ERRE Committee Report
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This chapter highlights the range of views and recommendations that were made to the Committee regarding the principles of engagement and accessibility set out in the Committee’s mandate:
Specifically, this chapter summarizes the suggestions made to the Committee regarding improving civic education, lowering the voting age, making voting more accessible, and considering alternative voting days.
The Committee heard witnesses from across the country who suggested that improving civic education would “encourage voting and participation in the democratic process.”  Witnesses argued that civic education would lead to higher voter turnout, a more informed electorate, and even a more legitimate government. Suggestions made by witnesses included calls for mandatory civics courses in high schools, and a national public education campaign on Canada’s democratic system. As well, various local First Nation leaders who addressed the Committee at the site visit to Tsartlip First Nation on Vancouver Island spoke about the need for education and engagement strategies targeted to Indigenous Canadians to increase voter turnout and participation.
Many witnesses and open mic participants noted that civic engagement is closely linked to education, and as such education programs are essential to increasing youth engagement in public and democratic life. For example, Kuthula Matshazi, councillor for the town of Iqaluit, stated:
I think that all governments, regardless of whether they are Liberal, Conservative, or NDP, want to engage as many people as they possibly can. In taking a strategic approach to this issue, one of the ways that you can tackle it is by looking at youth education. If we can help people when they are still young and then make them understand why they should participate in politics and in political processes, by the time they get to be 18 years old, they will fully understand their civic duties. They will fully understand what's in it for them, and then they will be able to participate in the system.
Various experts agreed that starting civic education early is an investment in the future of Canadian democracy. It was argued that youth civic education would create a more informed and engaged electorate and thus a more legitimate government. As Maryantonnett Flumian expressed:
Most importantly, because an increase in voter turnout can equate to government's legitimacy, methods to improve accessibility are but one of the viable alternatives. I'm talking specifically about civic education. Parliament has a duty to ensure that its citizens understand the importance of their participation in strengthening the principles of sound public governance. With a civic education strategy that starts by targeting grade schools and high schools, we can ensure that there are more first-time voters, regardless of the voting system we choose, and that many more will become voters for a lifetime, continuing to support the ongoing foundation of democratic governance.
As well, some witnesses posited that low voter turnout was in part related to a lack of access to suitable resources informing voters of the electoral process. Dominic Vézina of the Institut du Nouveau Monde advocated for a mandatory civics course at the high school level:
Civic education is the surest way to get young people interested in politics. One of the main reasons young people do not vote is that they do not understand how politics affect them personally. A compulsory civics course should be given in Grade 9, while school is still compulsory, so that it is taught to everyone.
Mr. Vézina noted that currently, young Canadians are not sufficiently politically informed to feel the need or desire to engage in the political process or to exercise their right to vote when they come of age.
Youth may become more invested in the democratic process through interactive experiences. Mock parliaments are one example of an interactive educational tool. Mr. Vézina suggested that “mock voting should be available to all students for each election.” This idea was echoed by Peter Russell from the University of Toronto:
[W]hat they (the witnesses’ colleagues Paul Howe, University of New Brunswick, and Henry Milner, Université de Montréal) are really coming up with is improving how schools handle the teaching of politics. If you read their books, it isn’t just a matter of teaching; it’s the type of teaching. It should be interactive and not just having the teacher saying, here’s what Parliament does. It should be very creative and interactive, having mock parliaments and so on.
In his testimony, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand added that civic education was “the most important influencer” of young Canadians’ voting habits. This statement was echoed throughout the Committee’s study. Several witnesses agreed that governments at the provincial and federal levels should work together to come up with a civic education course or program that should be implemented in high schools across the country. Sue Duguay of the Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick stated:
In addition … our members' proposal asks … for the addition of mandatory civic education courses to the school curriculum. These courses are extremely important in creating generations of voters with a full understanding of the electoral system. It is therefore important that the federal government, with its provincial counterparts, provide adequate civic education in the classroom.
Speaking in Manitoba, Gina Smoke observed that information on the electoral process and the Canadian democratic system can be especially difficult to access for youth in marginalized communities such as some Indigenous communities:
I think everybody should know why it’s important to vote. I don’t know why we don’t have it in our school systems, because it’s something that we all have to do when we become old enough to vote. On the reserves we don’t talk about it. Why would we talk about it, because our vote doesn’t count. It’s just been ingrained in people for years.… There are still a lot of issues around the residential schools that make it somewhat difficult to know why being involved in politics is important.
