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Proposed COVID-19 Pandemic Measures – Comparative Table: CEO's Special Report / Bill C-19 / PROC Interim ReportCEO Appearance on Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response)

On October 5, 2020, the Special Report of the Chief Electoral Officer: Administering an Election during the COVID-19 Pandemic was tabled in the House of Commons. In his report, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) recommended the study and adoption of a new statute that would temporarily modify certain provisions in the Canada Elections Act (the CEA) in order to improve the delivery of an election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On October 20, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) agreed to undertake a study on the "Conduct of a Federal Election during the COVID-19 Pandemic." The committee heard from a number of witnesses, including the CEO, representatives of other electoral management bodies, and federal and provincial public health authorities.

On December 10, the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc introduced Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response). Rather than a standalone bill, as recommended by the CEO, the Bill introduces a new part of the CEA that would stay in force until the CEO, in consultation with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, decides the measures are no longer necessary. The measures would cease six months after the CEO publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette. A majority of the Bill comes into force 90 days after Royal Assent; the exceptions are provisions related to voting in long-term care facilities and to the CEO's adaptation powers, which come into force upon Royal Assent.

On December 11, PROC tabled an interim report in the House of Commons, entitled Interim Report: Protecting Public Health and Democracy During a Possible Pandemic Election. The interim report provides an overview of the Committee's study and witness testimony, makes recommendations for legislative change, and provides operational suggestions for Elections Canada. It requests a Government response within 120 calendar days (April 10, 2021). Each of the four political parties represented on the Committee provided a supplementary opinion to the interim report.

The following table compares the measures proposed in the CEO's special report, Bill C-19, PROC's interim report, and supplementary opinions presented by the four political parties represented on PROC.

Area of regulation Special Report of the Chief Electoral Officer: Administering an Election during the COVID-19 Pandemic Bill C-19 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response) Interim Report: Protecting Public Health and Democracy During a Possible Pandemic Election (PROC) Supplementary Opinions – PROC Interim Report
Length of writ period for an election in a pandemic period The Government is encouraged to set the longest possible writ period (51 days). 1 N/A N/A CPC recommendation to Government: Consider setting the longest allowable writ period.

NDP recommendation to Government: Set the longest allowable writ period.

Ordinary polling days Two polling days: Open polls for 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Three polling days: Open polls for 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday, plus 12 hours on Monday.

New rules reflecting the three-day polling period, including:

  • Allowing returning officers (ROs), with CEO approval, to establish a polling station in different premises for one or more days during the polling period.
  • Adding procedures for examination and sealing of the ballot box and closing of the polling station over the three-day period.
Three polling days: Open polls for 12 hours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. BQ recommendation to Government: Two polling days: Open polls for 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday.
Adjustments to electoral calendar Adjust the electoral calendar to reflect the move to a Saturday and Sunday polling period.

The Chief Electoral Officer would publish an updated electoral calendar without delay after the beginning of the election period.

Adjust the electoral calendar to reflect the three-day period. Notably:
  • Close of nominations (Day 21) falls on a Saturday.
  • End of revision period and deadline for application for special ballot (Day 6) falls on a Sunday.

CEO has new power to move certain dates (other than close of nominations) in election period by two days forward or backward.

Bill C-19 also updates definitions and terminology to reflect polling "period" instead of "day," beginning on the Saturday instead of the Monday, including:

  • Pre-election period and polling period, fixed-election date, hours of voting (including extension in case of an emergency), deadline for return of election material, and incurred expenses.
Advance polling Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the polling period (Days 11, 10, 9, 8), for 8 hours. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the polling period (Days 11, 10, 9, 8), for 12 hours. N/A N/A
Deadline for mail-in ballots 6 p.m. on the Monday following the Sunday polling day. 6 p.m. on polling day Monday. If Monday falls on a holiday, 6 p.m. on Tuesday. N/A CPC recommendation to Government: That any ballots received after the close of polls on election day not be counted.
Vote by mail / special ballot N/A Place secure drop boxes for depositing marked mail-in ballots at every RO office, as well as advance and polling period places. In the case of polling places, there can be a separate ballot box inside the polling place instead of a secure box outside.

Allow the use of electronic applications for special ballots, using information such as identification numbers held in a database by Elections Canada.

