Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2019-05-27 15:29 [p.28062]
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the minister for her speech. I think we agree on the threats to Canadian democracy.
As much as we agree on the analysis of the threats that Canadian democracy faces in an age of social media, I have to say that I found the minister's statement today quite disappointing, in a number of respects. She was quite explicit that part of the purpose of her statement was to give some reassurance to Canadians so that they will not have to worry in the next election, and if they do worry, that there will be tools available to them to ensure they are getting good, credible information, that their neighbours, friends and family members are also getting good, credible information. They will not be the victims of the kinds of misinformation campaigns we have seen in elections in other countries or in referenda.
We know very well that there was controversy surrounding the Brexit referendum and the way that social media was used to be able to get certain results. Therefore, foreign interference is a real thing and an emerging threat, and we have heard from Canadian experts that Canada will not be spared from it.
We were hoping today to hear something from the minister that would give us some reassurance that the Liberals are not going to continue on the path they have so far, which is to ask really nicely of social media platforms, who have shown no interest in substantially changing the way they do business, to suddenly have an epiphany and do things differently. Facebook is in conflict right now with Canada's Privacy Commissioner because the Privacy Commissioner has criticized Facebook's practices. He has said that it needs to do more and has enumerated a number of ways that Facebook can do more to protect the privacy of Canadians from the breaches by foreign actors to influence politics in other countries.
However, instead of seeing any meaningful commitment to that kind of change, we hear words like this. Even one of their four pillars says that the Liberals are simply expecting social media platforms to act. They are not going to require them to act. They are not going to force them to act. They are just going to expect it. They say that we should be reassured by the fact that they announced their expectation that digital platforms would step up their efforts. We should be reassured by the fact that the minister said they have attempted to reach consensus on a common set of principles. They mention again and again their expectation of social media platforms, but they are silent on how they intend to require social media platforms, which so far have shown a real resistance to changing the way they do business, to actually change.
For the government's part, all it has committed to today, that I can see, is that it is going to essentially set up a hotline for social media platforms so that if they have questions about their own business and how they might change, they will know who to talk to in government. I find this kind of distressing. We heard from the minister today that apparently the government has been having good conversations with the social media platforms for a long time. Therefore, I find it kind of strange that an important thing the government would do with companies, which it has apparently been having a long-standing dialogue with, is making it clear who these platforms would contact. Presumably if the government has been negotiating with them, it should already be clear who they would contact. I do not think that Canadians should be particularly reassured by a minister who promises that she has spent a lot of time working on this, and the best she can do is to say that if social media platforms have a question, they will make sure there is someone there to pick up the phone. I think that Canadians, given the threat to our democracy, expect more from their government.
Likewise, we hear from government that it has developed a critical election incident public protocol, and the only thing it is going to do, other than the hotline, is to observe it. That is to say, it would report on incidents after they have happened, which does not give any real assurance to Canadians that the government is doing what it takes to ensure these things do not happen.
We in the NDP understand that it may mean taking a more regulatory approach instead of going cap in hand to social media giants and asking them to pretty please change the way they do things, or would they consider doing it this way instead of that way? It is ultimately leaving it up to them, and leaving it up to Canadians to find out, very likely only after the election, whether those things had actually happened and whether they were successful or not.
We understand that there is no silver bullet here. There is no one person or one party with all the ideas to guarantee Canadians that there will not be the kind of foreign interference we have seen in other elections. However, we certainly expect that the government would be doing much more than what we have heard today.
We could expect that when the Privacy Commissioner criticizes Facebook for not acting in good faith and not complying, the government could step up and defend Canada's Privacy Commissioner to Facebook and offer him the tools he says he needs in order to take on those web giants.
We could expect more from a government whose oversight panel consist largely of deputy ministers appointed by the government, when the traditional approach on elections-related issues is to ensure that all parties are represented and that officers of Parliament who are impartial and not related to the government of the day are the ones to take the lead and provide the leadership we so desperately need on this kind of issue.
Those are the kinds of real and concrete measures that could have been announced today in the statement, but they were not. It gives me no reassurance and I know it probably does not provide Canadians much reassurance that the government is seriously committed to doing something about this problem as opposed to paying lip service to it while the Liberals continue to coddle up to their corporate friends in the backrooms. That has been the real theme of the government and unfortunately we see that influence at work in the statement the minister made today.
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