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View Garnett Genuis Profile
Madam Speaker, I think it is very clear that the government desperately wants a pandemic election, because it is focused on its own political interest.
Part of the argument the government is making is about Parliament not working. What we have seen is the opposition working very collaboratively to get key spending bills passed, especially in the early phase of the pandemic.
Also, we do see cases where opposition parties are working together to get things done that the government does not like. We saw it with the creation of the Canada-China committee, the Uighur genocide. We have a motion at the foreign affairs committee on COVAX which the government is filibustering.
Does the member have a comment on the fact that if anyone is hurting the work of Parliament, it has often been the government that has been trying to delay things on which opposition parties are actually working together?
View Carol Hughes Profile
I want to remind members that, when someone has the floor, it is a bit rude to be going back and forth across the aisles to make a debate.
The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona has just a little under a minute to respond.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2021-03-26 10:18 [p.5345]
Madam Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is currently undergoing a filibuster by Liberal members who do not want to have a vote on a particular motion that has to do with the WE Charity scandal, I am certainly attuned to the ways in which the government is also causing dysfunction when it suits its political purposes.
That is why I reiterate that we all have a responsibility, as MPs, to try to rise above that kind of stuff, do our jobs and keep the focus on people. That includes trying to avoid an election right now, because there are serious risks to both public health and to our democracy. We do not need a political crisis on top of an economic and public health crisis, and the best way to avoid that is to not have an election. We need to think differently about the way we might have approached our jobs in the last Parliament and in the early days of this one.
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2021-03-26 10:19 [p.5345]
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Kings—Hants.
I am happy today to discuss Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response), tabled last December. This is an important piece of legislation that would create more accessible voting options for all Canadians. More precisely, I will outline the ways in which this bill seeks to temporarily enhance mail-in voting for electors should a general election be required during the pandemic.
We have seen during this pandemic how important accessibility is. We have even taken accessibility measures in the House, through the use of Zoom video conferencing and voting by app. Mail-in voting is a safe and accessible option for all Canadians. According to research conducted by Elections Canada, it is expected that up to five million electors would choose to vote by mail for an election during the pandemic. In comparison, approximately 50,000 electors opted for this during the 2019 federal election. This is only 1% of the turnout that could be expected during a pandemic.
Jurisdictions inside and outside of Canada that have had elections during the pandemic have witnessed a steep increase in the use of mail-in ballots. Many electors, particularly those who are most vulnerable, choose to vote in this manner because it is safe and secure. The existing federal mail-in vote system is no different, and nothing in Bill C-19 would change that.
At the same time, we need to be prepared for an expected surge in mail-in ballots, which is why Bill C-19 includes new mail-in vote measures. These measures would strengthen the current mail-in vote system by facilitating the use of this voting method for all Canadians, thereby ensuring the health and safety of electors who feel more comfortable voting from home.
In my riding of Richmond Hill, we have a large population of seniors who would greatly benefit from an expansion of mail-in voting measures. I facilitated a community council in Richmond Hill that specifically targeted advocating for seniors. One of the major concerns I have constantly heard regards engagement. The pandemic has isolated our seniors from their communities, their social circles and the government. Expanding mail-in balloting and making the process simple would ensure that our seniors do not become more disenfranchised.
Bill C-19 would temporarily establish four new mail-in vote measures: First, electors would be able to register online; second, mail-in ballot boxes would be installed at polling stations; third, electors would be able to use an identification number in lieu of a copy of their ID when registering; and fourth, electors would still have the option of voting in person even after registering for mail-in voting.
The first measure would enable electors to apply online to register to vote by mail, thereby allowing them to avoid in-person voting. This would be a critical option for those electors with significant health concerns. In addition, while online registration would provide electors with the opportunity to participate in the election process from their homes, individuals without access to the Internet would still be able to register to vote by mail. For those who are not comfortable registering online, the option to register by mail would still be available. In this way, we would not be limiting options for electors, but expanding them with an option to register for mail-in voting.
Bill C-19 would also see mail reception boxes installed at all polling stations. This measure would recognize that some electors who register to vote by mail may be too busy to return their ballot kits by mail. To support limited in-person contact, we would be providing electors with a secure and convenient means to deposit their ballots.
The third measure would provide electors with the opportunity to use an identification number instead of their ID to establish proof of identity and residence when registering to vote by mail. This measure would make it easier for electors to register to vote by mail-in ballot, especially our most vulnerable who face significant health risks.
I would note that this, like all elements of Bill C-19, is a temporary measure in which electors must consent to the use of this data when registering with an identification number. To protect against voter fraud, Elections Canada is required to hold relevant data on electors.
Lastly, with Bill C-19, electors would still have the option of voting in person even if they had already registered to vote by mail. Electors who chose to do so would have to return their mail-in ballot kits after registration or sign a declaration stating that they had not already voted by mail-in ballot. We want to help ensure the integrity of the vote this way.
