I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number four of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I'd like to start the meeting by providing you with some information following the motion that was adopted in the House on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.
The committee is now sitting in a hybrid format, meaning that members can participate either in person or by video conference. Witnesses must appear by video conference. All members, regardless of their method of participation, will be counted for the the purpose of quorum. The committee's power to sit is, however, limited by the priority use of the House resources, which is determined by the whips. All questions must be decided by a recorded vote unless the committee disposes of them with unanimous consent or on division. Finally, the committee may deliberate in camera, provided that it takes into account the potential risks to confidentiality inherent in such deliberations with remote participants.
Today's proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. I remind members that the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
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For those participating in person today, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in a committee room. Should you wish to get my attention, signal me with a hand gesture, or at an appropriate time you can call my name. Should you wish to raise a point of order, wait for an appropriate time and indicate to me clearly that you wish to raise a point of order.
With regard to a speaking list, the committee clerk and I will do our best to maintain a consolidated speaking order for all members, whether they are participating virtually or in person.
As I said, today is meeting number four of the procedure and House affairs committee. It's Thursday, October 22, and today we have Elections Canada witnesses before us so that we can start our study off right. We have Mr. Stéphane Perrault, the Chief Electoral Officer; Michel Roussel, deputy chief electoral officer for electoral events and innovation; and Anne Lawson, deputy chief electoral officer of regulatory affairs, who has been before this committee many times.
Before we start with opening statements, I do want to let the committee know that the other witnesses we have contacted so far are the New Brunswick chief electoral officer and the Prince Edward Island chief electoral officer. They are currently conducting a by-election with special COVID-19 provisions. We have also contacted the Saskatchewan chief electoral officer. They have all responded positively and wish to come before the committee on October 27, which is next Tuesday's meeting. Hopefully the members will be pleased to know that we have a fair number of witnesses who are already interested in coming before the committee.
With that said, we will give our witnesses five minutes for introductory remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'll try to be brief.
Thanks for this opportunity to speak today with the committee regarding my recommendations for legislative change in the event of a federal election during a pandemic.
Elections Canada has been working in consultation with public health authorities to develop an operational approach to delivering an election during a pandemic. This includes several measures currently being implemented in the by-elections under way in Toronto Centre and York Centre, such as physical distancing measures at the polls and, of course, the distribution of protective equipment for poll workers and voters as well.
The act provides the authority for me to make a number of adjustments to the electoral process to facilitate these measures, and I'd be happy to talk about that later on. However, there are a small number of areas where legislative change is, in my view, desirable.
First I am recommending replacing ordinary polling day, which is Monday of course, with a two-day polling period on Saturday and Sunday. Instead of a single 12-hour polling day, electors would have the opportunity to vote over two eight-hour days, and we can come back to those hours later on. This would allow for a steadier flow of electors over two weekend days, encouraging physical distancing, as opposed to the clustering of electors that takes place at the polls at the start and finish of a Monday workday.
Weekend voting would also assist in securing polling locations such as schools, and in recruiting the very large number of poll workers who are required to run a federal election. For some electors and candidates, weekend voting may be in conflict with days of religious significance. However, the two-day period, in addition to other voting options, would provide flexibility.
As a result of weekend voting, I'm recommending certain related changes to the advance polling days and hours. I'm not going to get into this in my remarks, but perhaps we can come back to that.
I also suggest that mail-in ballots be accepted until 6 p.m. eastern time on the Monday immediately following weekend voting, provided that they were mailed before the close of polls on the weekend. This would account for the fact that mail is typically not delivered on the weekend and that we expect to receive large numbers of mail-in ballots.
A second major element that I recommend addressing in legislation is voting in long-term care facilities. I am seeking flexibility to allow Elections Canada to work with long-term care facilities across the country to deliver tailored voting services that suit their unique circumstances, which may vary considerably from one location to another.
Now I'll switch to French.
The third and final element I am recommending relates to my power under the act to adapt its provisions in case of an emergency. Currently, this power may only be exercised for limited purposes. I am requesting greater flexibility to adapt the act as needed in the pandemic context in order to handle unexpected situations that will inevitably arise.
I have opted to limit my recommendations to a small number of changes that are directly related to the delivery of an election in a pandemic and have stayed away from any other recommendations that may require more extensive debate. I will be submitting a second recommendations report in due course to deal with other improvements to the act, unrelated to the pandemic.