The need to use education as a tool to increase democratic engagement was raised by a number of local First Nations leaders who spoke with the Committee at a site visit to Tsartlip First Nation on Vancouver Island. For example, Tsawout First Nation Band Council member Mavis Underwood spoke about the need to educate young people about how and why to vote. She suggested that community-based dialogue would be a way to proceed. Tsawout First Nation Chief Harvey Underwood explained that since First Nations only obtained the right to vote in the 1960s, it is still relatively new to the community, and education is necessary. He also suggested that the education ought to be mutual, in that politicians should also work to better understand First Nations’ concerns. Chief Tanya Jimmy (Jones) of Tseycum First Nation recommended using mentors to educate about the current electoral process and any proposed reforms. Finally, Tsartlip Chief Don Tom spoke about the success of a joint initiative between Elections Canada, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and provincial First Nations leadership to educate, engage, and get out the vote for the October 2015 federal election.
A number of witnesses advocated for increased civic education for the general public, and especially around any proposed electoral system reforms. For example, Jane Hilderman from Samara Canada suggested the following:
First, there needs to be strengthened public education about Canada's democratic system, often called civic education or civic literacy. I think this is especially important if the electoral system changes. At present, citizenship education largely remains the purview of provincial education curricula and is typically incorporated into high school education programs. This is very helpful, but it isn't sufficient. Efforts are needed to reinforce civic knowledge through adulthood as well as during the integration of newcomers into Canada's public life. However, there are very few resources for nationwide efforts in Canada in civic education, nor is it clear who among government departments or agencies should be responsible for delivering on this goal.
Ms. Hilderman highlighted the lack of resources for Canadians who are not in a formal setting (such as a school) to become informed about Canada’s democratic system. She suggested that this is an accessibility issue that governments at the provincial and federal levels as well as non-government organizations, could help to remedy by working collaboratively. J.P. Lewis from the University of New-Brunswick emphasized the importance of this collaboration:
While considering the role of electoral management bodies in Canada in civic education, it should be clearly noted that the majority of civic education policies and programs undertaken by electoral management bodies are often in partnership with other policy actors. Groups such as CIVIX, Samara, and Apathy is Boring have all been prominent in spreading the message of combatting voter apathy.
The suggestion to lower the voting age to 16 was raised on numerous occasions by various witnesses throughout the Committee’s study. Many argued that it would increase voter turnout and encourage youth voters to participate in the democratic process and to remain active voters throughout their life.
The 2015 federal election saw the highest rate of voter turnout for electors aged 18-24 since Elections Canada began presenting demographic data on turnout (in 2004). Turnout for this age group jumped from 38.8% in 2011 to 57.1% in 2015.
Following the 2011 general election, Elections Canada published a working paper entitled Youth Electoral Engagement in Canada, by André Blais and Peter Loewen, who both appeared as witnesses before the Committee. This study, which explored youth electoral engagement in Canada, looked at a variety of socio-demographic factors that may affect voting patterns. It identified having an interest and an understanding of political issues had a significant effect on youth voting behaviour.
Andy O’Neill, Head of the Electoral Commission in Scotland, discussed Scotland’s recent experience with lowering the voting age to 16 for the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence. Mr. O’Neill observed the following regarding 16 and 17 year old Scottish voters: “It was a very engaged electorate. There were thought to be well over 90% of 16 and 17-year-olds registered, and very high levels of participation in terms of voting.”
The May 2016 Scottish Parliament election was the first where 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. According to the Electoral Commission:
Approximately 80,000 of them registered to vote at the election and this age group had high levels of awareness and knowledge about the registration process. This is encouraging, but it remains the case that young people are much less likely to report having voted than older voters.
The success of the Scottish experience was cited as an example in favour of lowering the voting age by witnesses who appeared before the Committee.
Many of the witnesses who supported lowering the voting age connected to the need for stronger civics education. It was also suggested that it would raise voter turnout in future elections. As explained by Victor Tootoo, who appeared before the Committee in Iqaluit:
If you lower the voting age to 16, you are going to see a higher voter turnout in terms of percentage from that cohort of the population, that particular demographic, and because of their instant access to education, and education regarding our electoral system, you'll have more informed voters.
