Canadian Parliamentary Testimony | Foreign Interference in Canadian Elections
Distinguished members of the committee, good evening from Washington, DC, and thank you for inviting me. I was asked to discuss the collaboration of my organization, the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, with Microsoft and the Government of Canada on a joint initiative, which brought together leading experts, policymakers, and industry professionals from around the world and produced a practical guide of best practices that key stakeholders in democracies can use to counter foreign interference in elections.
To provide some context to what motivated us to join this partnership, it’s worth briefly explaining the genesis of the Alliance for Securing Democracy. We launched in summer 2017 to put Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election into context for American policymakers and offer solutions on how to better defend our democratic institutions and processes from autocratic threats—not just from Russian state-sponsored actors, but from China, Iran, and other authoritarians.
The name “Alliance” was very deliberate. What happened in the US didn’t occur in a vacuum. Over many decades, Russian interference has targeted numerous democracies, including several of Canada and the United States’ allies and partners in Europe. Autocrats’ tools of interference—including cyber operations, malign finance, and information manipulation, among others—have been refined to exploit modern technologies and target all sectors of democratic society. We knew that the Alliance for Securing Democracy had to play a role in facilitating the exchange of best practices between governments, companies, and civil society organizations, and to learn lessons from across sectors and national borders to offer guidance to policymakers to improve institutional vulnerabilities and strengthen democratic resilience.
In this regard, our partnership with the Government of Canada and Microsoft on combatting election interference, part of the French government’s Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, was at the heart of what we do. The six workshops we conducted in 2020 examined what worked and what didn’t in different electoral environments, leading to the publication of a compendium of best practices in April 2021.
The compendium offers reminders of best methods to secure election infrastructure, best election administration procedures to ensure voting integrity during a pandemic, transparent ways of communicating with the public about threats to elections, and best practices in building citizen resilience to disinformation. It even highlights examples of Canadian good practice, including Canadian Heritage’s programs to fund civil society initiatives that promote citizen resilience to mis- and disinformation and the government-wide Critical Election Incident Public Protocol. If used as intended, Canada’s protocol should be an excellent model of transparency and communication with the public to reduce the likelihood of politicians manipulating threat information about election interference.
The compendium of best practices our community published is not just in circulation in Canada and the United States, of course. It is being put to good use around the world. Anecdotally, US government colleagues have informed me that they disseminate the compendium to government counterparts in the Global South, where many nations are increasingly at the forefront of Russian and Chinese malign influence operations.
In Canada, foreign interference in democracy also remains a serious challenge. The rise in Chinese state-sponsored interference in Canadian democracy, through targeting specific ridings and candidates in elections, malign financial coercion, and subversion of civil society, including the Chinese Canadian diaspora, has been well documented—and on the agenda of your committee. Russian state-sponsored actors have amplified domestic divisions on issues of heightened political sensitivity, including the war in Ukraine, vaccination mandates, the freedom convoy in Ottawa, and economic hardships facing Canadian voters. Undermining Canadians’ confidence in democratic governance and the integrity of Canadian elections is an overarching objective of these authoritarian regimes.
Therefore, the compendium of best practices continues to be a useful and practical guide for Canada and democracies worldwide. It is illustrative not only of the importance of cataloging the policies and procedures that can secure elections and strengthen societal resilience to rising autocratic threats, but also of the utility of conducting such multi-stakeholder exercises. No nation, no government, no tech company, no civil society organization is an island unto itself. By working together as allies and breaking down barriers between government, industry, and civil society, we will be better positioned to secure democratic elections and institutions from an ever-evolving autocratic threat ecosystem.
I look forward to your questions. Thank you.