Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 Response)
June 15, 2021
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Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the Committee today about Bill C-19.
Given where we are in the Parliamentary calendar, I want to start by saying a few words about our electoral readiness before addressing certain aspects of the bill.
Over the last year or so, we have undertaken extensive readiness activities, not only to prepare for the next election but also to adjust to the circumstances of the pandemic and ensure that voting can take place safely.
We continue to engage a range of stakeholder groups across the country, as well as with a network of federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous health authorities. We have adjusted voting operations and procured a full range of protective equipment to ensure the safety of electors and workers at polling locations.
We have also prepared a range of service options to deliver the vote in seniors' homes and long-term care facilities, based on local needs and circumstances.
Since last fall we have dramatically increased our capacity to process mail-in ballots, and we have developed, tested and implemented an online vote-by-mail application system. Finally, we have planned for the deployment of drop boxes inside all polling places to help ensure that postal ballots can be returned in time.
I note that all of these measures are possible under the current regime, with some adaptations that I am empowered to make.
With this, Elections Canada is in a relatively good position to administer an election under the current regime, despite the challenges inherent to the pandemic, which is not fully behind us.
In early October, I recommended a limited number of amendments to the Canada Elections Act to facilitate election delivery in a pandemic and improve services to electors. Among them was the replacement of the traditional polling day, which is a Monday, with a two-day weekend voting period.
Bill C-19 proposes instead to retain Monday voting and add Saturday and Sunday. I certainly understand the intention behind having more voting days. As I indicated when I appeared before you last fall, this was, in fact, my initial instinct. But after careful review, I recommended against it. This remains my recommendation today.
Three polling days over a week-end and a Monday will increase the risk of labour shortage and limit the number of polling places available for the full voting period, in part because schools will generally not be available on the Monday and places of worship on the weekend.
This will result in increasing the number of voters per polls and will not facilitate distancing. Fewer polling places will also result in electors having to travel farther than usual to cast their vote, especially in rural areas, or having to vote in places that may not meet accessibility standards.
I invite members of the Committee to amend Bill C-19 to provide for a two-day weekend voting period, or else to simply stay with the traditional Monday. Either solution would, in my opinion, result in better services to electors.
Before concluding my remarks, I would like to draw your attention to one item that is not currently contained in the bill, relating to the collection of signatures for a candidate's nomination. This matter was raised during the Toronto by-elections and discussed at the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, after I had made my recommendations.
The Act requires that signatures be collected by candidates from 100 electors, each in the presence of a witness. This will be more challenging during a pandemic. Currently, signatures can be collected electronically but not without difficulty given the legal requirement to have a witness. A more user-friendly electronic solution is possible, but that would require an amendment to the Act to remove the witness requirement, as is the case in some provinces. It would also involve developing new systems and business processes. Given the time and investments this is something that should be considered more in the long term and not as a quick and temporary solution.
As a temporary measure, the Committee may wish to consider reducing the number of signatures required for a candidate nomination so as to limit in-person contact. I note that most provinces and territories require significantly fewer signatures.
Thank you for inviting me today. I welcome your questions on these or any other matters addressed in the bill.