Others added that by combining civics education and the right to vote, young Canadians would feel more involved in the democratic process and be better equipped to apply what they learn in school. In its brief, the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française recommended both lowering the voting age to 16 and having the Government of Canada collaborate with its provincial and territorial partners to institute civics education measures to better prepare young voters for their first experience as electors.
Another argument raised in favour of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds is that those youths would be more likely to continue voting if they started early. Sue Duguay, president of the Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau Brunswick, explained:
Studies tend to demonstrate that once people vote, they will be inclined to continue to do so all their lives. Because of this, 16-year-olds, still in the school system and mostly living at home, would be in a situation that would encourage them to vote, especially for the first time.
Others stated that voting for the first time was a “civic rite of passage” that ought to be celebrated. It was also claimed that lowering the voting age could lead to more stable long-term policies. In his brief, Chris Maxwell stated that “if we gave them the power to meaningfully express that concern it would cause governments to have longer term policy stability (or at least stability in long term policies).”
The third principle set out in the Committee’s mandate called upon the Committee to consider how any electoral reform proposals could promote “accessibility and inclusiveness” and “support access by all eligible voters regardless of physical or social condition.”
The Committee heard from witnesses representing a number of communities who continue to encounter barriers when it comes to casting their ballot. Individuals and groups representing students, senior citizens, Indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities highlighted the various challenges faced casting their ballot and making their voices heard.
Young Canadians – specifically students – encounter barriers to casting their ballot. Many students move away from home to pursue post-secondary education and are thus faced with the challenge of casting a vote (often for the first time) in an unfamiliar environment. Sue Duguay raised this issue in relation to mandatory voting:
I find the idea quite interesting. However, I think that, if voting becomes mandatory, it will have to be accessible as well. It’s all very well to want everyone to vote, but it’s not easy to do so for the most disadvantaged and the young people you talked about. As I mentioned, some are not in their home region for the vote.
Ms. Duguay argued that it is important to recognize the barriers young Canadians encounter when trying to exercise their right to vote and the importance of making the process fully accessible.
Maryantonett Flumian offered a possible solution to the barrier described by Ms. Duguay, a “vote-anywhere” policy:
We might have a vote-anywhere policy that would facilitate the exercise of the franchise, notably by students who leave their permanent place of residence to attend college or university just around election time, if we stick to the current cycle. People could vote wherever they were on polling day, rather than having to return to their place of registration or having to change their registration to their new residence in order to be able to vote on polling day.
Keith Archer, Chief Electoral Officer of British Columbia, echoed Ms. Flumian’s suggestion as a way to improve accessibility to the polls:
I think there's a lot we can do to increase the accessibility of the ballot. One of the things that's in place in provincial elections here in British Columbia which is not available at the federal level is the ability of voters to attend any voting place to cast their ballot. If you live in Prince George and are visiting Vancouver during the election period, you can find a voting place in Vancouver and cast your ballot there if you wish.
As well, Fred-William Mireault, who appeared as a representative of the Regroupement des étudiants et étudiantes du Cégep de Lanaudière, encouraged the Committee to install voting booths in places that are highly accessible to students (such as university and college campuses) as another way to improve the accessibility to the voting process:
We are in favour of voting on university and college campuses. Provincially, in the last election, Quebec's Chief Electoral Officer allowed that kind of voting for the first time. The effect was excellent; the turnout rate for young people and students went up. I did not talk about it earlier, but it certainly would be helpful to encourage polling stations on college and university campuses, even in schools providing professional diploma courses to mature students.
Senior citizens make up a significant percentage of the population and also face challenges when the time comes to cast their ballot. Danielle Perreault of the Fédération de l’âge d’Or du Québec (FADOQ) discussed some of the barriers that prevent senior citizens from exercising their democratic right to vote:
One of the things we want to stress is the importance of the voter information card. Seniors actually often no longer have an ID card as such—in other words, their photo no longer appears on their health card. In addition, many seniors no longer have a driver's license. It is difficult for them to properly identify themselves.
Those people should have a voter information card. I think that it exists, but it is not well-known or used. That could be a democratic way to encourage more people, especially seniors, to vote, even though seniors tend to be the ones who vote the most, as we know. However, the fact remains that some of them may be hindered by the difficulty of identifying themselves.
Seniors often sell their house to go live in residence, and having to travel in order to vote can be very complicated. Establishing polling stations in residences could be a worthwhile solution.