Although the recommendations I have outlined today are limited in scope, their implementation nevertheless requires changes to operational processes and IT systems that will require some time, and will, especially, have to be rigorously tested. Therefore, I urge Parliament to swiftly consider them.
In order to assist the committee, you will also see that I have submitted model legislation that could accomplish these objectives?a temporary statute that would supersede or adapt some of the provisions of the Canada Elections Act only for the next general election, leaving the electoral regime unchanged once the pandemic period is behind us.
Finally, I note in closing that the act currently provides for an election period lasting between 37 and 51 days. I have not recommended any change. However, if an election is called during the pandemic, I strongly encourage the government to set the longest possible election period. I would say that of all the points I mentioned today, the length of the election period is the most important factor in achieving success. This would not only assist Elections Canada in dealing with the logistical challenges of a pandemic election, such as the hiring and training of workers, but also allow time for the processing and mail delivery of the several million mail-in ballots that we can expect in a general election during the pandemic.
Madam Chair, I would be pleased to answer questions from committee members.
That's a very good question and I have to confess that there is no easy answer to it. Basically we would be moving from 12 hours to 16 hours, so we'd be extending the hours.
We would have two days of weekend voting. For most people, that would facilitate voting.
Why would we have eight hours instead of 12? Our expectation is that 12 hours of work by poll workers with a mask and a face shield on would make for some very difficult working conditions. We've had some anecdotal evidence from discussions with returning officers in the two ongoing by-elections at the four days of advance polls that this is very difficult on the poll workers. I am concerned with maintaining the capacity of those poll workers and not having them walk out on us on polling day.
It's a balancing act that we're trying to do. We think we can reduce the hours but increase the number of advance polls. That's to maintain or ideally increase the capacity if we have the recruitment. For the weekend voting, we would increase the voting hours.
At the moment, there are seniors' residences or long-term care facilities that you can't get into. In some cases, there are restrictions on access, but this is not the case across the country. The magnitude of the pandemic and the way places are structured varies from place to place.
In some cases, long-term care homes would only proceed by mail-in voting. This is what will happen in the Toronto by-elections. The local care home authority in Toronto has decided that their staff will distribute the forms. In other cases, there are on-site voting sites, which are not mobile for health reasons, but the candidates' representatives are not on site. I would like, as much as possible, to have these people vote before the last day to minimize the risk of problems.
Currently, the law provides for voting in mobile polls to take place on election day. Holding a poll in CHSLDs and other similar facilities involves a lot of last-minute work.
We have heard some people say in recent days that Elections Canada is conducting by-elections during the pandemic, so, obviously, it's possible to do these things. We've heard people say there are various provincial elections happening, so, obviously, it's possible to hold a federal election.
I just wonder if you could speak a little bit to the complexity of having to monitor the public health orders in 13 different jurisdictions across the country and the effect of the pandemic being stronger in some places than in others over a large territory and large number of jurisdictions versus the very real challenges of running a provincial election or even a by-election during these times.
That is a very lengthy question. I'll try to answer most of it in the time allowed.
I'll give you a good example. In Brunswick we have only 49 seats provincially and only 10 seats federally. In New Brunswick returning officers in many cases had to assist in delivering vote-by-mail kits and recovering them. That can be done in a province the size of New Brunswick with 49 seats, with 49 returning officers. If you have only 10 seats as you do federally, or if you have larger province as you have with northern Quebec, Ontario or most of the provinces, that is not feasible.
There are different challenges. They had a short election period. That added to their burden, and I'm hoping for a larger one.
If you look at the current by-election in Toronto, that is an entirely different setting. I can tell you that 50% of the workforce in those by-elections comes from neighbouring districts. That is not an option that we have in a general election. When I talk about recruitment challenges, that is a concern. It is not a concern in a by-election, but it would certainly be in a general election.
Finally, you mentioned the different jurisdictions and the public health authorities and the different measures. That's quite right. We do have to work with the provincial and local health authorities and follow and adjust our operations to the evolving procedures and controls that will inevitably vary from time to time during a federal election.
There is a challenge that exists at the national level that does not compare to it provincially or locally.
