Earlier this year, federal Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre introduced Bill C-23 – The Fair Elections Act (Bill), which proposes a number of changes to Canadian election law, including an increase in annual contribution limits for individuals.
INCREASE TO CONTRIBUTION LIMITS
The Bill proposes an increase for annual contribution limits for individuals to C$1,500, up from C$1,200. The complete ban on corporate and union donations will remain in effect.
RESTRICTIONS ON LOANS TO CANDIDATES
Along with the increase to contribution limits, the Bill also introduces further restrictions on advancing and repaying political loans, with a cap on total loans, guarantees, and contributions by individuals equal to the annual contribution limit. Only financial institutions and political entities will be allowed to make loans beyond such limits, and only at a market rate of interest. The Bill also tightens the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans to require that riding associations or a registered political party assume responsibility for unpaid loans taken out by a candidate.
AN END TO BAN ON PREMATURE TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS
Premature transmissions of election results will no longer be prohibited under the Bill, which is recognition of the practical problems with enforcing such a prohibition in an age of social media.
NEW REGULATIONS ON POLITICAL CALLS
The Bill will create a new registry for mass calling which will require that service providers who engage in voter contact first register with the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and will also require registration by individuals or groups who engage the use of calling service providers for voter contact purposes. Both the calling service provider and the individual or group that hires the provider will be required to have their identity verified by the CRTC. The Bill also provides for prison time for impersonating elections officials and a ten-fold increase to fines for preventing a person from voting.
The Bill, if passed in its present form, will implement a number of other changes to Canada’s current electoral laws, including:
- providing for a stand-alone commissioner to prosecute offences (without direction from the chief electoral officer), housed with the director of public prosecutions, with new offences and tougher penalties
- stricter requirements for voter identity, including the elimination of “vouching”
- restrictions on communications by the chief electoral officer, in particular related to public advertising
- making the contribution limit on leadership campaigns an annual, not a lifetime per-contest limit
- increases to national and local campaign spending limits
- measures to increase voter turnout, including extra voting days
ADVANCED RULINGS AND OTHER INTERPRETIVE TOOLS
The Bill creates new communication tools that feature consultation and notice to advise regulated entities of how the law applies to them. This is a similar regulatory approach taken by other government agencies, including the Canada Revenue Agency. The Bill allows the chief electoral officer to issue guidelines and interpretation bulletins, which are intended to limit the amount of unintentional breaches caused by unclear legislation.
Parties can also request advanced rulings or written interpretations. A registered political party will be able to request an advanced ruling or written interpretation on any question related to the Canada Elections Act. The rulings will spell out the application of any provision of the Act to an activity or practice in which the registered party proposes to engage. The question will be answered within 45 days of the request.
The Bill is currently undergoing scrutiny and debate in committee, where it may be subject to amendment.
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