Ms. Perreault, echoing Ms. Mireault, suggested having polling stations where senior citizens live:
Let me go back to access and to the possibility of having polling stations close to where people live. Students could vote on campus. That is done in certain places. Why could senior citizens not vote in their environment? This would probably encourage more people to vote and to be more concerned with their democracy.
Ms. Perreault argued that making voting more accessible would contribute to a more politically active and engaged spirit among senior citizens.
Numerous witnesses spoke of the need to improve the accessibility of the vote for Indigenous Canadians. For example, Gina Smoke stated:
I think they need to make it much easier for the [A]boriginal communities, especially the northern ones; it's way harder for them to get out to vote. Why do we have to make it so complicated? We know who they are in these communities. Why do we have to come up with all these...? There are a lot of elders who can't speak English or read English. They don't drive, so why would they have a driver's licence? It's the same even in the community I grew up in, and it's not that far from here. I just think there has to be a better way, and we all need to work together to make it happen.
France Robertson of the Centre d’amitié autochtone de Lanaudière provided specific examples of solutions to some of the barriers alluded to by Ms. Smoke:
First of all, the elector's card is a challenge in itself for us. Why can't people simply show up with a piece of ID? For Aboriginal families, it would be a lot easier. And as I mentioned earlier, friendship centres are non-partisan organizations. Since it's important to attract [I]ndigenous families, why not create polling stations in friendship centres? Since they are non-partisan organizations, they are neutral places. I think it's an interesting idea. It would make it possible to bring out more [I]ndigenous persons, and they could exercise their right to vote.
As well, language may be a barrier to some people. As Ms. Smoke and Ms. Robertson mentioned, some Indigenous Canadians do not speak either English or French:
The fact that things take place in French, then, is a reason they don't go to a polling place. An instruction, such as telling someone to go to a certain station and to bring a card, is something commonplace for you, but for them, it's complicated. If someone could explain the procedure in Atikamekw, it would be much easier for them.
In his testimony to the Committee Marc Mayrand spoke of the 3.5 million Canadians living with disabilities and how Internet voting could be one tool to enable them to vote secretly and independently. Carl Sosa of the Council for Canadians with Disabilities outlined some of the barriers faced by Canadians with disabilities:
Voting is a right that is exercised by millions of Canadians, but persons with disabilities encounter many barriers when it comes to participating in the political process. Some of the barriers we face include accessing identification, especially if you live in poverty and have a fixed income. That can be a major barrier to participation.… Those who are vision impaired also face significant obstacles in the voting process, as they are unable to verify who they have voted for independently.… Another issue is access to polling stations. It is absolutely essential that efforts are made to ensure that voting is accessible to every Canadian over the age of 18.
Reaching polling stations in order to cast a ballot is especially challenging for people with mobility issues. This was highlighted as being a serious problem particularly in Nunavut, as Victor Tootoo pointed out to the Committee:
It seems these days that elections in Nunavut never happen on a warm summer day—I can't recall that ever being the case—when it is easiest for people with disabilities to go somewhere. You've been outside here in Iqaluit today and you've seen how slippery it is. Imagine you are in a wheelchair and you're trying to get to a polling station in December in Nunavut, and this is Iqaluit. This is the capital of our territory. This is the best our territory has to offer for people with disabilities.… Therefore, making it easier for a person to vote in Nunavut would increase voter turnout.
In testimony and submissions, various members of the public encouraged the Committee to recommend that various options be considered to facilitate voting for Canadians with disabilities. For example, Scott Allardyce of the Canadian Disability Alliance suggested an “accessibility ombudsman” be established at Elections Canada to help address some of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities:
The most important thing is that we believe that Elections Canada should establish an accessibility ombudsman, so that when people with disabilities have difficulty in voting or difficulty at the polling place, there is a specific contact they can reach out to at Elections Canada to say, “Here are the problems and I couldn't vote” or “I felt uncomfortable in voting”.