Before I get into explaining those scenarios, I think it's fair to say that it would be an extreme situation and one that we would not do lightly. We've never done it, and we've faced very significant challenges in our history and have never cancelled an election. If you go to the authorities in the act, it's an authority that's riding-by-riding appreciation, so it's not for general use.
On a riding-by-riding basis, if the conditions are such that, in my view, it is impractical to conduct the election—and it's a very specific criterion—then I may recommend to the Governor in Council that it be cancelled.
It can also be postponed by a week. That is perhaps less likely in a pandemic situation, because that is not likely to change all that much in a week. In all likelihood if that were to occur, the writ would be withdrawn and replaced within three months by a new writ.
There would be a vacancy for that riding.
As I said, it's a practical test. Can I offer voting services? Do I have access to polling places, to poll workers?
In all likelihood, if there were an extreme case of a shutdown and people were told by public health authorities to stay home, then that would prevent me from having access to poll workers and offering services to voters, who would be largely at home. That's a very extreme scenario.
Thank you very much to the Chief Electoral Officer for joining us today.
This is a very important topic at this time and we just don't know how the cards will be played.
I want to focus on the senior aspect of this. In your report you noted that approximately 50% of the people working in our polls are seniors. We also have to look at palliative care, hospitals, long-term homes and all of those things.
Let's start by looking at the polling stations and the workers in the polling stations. Many times with the logistics involved, you'll have two people sitting at a table. What is the idea of having people sitting at these tables together? Do you have any thoughts on rapid testing? How are you going to keep them safe, or are you looking more at the distancing where they are two metres apart and working together?
That's a very, very good question.
We will be shifting in the pandemic to a single poll worker. This is a model that's in use in other jurisdictions. We will not have two poll workers sitting next to each other during the elections.
The poll worker functions and the poll clerk functions would be combined and we'd have a single person. That person would be equipped with gloves, masks, sanitizing lotion and a face shield—everything they needed to maintain safety.
There would be, for integrity reasons, a supervisor walking around and looking at what's happening at the different tables, so we would be reducing the proximity of workers.
Looking at some of these polling locations, currently there are many churches, municipal buildings and things of that sort that are not open to the public. What are your plans that if something.... I mean, here in Ontario—Ottawa of course, and Toronto—they don't have a lot of things open. However, I'm looking even in my own community, and the churches are not open; there are no members of the public allowed into schools and municipal buildings, if it's not by appointment or they're in class.
What are your options there?
Thanks, Mr. Perrault. I really appreciate your being here and all the incredible work that you do. I recognize the challenging position you're in with the incredible responsibility of being ready for an election at any time.
There is one question that I have. I know from your opening remarks, and in your report that I read through, that you've asked for an expansion of adaptation powers. I want to understand that a little better. Can you explain to me what flexibility you might require or need over and above what you have currently?
The other similar but related question is, how do you anticipate using that power if it were given to you?
The current adaptation power is quite wide, but it is restricted to varying provisions of the act in order to either facilitate the vote or facilitate the count. It does not directly deal with matters, for example, of safety or security.
For example, right now in Toronto we have voting in person in two long-term care facilities, and the candidates have agreed that they will not send their scrutineers there because for health reasons that's not practical, but that's based on the agreement of the candidates.
I cannot adapt the act to enforce that except in a twisted way, for example, to say that were it not for this, then there would be no vote and therefore restricting access is, in fact, facilitating the vote. I am not sure that's really what was intended. I want to make sure that, where it is necessary for health reasons, I can adapt the legislation.
In terms of how we do that, if you look at our website, you will find that whenever there is an adaptation—and in every election, whether it is a by-election or general election, there are always adaptations—we provide text of the adaptation with the justification for the adaptation in both languages, so there is transparency on that, which is available for everyone to look at.
What variations do we anticipate in long-term care facilities? I know you're asking for flexibility there.
I recognize that the state of different long-term care facilities will be different, but what real flexibility do you need to adapt to those facilities? Can you give us some idea?
I know one of my colleagues asked you to table some documents about any consultations you've done, but can you give me an example of a variation that, again, you might not have the flexibility to account for right now?
Madam Chair, I have a point of order.
The Chair: Go ahead, Mr. Lukiwski.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: I'm very sorry, Mr. Therrien, for interrupting. I don't normally do this.
