Elections Canada confirms Third Party intervention. A news story by Licia Corbella, Calgary Herald
Foreign money funnelled towards Canadian political advocacy groups affected the outcome of the 2015 federal election, according to a document filed last week with Elections Canada and obtained exclusively by the Herald.
The 36-page report entitled: Elections Canada Complaint Regarding Foreign Influence in the 2015 Canadian Election, alleges third parties worked with each other, which may have bypassed election spending limits — all of which appears to be in contravention of the Canada Elections Act.
The Canada Elections Act states that “a third party shall not circumvent, or attempt to circumvent, a limit set out . . . in any manner, including by splitting itself into two or more third parties for the purpose of circumventing the limit or acting in collusion with another third party so that their combined election advertising expenses exceed the limit.”
“Electoral outcomes were influenced,” alleges the report.
The Canada Elections Act also states: “No person who does not reside in Canada shall, during an election period, in any way induce electors to vote or refrain from voting or vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate” unless the person is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident.
“Yet the outcome of the 2015 election was skewed by money from wealthy foreigners,” alleges the complaint, submitted by Canada Decides, a registered society with three listed directors — including Joan Crockatt, a former Conservative MP for Calgary Centre, who lost her seat to Liberal Kent Hehr, now the MP for the once long-held Tory riding and the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The other two directors include Chad Hallman, a University of Toronto political science student.
The number of third parties registered during the 2015 general election more than doubled, to 114 compared with 55, in the 2011 election.
In total, the 114 third parties spent $6 million and many of those third parties were funded by California-and New York-based Tides Foundation — which is known in Canada for holding numerous anti-Canadian oil campaigns.
In 2015, Tides Foundation donated $1.5 million of U.S. money to Canadian third parties in the election year, according to the report.
Crockatt’s seat was one of the 29 targeted by an organization called Leadnow through its “largest ever campaign” called Vote Together. The complaint by Canada Decides alleges that foreign money “spawned” Leadnow and helped fund an elaborate campaign to oust the ruling Conservative Party.
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt says Canadians should be concerned about any kind of foreign involvement in our elections.
“The whole concept and idea of foreign influence in an election is an important issue and is something that Canadians should not tolerate,” Bratt said Monday.
Tides Foundation and Leadnow representatives did not return repeated phone calls and emails from the Herald to respond to concerns raised by Canada Decides.
A December 2015 Leadnow report, Defeating Harper, discusses how effective its campaign was in the 2015 general election. “The Conservatives were defeated in 25 out of 29 ridings, and . . . in the seats the Conservatives lost, our recommended candidate was the winner 96 per cent of the time.”
Leadnow’s Defeat Harper report also states: “We selected target ridings with field teams run by paid Leadnow organizers . . .”
Crockatt lost her Calgary Centre seat by 750 votes. Conservative MP Lawrence Toet lost his Manitoba seat of Elmwood-Transcona to the NDP’s Daniel Blaikie by just 61 votes. Former Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver lost his seat to Liberal Marco Mendicino with a margin of 3,490 votes. Only six per cent of voters in that riding voted for the NDP candidate, who complained of Leadnow’s tactics on Twitter.
Leadnow staff members flew around the country on numerous occasions, as Facebook postings and photographs show, to distribute flyers and put up signs. Also, 57 local polls were commissioned across 37 ridings urging citizens to strategically vote for the most winnable, left-of-centre candidate in order to defeat the Conservative candidate.
There is an $8,788 spending limit per riding for the election. NDP candidates and even CUPE complained about Leadnow’s activities being anti-democratic.
“This is not a partisan issue or a case of sour grapes by Conservatives,” insists Hallman, 20.
“This is a Canadian issue. This affects all Canadians whether you’re an NDP, Green, Liberal or Conservative. You should be very concerned about foreign money being spent in Canada during an election campaign.”
Crockatt, who prior to becoming a Member of Parliament was a journalist, including a stint as an editor with the Calgary Herald, said researchers from Fredericton to Nanaimo worked for 18 months gathering information on this issue.
“Foreign money meddled in a big way in our election and that’s not right,” she added. “Americans are rightly concerned about Russia hacking into U.S. government emails. Well, this appears to be much worse — foreign money, in many cases by very wealthy people — was donated and arguably changed the outcome of our Canadian election. It needs to be taken seriously and investigated.”
In the 2015 annual report of the California-based Online Progressive Engagement Network (OPEN) where Ben Brandzel, one of Leadnow’s founders, currently works, he said: “We ended the year with . . . a Canadian campaign that moved the needle during the national election, contributing greatly to the ousting of the conservative Harper government.”
Just how greatly these foreign organizations and money contributed to interfering in the Canadian election needs to be investigated by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, states Canada Decides.
“The threat to Canadian election sovereignty is real and must be eliminated by the Commissioner as quickly and decisively as possible,” adds the report.
It appears as though Yves Cote, commissioner of Elections Canada, is considering doing just that.
Cote admitted during an April 13 Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee that an investigation needs to be launched following questions by Conservative Senators Linda Frum and Bob Runciman.
“Issues of significance have been raised . . .” said Cote, during the senate committee hearing, “which in my view deserves Parliament taking the time to looking at the situation, trying to understand what has happened, what is likely to happen and then taking measures . . . to make sure there is compliance.”
Cote added that “the Supreme Court of Canada said the objective of maintaining a level playing field is, for them, a very important objective.”
Senator Frum is planning to introduce a private member’s bill updating the Canada Elections Act to prohibit third parties from accepting foreign funding for domestic political activity.
Canadians can only donate $1,550 to political parties and candidates. Union and corporate donations have been banned completely, and yet in the Senate hearing, Commissioner Cote said that as long as foreign money is donated to a third party six months prior to the election writ being dropped, the amount that can be donated is endless.
Frum made the following observation during the April 13 senate hearing: “I could take a cheque for $10 million from Saudi Arabia, from Iran, from China — I could take any amount of money from a foreign contributor so long as I, a Canadian citizen, am receiving it?”
Cote said as long as funds are received six months before an election “the third party is free to use that money.”
“Most Canadians would be very alarmed by this,” added Frum. “This happened in the 2015 election.”