MPs urged to safeguard ‘integrity’ of elections
Former chief electoral officer wants foreign cash kept out of political process
Parliament must act quickly to close a gaping loophole that allows foreign money to affect the outcome of Canadian elections, urges a former chief electoral officer.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who served as Canada’s chief electoral officer for 17 years — from 1990 until 2007 — is concerned about foreign money influencing Canadian elections, as revealed in an exclusive Calgary Herald article published on Tuesday.
“We simply cannot allow any kind of money that is not Canadian to find its way into the Canadian electoral system,” warned Kingsley.
Last week, a 36-page complaint by a registered group called Canada Decides was filed with Elections Canada alleging that foreign money from the United States was funnelled towards Canadian political advocacy groups and materially affected the outcome of the Oct. 19, 2015 election.
The Canada Elections Act states: “No person who does not reside in Canada shall, during an election period, in any way induce electors to vote or refrain from voting or vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate” unless the person is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident.
“Yet the outcome of the 2015 election was skewed by money from wealthy foreigners,” alleges the complaint, which was written, in part, by former Conservative MP Joan Crockatt, who lost her seat in Calgary Centre, which was one of 29 seats across the country targeted by Leadnow, an activist group seeded by U.S. money.
Indeed, in its own report entitled “Defeating Harper,” Leadnow admits that it further focused on 11 ridings, including Calgary Centre, by sending paid staff members in to run the Vote Together campaign that urged citizens to cast their ballot for the left-of-centre candidate most likely to win. In this case, the candidate was Liberal Kent Hehr, who is now Minister of Veterans Affairs.
“This back door whereby foreign money came into Canada must be shut,” emphasized Kingsley. “We have got to slam it shut for the sake of the integrity of our electoral system.”
Kingsley believes this issue is one all Canadians should rally behind.
“A general election is a national event, it’s not an international event and foreign interests have no place and for them to have found a back door like this, that is not acceptable to Canadians,” said Kingsley.
“I think the overwhelming majority of Canadians care about foreign money playing a role in our elections, regardless of what party they favour. This issue is about the overall fairness of our elections, about keeping a level playing field,” added Kingsley.
On Sunday, another complaint about foreign money tilting the playing field was filed with Elections Canada by Michael Cooper, Conservative MP for St. Albert-Edmonton.
Cooper alleges that the U.S.based Tides Foundation gave $693,023.50 to eight third party groups registered in the 2015 federal election.
Cooper points out that recent testimony by Yves Cote, Commissioner of Canada Elections, at a Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, indicated that as long as foreign donations were made six months prior to the election being called, money can be “mingled” into the funds of Canadian third parties and therefore isn’t breaking the rules.
Kingsley says perhaps calling this tactic a “back door” is putting things mildly. It’s more like a loophole a 747 jet can fly through, he quipped.
Kingsley added that, now that Canadian election dates are fixed, one of the unintended consequences maybe that foreign money will simply be donated more than six months in advance and held onto by Canadian third parties.
“This rule has to be changed. I would suggest that a ceiling be set, that no third party that wants to be involved in a Canadian election can receive more than maybe 10, 15 or 20 per cent of its funding from foreign sources at any time.”
Tides Foundation and Leadnow did not return repeated calls and emails from the Herald.
We simply cannot allow any kind of money that is not Canadian to find its way into the Canadian electoral system.