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Group calls on committee to recommend many measures to stop foreign interference

Lobbying Commissioner’s proposed gutting of key ethical lobbying rules will make secret China and other foreign-government interference easier

Loopholes in election, donation and spending, lobbying and ethics rules make secret foreign interference easy, as does very weak enforcement

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

OTTAWA – Today at noon, in testimony before the House of Commons Procedural Affairs Committee, Democracy Watch will call on the Committee to strongly recommend that the federal government and Parliament enact many measures needed to actually stop foreign interference.

First, the proposed foreign-agent registry must require anyone or any entity to register if they are paid or compensated in any way, directly or indirectly, by a foreign government, foreign entity or foreigner, or have some other arrangement with them, to be involved in Canada in public relations/communications or any political activities aimed at influencing politicians, parties or governments.

If the registry only requires people or entities paid to directly influence Canadian politics, then they will avoid being required to register by arranging to be compensated for other services or in some other way while doing the influence activities for free.

Secondly, as more than 40 lawyers and professors, and 26 citizen groups, and the Globe and Mail (twice) have called for, the House Ethics Committee must reverse its positions and reject federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger’s proposal to gut key ethical lobbying rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct in ways that will make secret interference in elections and secret activities to influence federal MPs easier for China and other foreign governments.

Thirdly, loopholes in the lobbying law allow for secret, unethical lobbying, including by foreign-sponsored lobby groups.

Fourth, loopholes and too-high donation and spending limits allow wealthy interests (including foreign-sponsored lobby groups) to have undue influence over elections and policy-making processes, including by funnelling money to each other to hide the actual source of funds spent.

Fifth, lobbyists and lobby groups, including foreign-sponsored lobbyists and lobby groups, are allowed to collude with nomination race and political party leadership race contestants in secret, and non-citizens are allowed to vote in nomination race and party leadership race votes.

Sixth, federal ethics rules have huge loopholes that allow MPs to have secret jobs, Cabinet ministers and top government officials to have secret investments, and everyone to participate in decisions that they profit from, and to act unethically in many other ways.

The Committee failed to address any of these loopholes when it reviewed MP ethics rules in secret last year and issued an initial report in June. In fact, the Committee proposed, and the House approved on March 30th, a new loophole in their ethics rules that now allows lobbyists and lobby groups, including foreign-government sponsored groups, to secretly pay for interns in MPs’ offices.

The Senate’s ethics code has many of the same loopholes, although it contains a few rules enacted in 2014 that, if the Senate Ethics Officer ever enforces the rules properly, will finally prohibit the unethical business activities and decision-making conflicts of interest by many Senators that the code currently allows.

Seventh, many types of false claims are allowed about election candidates, party leaders and MPs, and during policy-making processes, and no enforcement agency has the power to order social media companies to remove false online posts or ads.

“A foreign-agent registry will not be enough to stop foreign interference in Canadian politics, especially if it is full of loopholes,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The lobbying commissioner’s proposal to gut key ethical lobbying rules, combined with the existing loopholes and flaws in Canada’s election, political donation and spending, lobbying and ethics laws, will make it even easier than it is now for foreign governments to influence Canadian politics and politicians in secret, including by making false claims on social media sites.”

Eighth, enforcement of the election, political donation, lobbying and ethics laws is very weak, as all the watchdogs are handpicked by Cabinet through secretive, partisan, political appointment processes and they all lack key powers.

The Liberal government’s so-called “independent” Critical Election Incident Public Protocol Panel is not independent at all, as it is made up of public servants who were chosen by, and serve at the pleasure of, Prime Minister Trudeau, and the Cabinet Directive for the Protocol has several flaws that allow for coverups of foreign interference. If the Panel members are not fully independent of the government and all political parties, and the flaws in the Protocol are not corrected, then the Panel will continue to cover up foreign interference instead of reporting it publicly and stopping it.

“All our key democracy laws, including laws that claim to be aimed at stopping foreign interference, are enforced by weak lapdogs who are handpicked by the ruling party Cabinet, and they operate largely in secret and lack powers and accountability for doing their jobs properly,” said Conacher.

Click here to see Backgrounder

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign, Government Ethics Campaign, Money in Politics Campaign, Honesty in Politics Campaign, and Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign