On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to thank the Special Committee on Electoral Reform for its final report entitled Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform, which was tabled in the House of Commons on December 1, 2016. The Committee’s work and that of the witnesses, experts, and all Canadians who participated in the Special Committee’s activity represent an important contribution to the study of electoral reform in Canada. The members of the Special Committee accomplished an impressive amount of work in consulting with experts and engaging with Canadians across the country. Every member of the Special Committee deserves thanks and appreciation for their hard work and thoughtful advice. It is a pleasure to respond to the report on behalf of the Government.
The Special Committee, in its report, noted that it “was told numerous times that there is no perfect electoral system as different systems emphasize different values”. Canadians value the direct connection they have with their Member of Parliament. They want their parliamentarians to work with each other and to cooperate on policy. They want their government to be accountable. They want their Members of Parliament to act in the interests of their constituents.
This is why the Government has taken, and will continue to take, concrete steps to work with parliamentarians to advance the five principles outlined in the Special Committee’s mandate: effectiveness and legitimacy, engagement, accessibility and inclusiveness, integrity, and local representation.
Recommendation 1, 2, 11, 12, 13:
The electoral system is foundational to any democratic system and any changes to how we vote must have the broad support of Canadians. The government launched a series of consultations in 2016 to engage Canadians on electoral reform, study the issue, and listen to what they have to say about this important issue. The Special Committee on Electoral Reform conducted excellent work and was an important mechanism to engage Canadians and Parliament on this topic.The Special Committee was established in June 2016, and over the following months consulted with Canadians in every province and territory. This included 57 meetings with 196 witnesses and 567 open‑mic participants. The Committee also received 574 written submissions and 172 reports from Members of Parliament who held consultations with their constituents. At the same time, the Committee also conducted an online consultation which was completed by 22,247 Canadians.
Complementary engagement activities took place to listen to the values and priorities of Canadians. In Summer and Fall 2016, the then Minister of Democratic Institutions undertook a cross-Canada tour for the purpose of consultation. Town hall events took place in 18 towns and cities in every province and territory. The Government of Canada also launched MyDemocracy.ca to engage Canadians in the conversation. Over 360,000 people in Canada participated online or by phone and had their say about our democracy. Input from Canadians gathered through the collective engagement efforts of the Special Committee, Government, and Members of Parliament have informed our next steps.
As stated in my mandate letter released publicly on February 1, 2017, “A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest.” Changing the electoral system is not in my mandate as Minister of Democratic Institutions.
The Government of Canada remains committed to improving, strengthening and safeguarding Canada’s democratic institutions. For instance, Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, which was introduced in the House of Commons in November 2016, aims to increase voter participation by breaking down barriers to voting while enhancing the integrity of Canada’s elections. Bill C-33 includes seven measures to improve our electoral system:
• Reintroduce the Voter Information Card as a piece of ID someone can use when they vote;
• Reintroduce vouching to allow a voter to vouch for one other Canadian;
• Expand the Chief Electoral Officer’s mandate to undertake broad public education campaigns;
• Create a National Register of Future Electors, so Elections Canada can pre-register Canadian youth ages 14-17 to vote;
• Help Elections Canada clean up data in the National Register of Electors;
• Improve the integrity of our elections by making the Commissioner of Canada Elections more independent; and
• Expand the right to vote to over one million Canadians living abroad.Further, in his report following the 42nd General Election, entitled An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century, the former Chief Electoral Officer made several recommendations to improve and modernize the administration of the Canada Elections Act. Those recommendations are still being examined by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Government is looking forward to the final outcome of the study, which will provide valuable insights for continuing to improve Canada’s federal electoral system.
The Government will continue to listen to parliamentarians and Canadians as we move forward on this file.
Recommendation 3: The Committee recommends that mandatory voting not be implemented at this time
The Government accepts this recommendation. We will not take action to make voting mandatory. The Government remains committed to implementing measures to encourage greater civic participation and increase voter turnout in federal elections.
Some of the changes proposed within Bill C-33 aim to increase voter participation, such as reducing barriers posed by voter identification, expanding the Chief Electoral Officer’s mandate to undertake broad public education campaigns, and creating a National Register of Future Electors. Further, the Government will continue to explore avenues to remove barriers to participation and increase voter turnout, informed by the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It will also be guided by consulting and engaging with our partners.
Recommendation 4: The Committee recommends that online voting not be implemented at this time.
The Government accepts this recommendation. We will not implement online voting at this time. While Canadians feel that online voting in federal elections would have a positive effect on voter turnout, their support is contingent on assurances that online voting would not result in increased security risks. We agree.
The Government intends on taking steps to defend Canada’s electoral process and political parties from cyber threats. This includes asking the Communications Security Establishment to analyze risks to Canada’s political and electoral activities from hackers and to offer advice to Canada’s political parties and Elections Canada on best practices when it comes to cyber security.
Technology continually evolves. The Government of Canada will continue to monitor trends in electoral processes in other Canadian and international jurisdictions, and undertake research where warranted to further understand and apply electoral process lessons from around the world.
Recommendation 5: The Committee recommends that Elections Canada explore, in collaboration with relevant stakeholder groups, the use of technologies to promote greater accessibility of the vote while ensuring the overall integrity of the voting process.
Recommendation 6: The Committee recommends that the House of Commons refer the question of how to improve the accessibility of voting for Canadians with disabilities, while ensuring the overall integrity of the voting process, to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The Government agrees with the intent of these recommendations. The Government also agrees with the importance of accessibility and is taking steps to eliminate barriers to participation and ensure equality of opportunity for all in the voting system. This includes steps to ensure all Canadians with disabilities can participate equally in Canadian democratic life.
In its report following the 42nd General Election, entitled An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century, Elections Canada made several recommendations related to modernizing the voting system and enhancing accessibility that would require amendments to the Canada Elections Act. The Government expects the review of the recommendations by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and consultations led by the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities on new accessibility legislation will provide useful insights on how to increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians who have disabilities or functional limitations. We will look forward to receiving these reports and working to implement their recommendations in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Recommendation 7: The Committee recommends that any electoral reform seek to enhance the likelihood of improving voter turnout and to increase the possibilities for historically disenfranchised and underrepresented groups (i.e., women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, youth and Canadians of lower economic means) to be elected.
The Government agrees with the intent of the recommendation, to build a more inclusive democratic system where all eligible Canadians participate and feel welcome. The Government intends to continue exploring innovative approaches to encourage and support the election of members of traditionally underrepresented groups to the House of Commons. The Government will continue to explore avenues to remove barriers to participation and increase voter turnout, informed by the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and other stakeholders. The Government will also continue to listen to Canadians and parliamentarians on ideas that will encourage and foster a more inclusive House of Commons.
Recommendation 8: The Committee recommends that the Government amend the Canada Elections Actto create a financial incentive (for example through reimbursement of electoral campaign expenses) for political parties to run more women candidates and move towards parity in their nominations.
The Government acknowledges that more must be done to support the participation of women in Canada’s democratic life. The Government strongly encourages political parties to present more women candidates and will continue to explore measures to increase women’s participation and representation. As such, the Government is committed to building on existing measures as well as considering innovative approaches.
For instance, in Spring 2016, Status of Women Canada launched a call for proposals soliciting applications for projects to create inclusive public spaces to increase the participation of women, including Indigenous women, in the democratic life of our country. The call consisted of two themes: Empowering Women for Political Action to promote the participation of women in political life (e.g., addressing systemic barriers preventing women from running for elected positions); and, Empowering Women for Community Action to improve conditions for women by amplifying women’s voices and enhancing their civic participation. Through this call, organizations were required to come together as co-applicants to implement sustainable, joint strategic initiatives to transform the conditions that contribute to the under-representation of women in the democratic and public life of Canada. A total of 14 projects have been approved for funding, an investment of $8.7 million over the next three years.
Recommendation 9: The Committee recommends that, working with the provinces and territories, the Government explore ways in which youth under 18 years of age could be registered in the National Register of Electors, preferably through the school system, up to two years in advance of reaching voting age.
The Government agrees with this recommendation and, in fact, has already included the creation of a National Register of Future Electors in the proposed amendments to the Canada Elections Act currently before Parliament (Bill C-33). Canadians told us they wanted to encourage young people to vote. Research has found that when young people vote in one election, they are more likely to make it a life-long habit.
The Chief Electoral Officer recommended that one way of preparing young people to vote would be by introducing youth pre-registration. The amendments to the Canada Elections Act would allow Elections Canada to work with young people in schools and other settings to sign up to vote. Pre-registration would be open to Canadian youth ages 14-17. They would be added to a new National Register of Future Electors, maintained by Elections Canada, facilitating access to educational resources and other information about democracy, elections and voting. When they turn 18, future electors will automatically be added to the National Register of Electors, putting them in a better position to vote.
Recommendation 10: The Committee recommends that the Government accord Elections Canada the additional mandate, and necessary resources, to encourage greater voter participation, including through initiatives such as Civix’s Student Vote, and by better raising awareness among Canadians of existing options to vote prior to Election Day (voting at an advance poll, voting by mail, voting at any Elections Canada office).
The Government agrees that Elections Canada should have a mandate to encourage greater voter participation and steps are being taken through Bill C-33. Currently, the Chief Electoral Officer may only conduct educational programs with primary and high school age children. The Chief Electoral Officer recommended that his mandate be extended to undertake this kind of non‑partisan public education work for all Canadians. Lack of information about voting can be a barrier to voting. The measure proposed under Bill C-33 will lift this limit and allow the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians without restrictions. As indicated above, the Chief Electoral Officer made a series of recommendations following the 42nd General Election, which are still being examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I would like to thank the Members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, their staff, Committee staff and other officials who contributed to this important, thoughtful report. The Government is committed to strengthening the openness and fairness of Canada’s public institutions to improving our democratic institutions. The Government will continue to focus its efforts to make our democracy stronger by removing barriers to voting, encouraging participation, and strengthening and safeguarding our democratic institutions.
Canadians value their democratic institutions, which remain the envy of the world. Our system is trusted by Canadians and renowned worldwide because we are constantly working to improve it. The work of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform represents an important contribution to these efforts.
Karina Gould, P.C., M.P.,