Thank you, Madam Chair. It's a pleasure to be here this morning. It's always a pleasure to come back and dig a little bit deeper into some of the things that most influence us these days.
Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee, for your invitation to appear again as this committee continues the second phase of its study of parliamentary duties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As requested by the committee, work has continued to document a proposed solution for remote and electronic voting. At my request, the Administration has also provided an analysis of in-person voting to respond to an inquiry made by the House Leader of the Official Opposition. The results of this work are contained in the reports submitted to the committee last week.
The proposed approach for an electronic voting system respects several key principles. It is mobile, allowing members to vote electronically whether or not they are present in the parliamentary precinct. It is fully bilingual and meets the House of Commons’ accessibility standards. It includes notifications to alert members through secure channels when a vote is to occur.
The integrity of the voting process is fundamental to the legitimacy of our parliamentary democracy, and it follows that the security of the proposed solution is paramount. Members must be confident that when they cast a vote using the system, it is recorded accurately and securely.
In the proposed solution, members must use House of Commons–managed devices. This is the same requirement as for participation in virtual committee meetings or hybrid sittings of the House. A recommendation from this committee that all members abide by this key requirement would further support achieving the necessary level of security.
The remote voting solution would be integrated with the existing security infrastructure of the House. This would allow us to use technologies already in place at the House to authenticate the identity of each member of Parliament every time he or she accesses the voting system.
Given that very little about the voting process is codified in the Standing Orders, this would not require extensive modifications. The report submitted to this committee contains a draft text of a possible amendment.
The method of voting would change so that all recorded divisions requested during virtual or hybrid sittings would be conducted using the electronic system. Members would not need to be in the House, either physically or virtually, for the reading of the motion prior to the division and until the results are announced. However, the voting process itself would continue to be familiar to members.
When a question is dependent on the result of another vote, such as when the House votes on an amendment before voting on the main motion, I would, as Speaker, announce the first result and allot additional time for the subsequent vote, unless unanimous consent were sought to apply the results of the previous recorded division.
As I mentioned at my last appearance, secret-ballot voting introduces an added level of complexity and would not be included in the system’s first phase.
In addition to preparing this proposal for electronic voting, the House Administration has conducted an analysis of ways to allow all members to vote in person while respecting public health advice. This work was done, as I mentioned earlier, further to a letter I received on June 11 from the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and committee members have received a copy of this correspondence and the resulting report.
The analysis of alternative in-person voting procedures has been guided by the principles of efficiency, accuracy, integrity and transparency, which align with the current process of standing votes. In developing options, public health guidelines and protocols have been the priority. The analysis also takes into account two major factors: whether it is a single vote or involves a series of votes and whether the vote is immediate or deferred.
Among the proposals put forward is an adaptation of the Westminster practice of queuing. This method would call for members to form two lines in the courtyard outside the chamber and for the tally to be recorded by table officers. Another method would involve holding the vote in the chamber, with members arriving and departing in several shifts to respect the maximum number of persons allowed in the chamber at any one time. Adaptations of this approach could be done through block or proxy voting, where whips or other members vote for themselves as well as some of their colleagues. The report also outlines how votes could be conducted outside of West Block at a larger location, such as the Sir John A. Macdonald building, which would be convenient to all members.
As I have stated at each of my appearances before this committee, the House administration is committed to providing the best possible support to all members. My team stands ready to prepare a schedule for the implementation of any voting system or procedure the committee chooses and to adapt the approach in response to the committee’s feedback.
We would be pleased to answer any questions at this time. Thank you.