MPs may be federal law-makers, but there are no laws restricting how political parties can collect or use personal information about voters in Canada, and with the development of micro-targeting techniques, information is more important than ever in politics, however, parties aren’t working to close this legislative gap out of “self-interest,” say experts. “It’s in parties’ self-interest to not be covered by these particular rules and regulations [privacy laws]. They want to be able to collect information and not have to worry about abiding by rules and standards … there’s no reason whatsoever that political parties shouldn’t play by the same rules as businesses and government institutions,” said Jonathon Penney, an associate law professor at Dalhousie University with a focus on intellectual property and information security issues, in an interview last week with The Hill Times. “There’s a real incentive I think for parties to collect more information, because the richer the information, the better your analytics will be, the more you can micro-target, the more you can segment your voter base and shape an individual message to target specific voters for specific reasons, and your electoral strategies and your voter messaging is going to be that much better the richer and deeper and more detailed your information is about the electorate,” he said.
On Feb. 4, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-23, dubbed the Fair Elections Act, a 121-page package of sweeping electoral reform measures, and the largest electoral reform package introduced by this government to date. But there are no privacy provisions to address the fact that political parties aren’t covered by Canadian privacy laws, something successive federal privacy commissioners have for years called on successive federal governments to do.
More and more, information is a crucial commodity in politics, as political campaigns are increasingly hinged on an ability to understand and micro-target voters to both fundraise and win votes.