Lib­er­als eye for­eign fund­ing

Changes to rules com­ing, but likely not be­fore 2019 elec­tion

Toronto Sun - - NEWS - AN­THONY FUREY afurey@post­ @An­tho­nyFurey

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is look­ing at changes to the con­tro­ver­sial rules gov­ern­ing how for­eign funds can wind up in­flu­enc­ing Cana­dian elec­tions, but the Con­ser­va­tive Sen­a­tor who’s been sound­ing the alarm over the is­sue is skep­ti­cal that it’ll be in place be­fore the 2019 elec­tion.

Sen­a­tor Linda Frum’s

Bill S-239 seeks to amend the Canada Elec­tions Act to pro­hibit regis­tered third par­ties from at any time ac­cept­ing “a con­tri­bu­tion for any pur­poses re­lated to an elec­tion if the con­tri­bu­tion is from a for­eign source.”

Right now, for­eign en­ti­ties are legally al­lowed to give un­told sums of money into regis­tered third par­ties that have an ex­plicit goal of in­flu­enc­ing the out­come of our elec­tions. The only pro­vi­sion is the funds must be re­ceived six months be­fore the writ is dropped.

“Once the funds are min­gled, it’s the Cana­dian or­ga­ni­za­tion’s funds,” for­mer Chief Elec­toral Of­fi­cer

Marc Mayrand ex­plained at a Novem­ber 2016 Se­nate com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Last year, Cal­gary Her­ald colum­nist Li­cia Cor­bella wrote a de­tailed re­port on the grow­ing con­cerns around this is­sue. “In to­tal, the 114 third par­ties spent $6 mil­lion and many of those third par­ties were funded by Cal­i­for­nia and New York-based Tides Foun­da­tion — which is known in Canada for hold­ing nu­mer­ous anti-Cana­dian oil cam­paigns,” she noted. Most of these groups are on the left side of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

One of the non-U.S. or­ga­ni­za­tions Tides has sup­ported is the Bri­tish Columbia-based Dog­wood Ini­tia­tive, which in their 2016 re­port ref­er­enced their aims to “af­fect fed­eral elec­tion out­comes in six fed­eral rid­ings.” Tides in turn re­ceives fund­ing from var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing left-wing bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros.

While Frum’s bill has been stalled in the Se­nate for nine months and held back from mak­ing its way to com­mit­tee, the Lib­er­als are now poised to come for­ward with their own leg­is­la­tion.

“Our gov­ern­ment is con­cerned about the lack of trans­parency seen around many third par­ties ac­tors of all po­lit­i­cal stripes,” said Nicky Cayer, spokesper­son for Min­is­ter of Demo­cratic In­sti­tu­tions Ka­rina Gould, in an e-mail to the Sun. “Cana­di­ans have a right to know how or­ga­ni­za­tions seek­ing to in­flu­ence Cana­dian pol­i­tics are funded, where they are lo­cated, whose views they are rep­re­sent­ing, and for what ends.

It is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing when a for­eign-based or­ga­ni­za­tion in­jects it­self in our democ­racy in or­der to sow fear or dis­trust.”

Yet it’s un­clear if the Lib­eral leg­is­la­tion, ex­pected to be an­nounced in April, will in­clude an ac­tual pro­hi­bi­tion of an in­fu­sion of for­eign funds into Cana­dian elec­tions.

“We are plan­ning to fur­ther strengthen and clar­ify these rules to en­sure greater trans­parency in our po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing sys­tem and a stronger de­fence against for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in our demo­cratic pro­cesses, while still re­spect­ing Cana­di­ans’ rights to free speech,” added Cayer.

“If my leg­is­la­tion has trig­gered them to do the right thing, then I’ll be de­lighted,” Sen­a­tor Frum told the Sun in a phone in­ter­view. Al­though many ques­tions re­main. “How long will it take for this leg­is­la­tion to pass? How long will it take for them to ap­point a new Chief Elec­toral Of­fi­cer to bring this leg­is­la­tion into ac­tion? Will it all be in place, in or­der, in time for 2019?” The Lib­er­als only have about a year left to get any changes into place be­fore the lead up to the Oc­to­ber 2019 elec­tion.

And while Frum is pleased the Lib­er­als are tak­ing up the is­sue, she doesn’t be­lieve that mere dis­clo­sure is suf­fi­cient. “This is not an is­sue of hav­ing trans­parency on for­eign con­tri­bu­tions but on pro­hibit­ing for­eign con­tri­bu­tions,” she said, pre­dict­ing that af­fected third par­ties may try a “smoke and mir­rors” cam­paign that ar­gues they are vic­tims of “ad­vo­cacy chill.”

“Those groups have no leg to stand on in this is­sue,” adds Frum. “There is no rea­son­able jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to re­ceive for­eign fund­ing.”

In ad­di­tion to this con­cern, the Lib­er­als are also threat­en­ing to reg­u­late so­cial me­dia out­lets to tackle “po­lit­i­cal dis­in­for­ma­tion.” Min­is­ter Gould re­cently told me­dia that on­line gi­ants such as Face­book will have around six months to solve is­sues re­lated to fake news be­fore the gov­ern­ment intervenes.

FRUM Sounded alarm

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