I'm just checking on this, Madam Chair. I don't have a copy of the complete speakers list in front of me, but I thought that in the second round there were two Liberal and two Conservative questions. You're now appearing to be in the two-and-a-half-minute round, which is the third round of questions. Did we miss my question or am I wrong?
I want to come back to the question I was asking before. We've heard a lot about what Elections Canada is doing to try to be compliant with the public health orders of the various jurisdictions in which you have to run an election, but beyond that, there is the question of the challenges the pandemic poses to all sorts of people, whether it's people living with disabilities or people in indigenous communities, where we've heard a lot about the challenges of the pandemic in those communities.
Those are all things that may cause people to choose not to vote. To what extent is it part of Elections Canada's mandate and what planning are you doing to help promote turnout in difficult conditions to ensure compliance with the public health orders?
At this point, we are and have been conducting surveys of the general population. We have that broken down into certain categories, such as age groups. We could provide that information to the committee, if it is interested.
Ultimately, a lot of the work is a matter of local adjustments. We have community relations officers. As I've said and as you've noted, things will vary considerably. An election in New Brunswick and an election in Montreal or Toronto are very different things. It's the same in northern or remote areas, where you have indigenous communities. This is something that has to be managed locally with community relations officers and the returning officers to make sure they can offer the service that meets the circumstances of the voters.
Again, to me, this speaks in part to the length of the election. Let's say you have a 36-day campaign and it's a snap election. As a returning officer, when the writs are issued you don't yet have an office and computer equipment. You're far away from reaching out to those communities. You have to find polling locations. You have to find poll workers. That's why—
Good morning, Monsieur Perrault. It's the first time we've had an opportunity to speak, so I guess the first thing I should say is congratulations on your appointment. In years past, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with and working with two of your predecessors, Monsieur Kingsley and Monsieur Mayrand. I'm certainly looking forward to working with you in the future.
My first point—I have several, and I'll try to be succinct—is just an observation, sir. You made a recommendation that the writ period should be longer rather than shorter. You did so because it would assist Elections Canada and your officials in the logistics of operating an election. I would simply point out to you, sir, that normally the government of the day sets the date of the election and the writ period, unless of course it goes to the full term, at which time the automatic voting date provisions will kick in. But if a government chooses to call an election prior to the fixed election date, normally they do so because they are ahead in the polls. It seems to follow, then, that if this were the case, they would have a shorter rather than longer writ period to take advantage of their popularity at the time. I would suggest to you, sir, that you and your officials be prepared—that whenever the next election is called, it will be a shorter writ period rather than longer.
My questions deal primarily with the mail-in ballot provisions. First, have you developed a best guess yet, sir, as to how many mail-in ballots you might be receiving?
Those who apply for special ballots do have to provide pieces of ID. They provide those pieces of ID with their application form. When we send out a ballot, first of all we strike the name of that person off the list so they are marked as having received a kit and they are, in principle, not allowed to vote at a polling station or a polling place unless there are exceptional circumstances where that may happen.
The kit includes an outer envelope with a bar code that is identified to that elector, and when the elector prepares their vote they put their anonymous ballot in a black inner envelope and put that inner envelope into an outer envelope. On the outer envelope there is a declaration they have to sign, so we have the elector's signature and their information. We need to make sure that all of that information and the bar code match this information that we have from the application form.
So a verification process takes place. Once it's confirmed and we receive the ballot, we separate the two envelopes, and then the inner envelope, which is unmarked and anonymous, is set aside for the appropriate electoral district. That's how security is ensured.
Whether we need it or not, I think it is extremely useful mainly for three reasons—not in any particular order.
The first reason is to have access to locations. There are locations like schools that will not be available on a weekday during a pandemic. No school will give us access to their premises with children in the school. That's a major consideration.
The second consideration is poll workers. We cannot recruit on a Monday and hope to recruit younger working-age Canadians in the same numbers that we can on a weekend, so the recruitment consideration is critical.
The third has to do with distancing. Providing two days allows us to spread the vote. If we vote on a Monday, there will be distancing. That distancing will take place in lineups on the streets in the rain or in the cold, so it will be safe, but certainly more unpleasant for voters who have to line up two metres apart on the sidewalk.
Thank you, Mr. Perrault.