A number of witnesses also spoke to the traditionally low engagement of Canadians living in low-income circimstances in the electoral process. As noted by Ruth Dassonneville, “The political science literature is quite clear that the less well-off are less likely to turn out to vote.” Carlos Sosa echoed that observation, stating that “[t]ypically, those who live in more affluent areas tend to vote more than those who are in poverty.” He added that a major barrier to participation by low-income Canadians is accessing the proper identification and getting to a polling station, particularly for those living on fixed incomes. He stated:
I think what we need to be dealing with here are the issues of poverty. Once we deal with those issues, I think people will get out and vote. The fact of the matter is that we also have to be dealing with—I'll reiterate—the barriers just to get to the voting station. It's about access to Handi-Transit. It's about the cost to get ID. It's about the accessibility of the voting station.
Franco Buscemi outlined the particularly difficult circumstances faced by Canadians living in poverty in Iqaluit. He told the Committee:
The reason I bring up things like overcrowded housing, poverty, and abuse is that if you're not sure where you're sleeping, or if you're sleeping in shifts, and if you're not sure what your next meal is going to be or when it's going to be, and if you're not sure when the next time you're going to be sexually abused or physically abused will be, who really cares when the next election is?
One suggestion raised by witnesses to improve accessibility and engagement would be to add more opportunities for voters to cast a ballot. Witnesses presented several suggestions such as voting on weekends and/or creating an Election Day holiday.
The Committee heard testimony that moving Election Day to the weekend would improve voter turnout. For example, Patrice Dutil recommended voting on Sundays:
[V]oting on Sunday, which is a typical practice in Europe. Give people a day off to vote. Vote on a Sunday when most people are not at work, dealing with kids, dealing with school, taking them to lessons, doing all the things that a normal family does during the week. Give them a chance to go vote.
Mr. Dutil’s suggestion was echoed by a number of witnesses. Paul Thomas recommended Sunday voting along with a number of other “operational” improvements “to make the whole experience more convenient, more accessible and so on.” He added:
[A]t the level of Elections Canada, we can facilitate voting with weekend voting and even Sunday voting. Some people may not like that, but other people might take advantage of it. Also, we could have free registration of young people and automation at the polls.
Ruth Dassonneville added that: “Research tends to show that turnout rates are a bit higher on weekends than they are during the week.”
Other witnesses suggested making Election Day a national holiday (as is the case in some other jurisdictions). Some individuals suggested that having a voting holiday would not only improve accessibility and increase voter turnout, but would also create a sense of community among voters and would add a sense of excitement to the ritual of casting a ballot.
David Wasylciw from OpenNWT, strongly advocated for a voting holiday: “I am a big fan of the voting holiday, making election day a really big event and having Elections Canada-driven parties or whatever else.” Some members of the public echoed Mr. Wasylciw’s enthusiasm:
Having said that, participation is a problem too on election day, because people are too busy, they say. Well, if they're too busy, what we can do is have election day as a holiday. Why can't we do that? We have Labour Day. We have Family Day. We have this day and that day. Why not an election day holiday?
Finally, Fred Bild from Montreal proposed that a voting holiday should include having polls open for 24 hours across the country:
There is a way to resolve … the issue of the time difference across the country. We select one holiday for the entire country, and polling stations will be open for 24 hours across the country. In this way, no one will have an advantage, and all results will come in at the same time.
Recommendation 7 [repeated]
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. [Note that this recommendation applies to both Chapter 7 and Chapter 8]
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 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 Committee recognizes that education falls within provincial jurisdiction.
 Indeed, education was a prominent theme of the site visit. Tsartlip First Nation houses ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School, which serves the Saanich People on four reserves (Tsartlip, Pauquachin, Tseycum, and Tsawout) and surrounding communities. The school offers a high quality local language (locally developed SENCOTEN) and culture curriculum to enable Saanich children to learn about their history and “find a clear vision of their future”.
 Andre Barnes and Erin Virgint, Youth Voter Turnout in Canada: 1. Trends and Issues, Publication No. 2010-19-E, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 9 August 2013.
 The Electoral Commission, “The May 2016 Scottish Parliament election: Report on the administration of the 5 May 2016 Scottish Parliament election,” September 2016.
 Teresa Legrand, “Brief,” Submitted Brief, October 26 2016: “Young people study Civics in Grade 10 in Ontario. To many of them it seems very remote – something they can’t participate in, so it doesn’t hold their interest. I believe that youth voter turnout would improve overall if the habit can be instilled during the high-school years, and that the Civics curriculum would seem more relevant to those required to study it.”
 The sections on Online Voting and Mandatory Voting have touched upon some of these barriers.
 Ibid., 1840.
 Ibid., 1930.