03/06/2018 15:44 EST | Updated 03/06/2018 15:48 EST

Conservative Sen. Linda Frum Accuses Independent Senators Of Backing Foreign Election Funding

"We’re not whipped."

Independent Sen. Yuen Pau Woo and Conservative Sen. Linda Frum sparred on Twitter Monday over a bill proposing to close a Canada Elections Act loophole on foreign funding for third parties.
The Canadian Press/Facebook via SenatorLindaFrum
Independent Sen. Yuen Pau Woo and Conservative Sen. Linda Frum sparred on Twitter Monday over a bill proposing to close a Canada Elections Act loophole on foreign funding for third parties.

OTTAWA — A Conservative senator is accusing Independent colleagues of protecting a loophole in the Elections Act that allows foreign donors to give money to Canadian third parties during elections.

Sen. Linda Frum charged Monday that the Independent Senators Group (ISG) was blocking the advancement of Bill S-239, introduced last summer, from being studied at the committee level.

Bill S-239 is currently at the second reading stage.

If passed, the proposed legislation would amend a section of the Canada Elections Act to prohibit a third party from accepting foreign money "for any purposes related to an election." It would also add two new classifications for who is considered as "foreign contributors."

Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the ISG, said Frum's claim Independent senators are working together to stop her private member's bill from being studied is "inaccurate" and "blatantly false."

"We're not whipped," Woo told HuffPost Canada in an interview, adding he hasn't spoken to all ISG members about the bill. "The ones who have spoken, they've expressed reservations, but they haven't said they don't want it to go to committee."

Corbis via Getty Images
File photo of the Senate chamber on Jan. 3, 2016.

The ISG has no party whip and do not take group positions on issues. It was formed in 2016 and has since become the largest body of senators with 43 members.

There are 33 senators who belong to the Conservative caucus; 12 are considered so-called Senate Liberals; five who are non-affiliated with any group; and 12 vacant seats.

Woo also said that Frum's use of a recent CTV interview with former CIA director John Brennan to bolster support for her bill is also "seriously misleading, to put it mildly."

Speaking about the need to improve cybersecurity and weaknesses in the government's critical infrastructure, Brennan told the broadcaster that Canada needs to consider that outside agents "are going to try to do them harm, including in their electoral systems."

Brennan said malicious activity in cyber and digital environments is what keeps him awake at night, saying "that is the environment that holds most of our future security and prosperity in its midst."

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Former CIA director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on May 23, 2017.

"S-239 will do nothing to address that issue," Woo said. He added the bill doesn't do anything to stop the spread of made-in-Canada false information from influencing voters at the polls.

Frum told HuffPost Canada she isn't pretending her private member's bill is a way of protecting the whole electoral system from "every possible form of foreign interference."

It does close a "significant" loophole in Canada's election law, the Toronto senator said. "And I can think of no honourable reason not to want to pass this bill."

Concerns about advocacy chill is 'nonsense': Tory senator

Conservatives are concerned about foreign contributions to registered Canadian left-leaning organizations during election years. Frum has previously used the example of Tides, an American foundation with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, that made $700,000 in donations to eight third parties during the 2015 federal election.

in a June speech, Frum said if funding "continue to be left unchecked, foreign influence in our politics will only grow."

Under the current Canada Elections Act, it's legal for third parties to accept foreign money for use in election-timed campaigns. Basically, there's nothing in the law that prohibits Canadian advocacy groups or think tanks from taking money from wealthy foreigners with some sort of stake in the outcome of the election.

A report titled "Elections Canada Complaint Regarding Foreign Influence in the 2015 Canadian Election" obtained by the Calgary Herald last year claims "electoral outcomes were influenced."

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Voters cast ballots on election day in Toronto on Oct. 19, 2015.

There were 105 complaints made about third-party campaign activities during the last election, according to The Canadian Press.

Frum said in an email that her bill is a "straightforward remedy to a significant failing in Canadian election law."

When asked about a point raised by Sen. Ratna Omidvar last year that the bill could inadvertently create a "tremendous advocacy chill," Frum replied, "Nonsense."

"Opponents of my bill may say they believe it's OK to have foreign interests use their clout to impact our elections, but they should be honest about it," she said.

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