Those are all good reasons, but I feel they would be addressed by having the advance voting on a weekend and maintaining another option of voting on a weekday.
As somebody who represents a riding that has a lot of condo buildings, those condo building spaces may not be available on weekends, because the party rooms or whatever facilities are usually booked on weekends.
I see the reasons, but I feel they would mostly be addressed by having advance voting on a weekend and then Monday. I guess we'll see where the discussion goes.
My other question is to follow up on Mr. Turnbull's question on the adaptation. Your recommendation is to suspend, I think, section 17. Can you put a frame around it instead of a blank suspension? For example, there's a power for adaptation to allow more electors to vote. What other framework would you recommend that we put around that adaptation instead of just a blank suspension?
From a financial point of view, we have access to resources that we need. We know, for example, that the total cost of the protective measures, the masks and the sanitizer lotions, as well as the costs of the additional health campaign and the costs related to prepaid postage, are roughly $50 million. That's an additional cost.
The rest we don't know, in the sense that we don't know if we're going to be voting on Saturday and Sunday or Monday: What are the implications of that? We don't know our success in terms of recruitment and the implications of that. There are variations that we can't actually put a dollar on and that will depend on the circumstances. At this point, we've identified some $50 million in addition....
Oh, that's very much a public health issue; I just wanted to raise the issue that in some locations contact tracing is halted. I think that's important to note.
The last question I would ask is that we have some pandemic hot spots in the country, certainly Toronto, Ottawa, Peel, for example, but within those hot spots, there are areas that are even more vulnerable. Where you have high-density housing, you might have multi-generational...there are communities that are more at risk. There's a testing rate for the city, but in some communities that testing rate of positive cases is going to be much higher.
How do we ensure that the people in these communities stay healthy and safe during an election, as well as being able to exercise their right to vote?
Mr. Perrault, in your legislative proposal in your special report, there are some clauses around the coming into effect and the timing of the coming into effect, such that if these legislative proposals were passed and receive royal assent and an election were to happen within a certain time time frame of royal assent, these provisions would not apply.
I take it to mean that the start date of an election, therefore, is an integral part of the question of the proper conduct of a federal election. Is it a fair claim that it matters when the election starts for how you would proceed vis-à-vis the changes in rules that Parliament may make?
I'll continue with some of the thoughts that Tom and Mr. Therrien had on this.
I'm looking at some of these things we're talking about, like mail-in ballots and take-away voting packages, if that's going to be an option. My parents always tell me not to say how old they are, but my parents are in their eighties. They do not use online services. I go over there and do the services for them. What do you have available?
We have to recognize that seniors right now have been isolated in their homes. There are few people coming in and out of their homes. What do you have for somebody who has moved or needs to register because they have come into a new voting district? What do they need to do? When it comes to document uploads, what are you doing there when it comes to providing the the identification and proof of address if somebody is trying to register to vote?
There are a couple of aspects to your question. I hope I'll be able to answer them.
On the basic point—which is a very valid one—we would never move fully or exclusively to an online application. There always has to be a telephone interaction with a real person or service point interaction for people who do not have access to a computer or who are not literate in using it. It's about adding channels, not removing channels.
For the online application system, voters would upload their identification documents as they do right now when they register online. We already have this process in place for registering. We do not have widespread online application available for special ballots for most Canadians, although there are technical exceptions.
I'm sorry, I think there was a third component to your question that I may have lost.
Thanks, Ms. Vecchio, for those questions. I really appreciate them.
I think we're all concerned about voter turnout should there be an election during a pandemic. Many figures throughout society have been echoing the statement “Stay home. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Stay safe.” Essentially, we're saying, “isolate”. Physically coming out to vote will certainly make many people in our population uneasy, specifically the immunocompromised and potentially seniors and individuals with disabilities. We know that racialized and low-income communities and indigenous communities have been impacted disproportionately by COVID-19.
My question is this: How do we ensure confidence in electors during an election, such that we can counteract some of the messages that we've been putting out there for a long time, to ensure a high voter turnout?
Mr. Perrault, I want to ask you whether you have a campaign strategy that encourages that level of confidence that I think we need to sustain the level of voter turnout, which we all want to see in our democracy.
I want to make an important distinction here. We've said that for this election, in a pandemic, we would not offer on-campus voting. By that we mean on-campus voting for out-of-home electors, students who reside away from the campus who would be voting in their home riding.