Allow electors who have applied for and received a special ballot to vote by other means if it is authorized by the RO, the elector returns their unused ballot to a designated election officer, or if the elector makes a prescribed solemn declaration.

N/A CPC recommendations to EC:
  • Reconcile the number of special ballots received with the number of special ballots distributed.
  • Offer candidates up-to-date information on who has received mail-in ballots throughout the writ period.

NDP recommendations to EC:

  • Increase accessibility of vote-by-mail application process through online, in-person and phone applications.
  • Consider a partnership with Canada Post for in-person registration at postal outlets.
  • Maintain polling locations on university and college campuses.
Long-term care (LTC) facilities More discretion regarding how and when the vote is administered in LTC facilities, including establishing polls in an LTC facility, or a part of that facility, during the period that begins on the 13th day prior to the first day of the voting period and that ends on the last day of the voting period. Establish polls in LTC facilities (one or more, or just part of one) in the 13-day period before ordinary polling day, and for not more than 12 hours in a facility (rising to 28 hours when the 3-day polling period comes into force).

Includes integrity-related measures for opening polling stations, including opening and sealing of the ballot box in full view of candidates or their representatives and securely storing the ballot box for subsequent days and until votes are counted.

Authorize the CEO to strengthen voting procedures for the conduct of voting in LTC facilities, considering local circumstances and the rules in force in each of the provinces.

Recommendations to EC:

  • Do everything in its power to protect the health and safety of seniors in LTC facilities, including by offering alternative voting methods.
  • Consult public health authorities and LTC facilities on a safe and mutually-agreeable way to conduct the vote.
  • Consider identifying and training non-medical staff and volunteers for each LTC facility to assist residents to vote.
  • Consider how rapid testing of election officers may increase safety of residents of LTC facilities.
  • Make election officers responsible for helping residents vote / for collecting marked ballots, to ensure safe voting and to prevent fraud or irregularities.
LPC recommendations to EC:
  • Limit the number of EC staff entering LTC facilities.
  • Promote alternative and remote voting methods for LTC and other congregate settings.
  • Ensure that LTC facility staff are not asked to facilitate the vote.

CPC recommendation to EC:

Develop a task force with national and regional stakeholders to consult extensively with LTC facilities, to determine a safe and mutually agreeable way to conduct the vote, including how rapid testing of EC employees may increase the safety of residents.

CEO power to adapt the Act Expand the CEO's adaptation power to provide additional flexibility to respond to pandemic related circumstances. Expand the CEO's adaptation power to allow for adaptations where necessary to protect the health and safety of electors and election officers. Temporarily allow the CEO to adapt the CEA where necessary for safety, health or security reasons, in consultation with public health officials and the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP), and publicly communicate each adaptation. CPC recommendations to EC:
  • Table before Parliament for review and approval lists of expected situations, as well as actions that would remain prohibited under the expanded adaptation power.
  • Make unanticipated adaptations require the approval of the ACPP, with input of health officials.

BQ recommendation to Government:

Expand power to adapt to:

  • Allow candidates to collect signatures on nomination paper electronically.*
  • Broaden recruitment among 16 to 18-year olds.*
  • Assign workers from neighbouring constituencies in the event of a shortage of personnel.*

(* These powers already exist in the CEA, but were presented by the BQ in relation to the adaptation power.)

Accessibility & voter outreach N/A N/A N/A CPC recommendations to EC:
  • Ensure all voting locations and alternative voting methods are accessible for electors with disabilities, or who do not wish to leave their home.
  • Include specific guidance for those vulnerable to COVID-19 and extensive information on mail-in voting in the voter information campaign.

NDP recommendations to EC:

  • Consult with disability stakeholder organizations and create a list of accommodations to help overcome long-standing barriers and new challenges encountered because of the pandemic.
  • Proactively reach out to Indigenous communities to discuss pandemic-related issues, as well as to establish polling stations, provide training, and facilitate mail-in voting.
Other N/A N/A Recommendation to EC:
Recruit more poll workers and thereby shorten shifts.
CPC recommendation to Government:

Make rapid tests available to EC for the purpose of conducting an election during the pandemic (not specific to any workers/situations).

NDP recommendation to EC:

Convene ACPP immediately to establish guidelines for campaigning that are consistent with public health advice.


1 Not included in the CEO's Special Report, but in the CEO's speech to PROC when discussing the Special Report.