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Elections Canada says it will wait until June 25 before revealing the identities of the 13 social-media “influencers” the agency has hired to encourage young Canadians to register to vote.

As first reported by The Globe and Mail, the agency is planning to spend $650,000 on a social-media campaign in which personalities described as “influencers” – people seen as able to sway their online followers – will urge young adults to register for the 2019 federal election.

Elections Canada has said the influencers include Canadian Olympic athletes, television personalities, singer-songwriters and YouTubers. The agency provided new details about the campaign Tuesday as part of an update on its efforts to prepare for the 2019 election.

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Since The Globe’s report, Conservative MPs have sharply criticized the plan during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons and accused the Liberal government of rewriting Elections Canada’s mandate in a way that will benefit the Liberals.

The Liberal government’s Bill C-76, which was approved by Parliament in December, includes a wide range of major reforms to federal election laws. The changes include repealing a provision brought in by the previous Conservative government that restricted Elections Canada’s ability to target specific audiences to promote voter participation.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who was the minister responsible for the Conservative government’s 2014 bill that limited Elections Canada’s communications role, has called for the names of the influencers to be released and for the campaign to be cancelled.

Elections Canada hires social-media ‘influencers’ to get out the youth vote

“Any fair-minded person would see this as another example of partisanship and political-interference,” he wrote on Twitter last week. Mr. Poilievre has since increased his rhetorical attacks this week, calling the influencer campaign “gross” and describing the independent and politically neutral elections agency as “Liberal lapdogs.”

With polls consistently showing that support for the Conservative Party tends to be lower among younger voters than older voters, Conservative MPs argue that using tax dollars to increase youth registration is effectively giving their competitors a boost.

After Conservative MPs criticized the influencer campaign Tuesday as an attempt to “rig the election,” Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould accused her critics of playing a “dangerous game” by questioning Elections Canada’s independence.

“It’s important for Canadians to be able to know where they can vote and how they can vote and we won’t change that,” she said.

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In a briefing to reporters Tuesday, Elections Canada officials outlined the main provisions of the new law, which takes effect June 13. The electoral law changes in Bill C-76 also include a new “pre-writ" period that will begin June 30 and run until the official campaign begins. This period sets spending limits for parties and third parties and also features new disclosure rules for political advertising. Voting day is scheduled for Oct. 21 and the new law limits the formal campaign period to no more than 51 days.

Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said data clearly show that registration rates among young Canadians are far below the national average, although youth voter turnout increased in 2015.

As of November, 2018, 93.8 per cent of all eligible voters in Canada were included in the national register of electors. However, registration rates for eligible voters between the ages of 18 to 24 are around 60 per cent and around 40 per cent for those aged 18 to 20.

Elections Canada also focused on diversity in crafting the campaign. “It was essential that the digital campaign include a good mix of influencers with regards to age, gender, ethnicity, community and interests,” Ms. Gauthier said in a statement after the briefing.

She added that while the influencer campaign is specifically targeted at young voters, other Elections Canada campaigns that promote electoral participation will be aimed at Indigenous people, Canadians with disabilities and seniors.

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