Now, there are, as you say, residences. There are students who live on campus. To the extent that there are significant numbers, that's the work of returning officers in preparing for the election. There can absolutely be some local polling. In the same way if there's an apartment building with people who reside there, we will have polling or voting services that are of a regular nature. They're not out-of-district voting services. These are students who reside there and we'll offer them services.
So it's not correct to say there will be no voting on campus. There will be no services for out-of-district electors on campus.
I can. I'll ask Mr. Roussel to add information, if he feels that's useful.
They're low-turnout elections. It is not unusual for by-elections to be low-turnout. It's hard to make predictions. We are seeing, for example, in the two electoral districts, roughly 2,000 vote-by-mail requests, but half of them are from outside Canada. These are people who are away from the country but are resident in the districts. That's about 1,000 for both districts, which is, I would say, a relatively low uptake of voting by mail.
I draw no lessons from that for a general election. It's very, very difficult to make those connections. In the same way, we don't have any recruitment challenges, but that's because of the district we're recruiting from, which is Toronto. We can't draw lessons from that.
I think we have to be very careful before we draw lessons from by-elections.
This is a very interesting and informative session. I really appreciate the information that we're getting.
My origins are Croatian, so I was asked to [Technical difficulty—Editor] with regard to the Croatian elections. The Canadian government at the time did not allow balloting to take place at the Mississauga consulate or the Ottawa embassy. In a few short days, we managed to resolve that, and it seems to me that as we were going through that procedure, it had something to do with provincial regulations. Therefore, the federal government was responding to those and not at first allowing the voting to take place, and then it allowed voting to take place.
It was resolved, but I am still seized with the matter of whether provincial directives can have any impact on how the federal planning takes place. Could you comment on that at all?
I can, certainly more so than on Croatian elections, I have to say.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Stéphane Perrault: Technically, provincial rules do not bind federal authorities. There are legal exceptions to that, but as a broad principle, that's a fair statement. That is not to say that we cannot choose to abide by the provincial rules. When we're delivering an election, one of the challenges is understanding the various rules in place. I think it's also fair to say that electors would expect to find at any federal polling station or returning office the same kinds of measures that are imposed provincially, based on the local health authorities and the pandemic situation there, which varies, as we know, quite considerably, between areas of the country.
For us, it's critical that we take into account how Canadians in their local circumstances are being directed and that we don't ignore the directions of local authorities. While we may not be technically bound by that, I don't think Canadians would be reassured or would understand why they would have a completely different experience when entering their polling station than they do when going grocery shopping, for example.
Seeing that about a minute is left, I was wondering if I could get in a quick question.
Earlier you mentioned that Canada Post was fairly efficient with the mail. They're having some issues with packages. I heard on the news today that they are warning people to get their Christmas packages out now, because there are no guarantees.
I see you have a requirement that the mail-in ballots be received by a certain day. Have you thought whether that date of receipt could be changed to a mailing date or a post-dated date, just because you never know down the road if Canada Post's circumstances may change and might not guarantee getting these in within a certain time. I'm just hoping voters would not be disenfranchised because mail is late.
What are your thoughts on that?
My only reservation is that we don't know when it's going to be called, and there may be, for example, Christmas or other circumstances where it may be a necessity to vary the duration. Outside of a fixed-date election, I think there has to be some flexibility. I would look favourably, if that's the will of the committee, on extending that period to have a minimum of more than 36 days. That is something I would look on favourably.
If I may, on that, the challenges of recruiting were raised earlier, but another big challenge with a snap election is that returning officers would have to open their offices. They don't know in advance when that would happen. We have to equip the offices to be functional, and then they need to find polling places in time to prepare the voter information cards indicating where the polling locations are. So, there's a very, very tight period in a short election scenario to get all of these things done. Any additional time at the outset would allow us to secure locations, prepare the VICs and recruit. It would also allow the mail-in ballots to be processed.
Quite clearly, I would look favourably if it were a longer period. If there's a desire to do so, yes, I would welcome that.
What I am recommending is that, if we have weekend voting instead of Monday voting, we move back the advance polls by one day so that we can complete the list and make sure that we strike out the names of people who voted in advance. From an integrity point of view and the capacity of managing that, I recommend that we move it back one day.
