Closing a loophole in Canada’s election laws

The Globe and Mail, in a timely and wise editorial, suggests that our election system has a major loophole that needs to be closed. The Globe‘s editorial board explains that “Conservative MP Michael Cooper, the party’s deputy justice critic, has sent a letter to Yves Côté, the commissioner of Canada Elections, asking him to investigate eight groups that were registered as third-party organizations in the 2015 election, and which received a total of $693,023 from an American organization called the Tides Foundation during the election year … [and] … Mr. Cooper points out that federal law prohibits third-party groups from spending foreign donations on election advertising.” This action follows a complaint by “Joan Crockatt, a former Conservative MP, [who] has alleged in a complaint to Elections Canada that “the outcome of the 2015 election was skewed by money from wealthy foreigners” donated to a third-party group called Leadnow … [and] … Ms. Crockatt was one of 25 Tory MPs who lost their seats in ridings targeted by Leadnow’s strategic-voting campaign. Others are also speaking up about foreign donations to registered third-party groups.

They may have a point,” the Globe and Mail says, and I agree.

Take Leadnow,” say the Globe editorial writers, “A left-wing group, it wanted to see former prime minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives defeated. To further that goal, it spent a fortune on polls to identify ridings where the combined Liberal and NDP votes were enough to unseat the Tory incumbents. It then told like-minded voters in those ridings how to cast their ballot in order to unseat their Tory MP … [but] … Leadnow says that 17 per cent of its funding comes from foreign donors, but it says the other 83 per cent comes from Canadians. Figuring out which dollars Leadnow – or groups like the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace Canada that got grants from the Tides Foundation – spent on election advertising is an unsolvable puzzle.

The Globe and Mail goes on to consider the pros of “third party” campaigning ~ and there are some, but it concludes that: “there is something problematic about an elections law that lets third parties accept unlimited cash from corporate and union donors, and even foreign donors, as long as the money doesn’t arrive in the six months before the writ is dropped, and isn’t spent on election advertising. Canada has strengthened political party fundraising and spending rules, but the barn door is wide open when it comes to third parties … [and] … in at least one province – Ontario – the governing party for years used the loophole of non-existent third-party rules to get around restrictions on party fundraising and spending. The danger is of this spreading to federal politics.

“To prevent it,” the Globe suggests, and I agree, again, that “Parliament should consider extending the current election spending limits on third parties to all campaign expenses, not just advertising. It should also consider limits, or a ban, on foreign donations to groups that want to be registered as third parties during elections … [because] … Both these actions would help close off a potential back channel for foreign influence on Canadian elections. The trick is how to do that without unduly limiting the rights of Canadians.

TidesFoundation_logo-150x94There has been some discussion of the Tides Foundation on matters ranging from the Alberta heavy oil fields to the 2015 election campaign. The Tides Foundation is a multi hundred million dollar organization that raises and disperses hundreds of millions of dollars to, in its own words: “work in innovative ways with various partners, prioritizing ideas that can scale.” It’s programmes services include:

  • Charitable Giving, Grantmaking & Advising
  • Fiscal Sponsorship and Management Services for Social Ventures
  • Collaborative Workspaces for Social Ventures
  • Social Impact Consulting
  • Impact Investing

That included, between 2003 and 2010, according to a 2010 report in the Financial Post, “grantmaking” from “Tides U.S. and charities based in California and New York [that] granted US$15-million since 2003 specifically for campaigns against Alberta oil and against oil tanker traffic and pipelines through British Columbia. various people have speculated about the Tides Foundation‘s aims and I am not going to join that … except to say that an awful lot of American money is being spent to stop Canada from getting its oil to market.

The Tides Foundation is, of course, entitled to use its money in any legal way it sees fit, LeadNow-LogoFinalRGB_(1)But that should not include funding third party political activities in a foreign country: Canada. That’s where Leadnow comes in. It self describes as: “Leadnow organizes campaigns that build and defend a just, sustainable, and equitable Canada.” That pretty much means it supports a Green/Liberal/NDP sort of Canada and opposes a Conservative Canada. And that’s fair, too, so long as the rules for e.g. Joan Crockett and Leadnow are pretty much the same. They weren’t in 2015.

I don’t really know what impact Leadnow had … I’ll believe those who say that there might have been a 25 seat difference if Leadnow‘s campaign had been obliged to obey rules that were pretty much the same as the political parties. We might have seen this:

  • BQ: 10
  • Conservatives: 119
  • Greens: 1
  • Liberals: 159
  • NDP: 49

The Liberals would still be governing Canada, albeit with only a minority. Justin Trudeau might, to appease the NDP, be spending even more wildly and irresponsibly, but that might also be driving some of the Manley Liberals to look at other options ~ for their party or for themselves.

I doubt that Prime Minister Trudeau is going to support the sort of loophole closing project the Globe and Mail advocates, but I hope the next Conservative prime minister will make it ~ closing the third party and foreign money loopholes ~ a priority so that Canada’s democracy is decided by Canadians, not shadowy American foundations.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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