Canada's federal voting system is robust, with measures already in place to safeguard electoral integrity against fraud. Elections Canada has a long history of experience administering the mail-in voting system, with extensive integrity measures and safeguards. There is no evidence to suggest that the current system enables widespread voter fraud or poses concerns for ballot security.
It is responsible to assume that an expected increase in mail-in voting may trigger the need for the chief electoral officer to adapt provisions of the Canada Elections Act during the pandemic. As such, the proposed increased section 17 authorities would allow the CEO to respond accordingly should new challenges or circumstances arise. Taken together, these measures seek to address our unprecedented times by providing extensive opportunities for Canadians to vote. We are building on a mail-in voting system that is expected to see a surge in use.
I would encourage hon. members to support this legislation and send it to committee, as mail-in voting will experience an unprecedented surge that we need to proactively address. The sooner this bill goes to committee, the sooner we will be able to do a substantive review of it, send it to the other place for approval and implement these measures before any election may be called during the pandemic.
The measures outlined in this legislation aim to do so with strength and efficiency and will support electors voting from the comfort of their homes. These measures are imperative in assuring that we do not put vulnerable Canadians at risk while also limiting large election crowds in public spaces such as schools, community centres and religious spaces, where voting booths are usually located.
In closing, in such challenging times, Bill C-19 provides ways to ensure that citizens can safely and widely participate in the electoral process.
I thank all members and urge them to support this bill and send it to committee.
View Kody Blois Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Kody Blois Profile
2021-03-26 10:28 [p.5347]
Madam Speaker, I want to go back to a point that was raised just before the member's speech. It was from the member for Elmwood—Transcona, who talked about the act being implemented 90 days after receiving royal assent. There is a provision that would allow the chief electoral officer to do so sooner, at their discretion, through the Canada Gazette, which takes me to my point and my question.
This bill is obviously coming forward because of the advice and some recommendations from the chief electoral officer, who is asking Parliament to make some changes if an election were to happen.
How important does the member opposite think it is that we make sure these measures the CEO is asking for are implemented in due course?
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2021-03-26 10:29 [p.5347]
Madam Speaker, it is important for us to look at the bill in a substantive way. I believe that Elections Canada has already received input and done extensive consultation, and it is well on its way to making sure that procedures are put in place to ensure that we have an open, democratic and safe election.
There is a legislative piece that we are following, but there is also a preparation piece. With the committee recommendations, and Elections Canada itself doing a lot of consultation, it would be in a position to parallel the process and make sure that if an election was called during the pandemic, we would be able to hold a democratic and safe election.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
Madam Speaker, I am proud to be a member of the procedures and House affairs committee, which actually tabled a report just a month and a half ago regarding elections in Canada during the pandemic. I was very concerned when I saw this piece of legislation come out prior to the report. The report provided excellent information, including a recommendation not to have an election during a pandemic, yet we know that Liberal campaign offices are already set up in the GTA.
Can I ask this member of Parliament for his thoughts on when he thinks the election will be called by his government?
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2021-03-26 10:30 [p.5347]
Madam Speaker, the most important thing is that our government's focus has remained, from the beginning, on making sure that we are keeping Canadians safe and that we are making sure they have the supports they need.
Our focus remains on making sure that we do that. As we look forward to the budget on April 19, our focus remains on Canadians' safety and on making sure that they have the support they need.
On the other hand, we all have to be ready for an election. That is the nature of a minority Parliament. We are doing our part. As the government, we are making sure that our focus remains on people, on Canadians, on their safety, and on making sure that they have support.
As elected members in a minority Parliament, our job is to be ready. The government is ready, and we have to be ready. Being ready is good.
View Christine Normandin Profile
View Christine Normandin Profile
2021-03-26 10:31 [p.5347]
Madam Speaker, we heard several recommendations in committee, including one to hold the election over several days.
Holding the election on the weekend would make it easier to recruit election workers, especially young people, because the older people who usually work the polls may have more concerns about doing so.
What does the member think about the idea of holding the election on weekend days rather than on Mondays?
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2021-03-26 10:32 [p.5347]
Madam Speaker, all the work that was done at the committee is not lost. The sooner we get this bill to the committee, the sooner we can take all of that into account.
Second, the reason we are proposing to extend it over three days is safety. We want to make sure that Canadians have an opportunity to effectively participate in a democratic process while we keep them safe. That is all it is.
View Carol Hughes Profile
Before I continue, I just want to remind members that whether someone is participating virtually or in the House, when that member has the floor, he or she should have the respect of their other colleagues in the House. Colleagues should make sure that there is no other debate going on in the House. If members wish to debate the issue at hand even if it is not their turn, I would ask them to wait, stand and try to be recognized, or if they want to have side conversations, that they step out of the chamber to do that, out of respect for all members of Parliament.
Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-19, which is an important initiative that would authorize Elections Canada to organize a safe election should one be called during this pandemic.
As we all know, COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. Canadians from coast to coast to coast have made and continue to make big sacrifices to protect one another. We have had to rethink things we once took for granted, things as simple as getting together with family for dinner.
Around the world, events have had to be cancelled or postponed. Nobody is happy about that, but these measures are essential to limiting the spread of the virus and, of course, saving lives. However, we also have to see to the health of our democratic institutions. We have to make sure that, if a general election were to take place during the pandemic, the whole process would be safe for voters, volunteers and, of course, election officials.
A number of countries held general elections as planned, despite the pandemic, while others chose to postpone them instead. Several of the countries that proceeded with their elections implemented strict public health measures, such as mandatory masks, physical distancing, and the distribution of hand sanitizer and disposable gloves to voters.
Consider the example of South Korea, which was one of the first countries that held elections during the pandemic. This example proves that elections can be held safely during the pandemic, since there were no new infections linked to the election. Still, we must not bury our heads in the sand. Holding an election during a pandemic like the one we are currently experiencing will not be without challenges.
We are fortunate to have a world-class election administration agency here in Canada. For 100 years, Elections Canada has done an outstanding job of providing Canadians with the best possible service so they can choose who will have the honour of representing them in the House. I am confident that, if necessary, Elections Canada would conduct a safe election despite the pandemic. That being said, we have an opportunity to give it additional tools to better ensure the safety and health of voters and election workers.
Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act with regard to COVID-19 response, would accomplish exactly that temporarily and would be applicable only during this pandemic. It would allow Canadians to exercise their right to vote safely while maintaining the integrity of our electoral system.
Firstly, we have to think about the most vulnerable among us, those who live in residences and in many of the long-term care facilities across the country who have been especially hard hit by COVID-19. The bill provides for a 13-day period before voting begins during which time returning officers can work with the facility directors to ensure that the people who live there can vote safely.
Secondly, the bill would grant an additional adaptation power to the Chief Electoral Officer to allow him to respond effectively to unforeseen circumstances caused by the pandemic. Currently, section 17 of the Canada Elections Act allows the Chief Electoral Officer to adapt provisions of this legislation to allow voters to vote or to allow the votes to be counted.
The proposed temporary measure would broaden the scope of section 17, allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to adapt the provisions of the legislation in order to ensure the health and safety of the voters and the election workers.
Third, to promote physical distancing and avoid overly long lines at the polls, Bill C-19 would create a three-day polling period consisting of a Saturday, Sunday and Monday. These two weekend days would add a total of 16 hours of voting to the 12 hours on Monday, which would allow voters to choose the most convenient time for them to vote. In addition to ensuring the safety of our voters, this measure would maximize opportunities for people to vote.
Last of all, given the success of mail-in voting here and elsewhere, the bill will empower the Chief Electoral Officer to improve access to this manner of voting in several ways.
Elections Canada estimates that up to five million voters could choose mail-in voting if elections were to take place during the pandemic. To meet this demand, the bill provides for the installation of secure reception boxes at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer and authorizes every polling station to receive online applications for mail-in ballots. The identification numbers will be accepted as proof of identity for these applications.
Furthermore, it would allow voters who have requested a mail-in ballot to change their minds and subsequently vote in person. Certain conditions are attached to this measure to protect the integrity of the electoral system.
In conclusion, this bill will give Elections Canada the useful tools required to safely administer an election during the pandemic. I invite my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Madam Speaker, I find it interesting that we have Liberal members speaking to this bill, because from what I understand, the minister responsible for this legislation has actually sent a letter to the Conservatives saying that they really want this debate to collapse in only an hour.
We feel it is legitimate to have some debate on this issue in Parliament, but there seems to be a dissonance between what the minister responsible wants and what individual Liberal members are doing, since most of the time for debate today is being taken up by Liberal members giving speeches.
How does the member explain his decision to give a speech today at the same time that his government is telling everybody else not to speak because they want this debate to collapse?
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
It is quite evident that Liberal members do not want this debate to collapse. We are here to have discussions and the necessary debate that is required, and of course to move this legislation as quickly as possible to committee. The reason is clear: It is that we want to make sure we have a framework in place in the possibility of an election.
This government does not want an election, but as everybody in the House and all Canadians know, we are faced with a minority government. If an election happens, then we will deal with it, but we will have the framework to make it happen.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2021-03-26 10:42 [p.5348]
Madam Speaker, the Liberal members keep saying they do not want to call an election in the middle of a pandemic, and of course the Prime Minister has that right. He can actually not call an election if he does not want to do so.
The truth of the matter is that in the middle of a pandemic, we should not be having an election. Will the member support that no election would be called unless there is a crisis situation, such as a budget not passing, for example, and that only on a confidence vote failing would an election be called?
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