I also recommend that we reduce the hours, because we're finding out that it's very tough on poll workers to work 12-hour days even without a mask on. With a mask and a shield on, I think that would be difficult.
Within that framework, there's nothing that prevents me from adding polling locations, so to the extent that we are capable of doing that, our goal is to maximize advance polling opportunities, not by adding days—because four days is already quite significant—but by adding polling locations so that they're closer to electors. I think, if you go outside urban areas, you'll find that advance polls are not always convenient for voters because they're away, so adding locations is a very important target, if we can do that.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, Monsieur Perrault.
My question is regarding election workers. You've already identified that it's going to be a challenge this year because many of our election day and poll workers are older and may be somewhat reluctant to come out this year because of COVID concerns.
Also in past years, even when there wasn't a pandemic, we've always had problems getting election workers. It's been quite common for the DROs to contact election candidates within a riding association to see if they can suggest names.
I'm asking you, sir, if you have any plans to try to address the situation of perhaps a lack of election workers for this upcoming election, whenever it may be called, including whether or not you've even considered increasing the pay of poll clerks and workers to try to attract new blood. What are your thoughts on that?
My questions concern the improvements to the act, and I hope we really do have a chance to look at the improvements before we go into an election.
I believe in Elections Canada. I believe in you, in your ability to hold a fair election, but if we don't get a chance to make those improvements, especially to the emergency powers, what happens when a province, unfortunately, goes through a very severe outbreak and has stay-in for its population? If we don't have the improvements, and we go back to whatever has been passed, what happens? What tools do you have at your disposal if a stay-in order has been issued for an entire province?
I don't know that there have been any circumstances this year where I would be prevented from running an election, or maybe at the outset of the outbreak when there was more confusion amongst the population.
In your scenario, if I recommend to the Governor in Council to cancel the writ, it is the decision of the Governor in Council. They must, by law, call a new election for those districts within three months. Technically, then, the scenario can be repeated if it's not better in three months.
That is the absolute worst-case scenario in the books.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Perrault, let me correct myself. A colleague reminded me that we are in a pandemic, so condo facilities would probably still be available on weekends because there are no events being held.
You saw how I asked about the weekends and election day. I am concerned about completely removing election day as a Monday because of the traditions and perhaps people being away on weekends, etc. How would you feel if we added the weekend before election day, as you propose, but also kept Monday with shorter hours? How would you feel about that?
We do not have any authority to regulate how candidates campaign during the pandemic. I want to be clear about that. There are rights to campaign in the act, for example accessing buildings such as apartment buildings. There are limitations in these provisions for health reasons. That's governed by the Elections Act.
Our role is inform candidates and landlords, and sensitize candidates to that. We've also taken measures.... For example, you will all know, having been candidates, that you need 100 signatures. That can be a challenge. In the by-elections, we have single-page signatures. That was recommended by the public health authorities, so that we don't pass around the same page from one elector to another.
We are assisting campaigns in that way, but we don't have the authority to regulate their behaviour.
Sorry to interrupt, Madam Chair. I know you're going close quickly and adjourn, but I would like to make a suggestion, Madam Chair, for your consideration and that of the entire committee.
We've had an excellent discussion today. We heard some good recommendations by several members. In my opinion, it would behoove this committee to get a final study tabled in Parliament before we rise this Christmas. There is an opportunity, of course, for the government to enact legislative changes. Whether they wish to do so or not is strictly up to them, but if they are considering any legislative changes to the Elections Act, it might be helpful if they could refer to our report.
Whether or not they choose to accept any or all, or reject any or all of the recommendations we may provide is up to the government. I would suggest we plan to try to complete our study and have a report tabled prior to the Christmas break this December.
I guess the witnesses can be dismissed at this point.
All I have to say to the committee is that I may have misspoken a little about Saskatchewan's chief electoral officer being available for the next meeting on October 27. It looked like we were going to be able to secure one hour with Saskatchewan, but [Technical difficulty--Editor] Saskatchewan being available for November 3. We are still working on that; the clerk is helping us to work on that.
I want to remind everyone that tomorrow at noon your preliminary witness lists are due. Please get those to us as soon as possible, so we can try slotting in more people for the 27th and onward.
Thank you. Have a great rest of your day.
The meeting is adjourned.