also set pre-writ for Third Parties.

As well, there are new measures to make voting easier for persons with disabilities.

The bill is over 100 pages, so I have left some details out.

I will support the bill and ask for an amendment to make political parties subject to the Privacy Act. I made the same amendment when Harper’s bill was going through the House and not a single MP voted with me… but maybe views will have changed!