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More than 85,000 call for changes to Bill C-76 to stop the unethical influence of big money in federal politics

Bill C-76 makes bad move of more than doubling interest group spending limit during elections, doesn’t lower undemocratically high limits on donations to parties and candidates

Bill should also be changed to prohibit Canadian-based subsidiaries of foreign-owned businesses from spending money on pre-election and election advertising because they are owned by foreigners

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, as the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee continues its review of Bill C-76, Democracy Watch called on the Committee to decrease donation limits and not to increase the spending limits for third parties, following up on its call last week that the Committee make changes to extend the federal privacy law to cover political parties, and to actually stop secret, false online election ads.

Democracy Watch testified at the hearings on Bill C-7 in June and pointed to several weaknesses in the bill. While Bill C-76 reduces some key barriers to voting, it does little else to ensure fair, democratic elections.

Bill C-76, like the recently enacted Bill C-50 that comes into effect on December 18th, is a charade that does nothing to stop the unethical influence of big money in Canadian politics. The Bill doesn’t change the annual individual donation limits of $1,575 to each party and another $1,575 to the riding associations of each party (both increased each year by $25) nor does it decrease the $5,000 amount an election candidate can give to their own campaign or the $25,000 a party leadership candidate can give to their campaign.

These high donation limits are much more than an average adult Canadian can afford – they favour wealthy donors and candidates and facilitate funneling of donations from businesses and unions through their executives (which has occurred in every jurisdiction in Canada with such high donation limits). Democracy Watch recently filed complaints with the federal Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner about Liberal Party fundraising events involving ministers and lobbyists who lobby them (as revealed by the Globe and Mail).

As well, Bill C-76 more than doubles the spending limits for third party interest groups and individuals during election campaigns (from approximately $200,000 up to $500,000). The Liberals claim this increase is needed because the spending limit is being extended to cover election surveys and “partisan activities” such as door-knocking, phone calls and rallies but only citizen groups do those kinds of activities (businesses usually only spending money on ads). As a result, the limit should be increased only for citizen groups as the increase in the limit will more than double the amount of advertising businesses can do during an election campaign period.

“The only way to stop big money in politics is to stop big donations and Bill C-76 does nothing to lower the federal donation limits that are much higher than an average Canadian can afford, and that allow lobbyists to buy influence with politicians and parties,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Bill C-76 also more than doubles the ad spending limits for interest groups and lobbyists during elections which will increase the power of wealthy interests to dominate election campaign debates with massive advertising campaigns. Canadian-based subsidiaries of foreign-owned businesses should especially be prohibited from advertising during Canadian elections because they are owned by foreigners.”

Bill C-76 also sets meaninglessly high limits of $1.5 million for party ad spending and $1 million for third-party (interest group) ad spending during the 60-75 days before the election campaign period begins. The limits are meaningless because it is highly unlikely that any party or third-party will spend anywhere near those amounts during July and August – the only times the limits will apply (as the pre-campaign limits only apply when the election is held on the fixed election date of the third Monday in October). As well, the pre-campaign limit only applies to “partisan advertising” that promotes or opposes a party or a candidate, not to issue-based advertising.

The key changes that must be made to democratize the federal political finance system are as follows:

  1. limit annual combined total donations of money, property and services by individuals to $100-200 to each party (Quebec’s limit is $100), and establish the same limit on candidates donating to their own campaign, with all donations routed through the election watchdog agency (as in Quebec);
  2. prohibit loans to political parties, riding associations and candidates, except from a public fund (with loans limited to the average annual amount of donations received during the previous two years);
  3. strictly limit spending leading up to, and during election campaigns by parties, nomination race and election candidates, third party interest groups, and also candidates in party leadership races, and prohibit Canadian-based subsidiaries of foreign-owned businesses from spending money on election-related advertising;
  4. require disclosure of all donations and gifts of money, property, services and volunteer labour given to any party, riding association, politician, nomination race, election or party leadership candidate, including the identity of the donor’s employer, and board and executive affiliations (and the identity of anyone who assists with any fundraising or fundraising event);
  5. give annual public funding for parties based on each vote received during the last election (no more than $1 per vote, with a portion required to be shared with riding associations);
  6. give annual public funding matching up to $1 million that each political party raises (Quebec matches up to $200,000);
  7. give public funding matching up to $25,000 that each nomination race and election candidate (including independent candidate) raises (similar to Quebec’s matching funding system), and public funding matching up to $200,000 that each party leadership campaign candidate raises, and;
  8. require election, donation and ethics watchdogs to conduct annual random audits to ensure all the rules are being followed by everyone;
  9. Elections Canada, or the Auditor General, must be empowered to review all government advertising and to stop or change any ad that is partisan or misleading;
  10. all penalties for violating donation and spending rules must be increased to minimum $100,000 fine and a multi-year jail term, and loss of any severance payment, and a partial clawback of any pension payments;
  11. Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections must be required to disclose the rulings they make on all complaints they receive as soon as they make the ruling, and to disclose the rulings they make on all investigations they initiate themselves.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign