Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Acting Chief Electoral Officer
on Bill C-50
An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act (Political Financing)
Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs
May 31, 2018
Check Against Delivery
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am pleased to be here today to speak about Bill C-50.
Given that this Committee has not had the benefit of hearing from the Minister of Democratic Institutions on this bill, I will first take a few moments to summarize the key components of the bill. I will then describe how Bill C-50 fits into Canada’s evolving political financing regime and reflects the changing expectations of Canadians.
Regulated fundraising events
The central element of Bill C-50 is the establishment of notice and reporting requirements for certain regulated fundraising events.
To fall within the scope of the bill, a fundraiser will need to have the following three elements:
- it must be organized for the benefit of a party represented in the House of Commons, or one of its affiliated political entities;
- it must be attended by a leader, a leadership contestant, or a Cabinet Minister; and
- it must be attended by at least one person who has contributed over $200, or who has paid an amount of more than $200 that includes a contribution to attend.
If the fundraising event meets these conditions, two types of disclosure are required. First, notice of the event must be prominently posted on a party’s website for five days before it takes place, and notice must also be provided to the Chief Electoral Officer.
Second, a report must be provided by the party to the Chief Electoral Officer within 30 days of the fundraiser. This report must include details of the fundraiser, including the names and partial addresses of attendees, and the names of any organizers of the event.
During a general election, notice of fundraisers would not be required, and a single report for all fundraising events held during the election would be due to the CEO within 60 days after polling day.
The requirements of Bill C-50 enhance the transparency of the federal political financing regime in two ways.
The first is to create a link between individual contributions and specific political events. This is new in the Canada Elections Act. Currently, if a contribution is made to a particular entity, there is nothing to indicate the context in which it occurred.
Bill C-50 would inform Canadians about the circumstances surrounding contributions made at events conducted by parties represented in the House, where certain key decision makers are present. Increasing the transparency of these activities will strengthen public confidence in the system overall by shedding light on situations that could be perceived as offering privileged access to decision makers.
A second way in which the bill would enhance transparency is through timelier reporting. The requirement to provide a report within 30 days of an event taking place is stricter than most other reporting deadlines in the law.
This is part of a general trend in the Act in recent years to move to more timely reporting. For example, parties now must make quarterly reports on contributions, rather than simply annual reports. Also, leadership contestants must report on their sources of funds upon registration, and subsequently on an interim basis immediately before the convention in which the leader is chosen.
This trend towards more timely reporting requirements in legislation is likely to continue. Bill C-76, which is currently before the House of Commons, contains new third party reporting obligations that will require two interim reports from third parties in the weeks before the election, including one that is due five days after a third party is required to register.
As Elections Canada adopts technology that allows political entities to more easily report on an ongoing basis, this will facilitate timely access to political financing information. Bill C-50 is a step towards achieving this goal.
Leadership and Nomination Contests
A separate and unrelated aspect of Bill C-50 is new definitions of leadership and nomination contest expenses. These new definitions correct a longstanding problem in the Canada Elections Act and ensure that all expenses incurred in relation to such contest are properly regulated.
I would like to turn now to the implementation of the bill, assuming that it receives royal assent in the coming weeks or months.
We are currently 15 months away from the issue of the writs for the next general election. This is a period when fundraising events are likely to increase. It will therefore be a period of intense scrutiny of any reports required under this bill, should it be enacted.
Elections Canada will be updating its political financing IT systems to facilitate reporting by political entities and audit activities. This is a long-term project, which will not be fully completed until after the next general election.
In the short term, if this bill receives royal assent, political entities will be required to provide electronic copies of documents, which will then be posted on the Elections Canada website.
This approach will permit the agency to implement this bill ahead of the next election, but unfortunately electronic copies of reports will not be as easily searchable as the documents that will, in the future, be included in Elections Canada’s systems.
Overall, Mr. Chair, I welcome the improvements proposed in Bill C-50 regarding the transparency of fundraising activities and would be happy to answer any question that Senators may have.