An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (Indigenous languages)


Lori Idlout  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of June 22, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-297.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to provide that, in certain circumstances, electors are to be supplied with ballots in an Indigenous language.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Electoral Participation ActGovernment Orders

June 18th, 2024 / 12:20 p.m.
See context


Lisa Marie Barron NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand today to speak to Bill C-65.

First and foremost, because I do not want to forget, I want to thank and give a really big shout-out to my former colleague, past MP Daniel Blaikie, who did a tremendous amount of work on this file and deserves an acknowledgement for all the work he has done to date. I am going to try to carry the baton for the work he has handed to me. They are big shoes to fill, literally, but I will continue doing this important work.

The bill we are talking about today is an important one. We know it is vitally important for Canadians to have access to voting in a way that is barrier-free to increase the participation of Canadians across the country, so they feel their vote counts. This is a time right now when it is vital for Canadians to know that our democracy is strong and that the process for everybody to vote is accessible.

We are in a climate crisis. We are feeling the impacts of that right now with the heat wave here in Ottawa. We are seeing smoke-filled skies in British Columbia from forest fires. There is flooding. There are endless examples of the ways in which we are being impacted by the climate crisis. We know that people across Canada are struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their head. Right now, Canadians deserve to know that our elections are fair and accessible, as well as that our democracy is strong. Therefore, it is vitally important that we are doing the work today to set Canadians up for success for elections to come.

The bill would do a lot. One of the things, and I will get into some of them, is around the two additional days of advance voting. This is really important because we know Canadians are busy and we need to make sure they have access to be able to show up at the polls and cast their vote for the candidate they feel is the best fit. Expanding these days out allows Canadians more options for being able to do so. With the passing of the legislation, there would be a phased implementation for people to vote anywhere.

I am sure that members have heard from their constituents, as I have in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith, that there are barriers when people go to vote in federal elections. They show up at the poll, excited to cast their ballot, but are told that the polling station they need to go to is on the other side of town. Let us imagine a single mom who has worked all day, packing up her kids to get to the polling station and show her kids she is participating in our electoral system, but then being told that she has to go to the other end of town. This is a huge barrier. I hear this not only from constituents in my riding but also from Canadians across the country. They need to know that they can go to a polling station within their riding, similar to other levels of elections, and their vote will be counted.

There are also improvements to the mail-in ballot process. We know that, in previous elections, there were barriers, particularly when people registered for mail-in ballots. If they received a ballot and forgot to mail it back, then showed up at the polling station, they would not be able to cast their vote. These are busy times and, of course, this happens. This is a huge problem and an issue that is being looked at in the legislation to ensure that people who register for a mail-in ballot can still vote at the polling station and have their vote count.

There are a lot of good pieces. Another piece is around students voting. In 2015 and 2019, we had the vote on campus program, where we saw big turnouts of students showing up at the polls to cast their ballots. Unfortunately, that is no longer in place. The legislation would make the vote on campus program permanent in all general elections. It is vitally important for students to know that, while they are on campus, they can easily and accessibly cast their ballots.

This would offer an additional option for community members in the surrounding area to have another poll where they could go and cast their ballots. This is really important at a time when we need young people to participate in our elections. It is ultimately their futures that we are making decisions about today, and this is an important part of the bill.

Another piece in the bill is around long-term care polling stations. We know that many people across the country are aging in long-term care homes. They would not need to leave their residence and could instead cast their ballot right at home, at their care home. This is a huge step in making sure that the people who have contributed to our communities across the country for years and years can continue to have their votes counted.

I would like to point out something that is not in the legislation but that I would love for us to dig into further at committee stage. This is ensuring that we see an increase of polling stations, as well as having mandatory polling stations, on reserves and in Métis settlements. Because of the impacts of colonization throughout history, there are many reasons we are not seeing the participation of indigenous people across the country at the level that it should be. This would be a step in the right direction. It would make sure that indigenous people are able to vote accessibly right at home among community members.

I found it interesting to learn, just today actually, of article 5 of UNDRIP, which I want to reiterate as a very important piece to this discussion that I hope to have at committee. Article 5 of UNDRIP says, “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.” I read that out because it is in UNDRIP, which is vitally important work that we all need to be paying attention to and prioritizing, as well as because of the fact that this could help to ensure that indigenous people understand their rights when they show up at the polls to vote for the candidate they see as the best fit at the federal level. This is work that needs to happen, and it needs to be prioritized.

Another piece of the legislation, which is something I spoke to earlier in a question, would be ensuring that people who may be living with disabilities, as one example, are able to cast their ballots. Currently, there are restrictions on who can assist in casting ballots. However, the legislation is working to address that and broaden the scope of who can support electors, specifically allowing the elector to choose who can assist them. For example, somebody could have a support worker cast the ballot on their behalf, which is very important work in the right direction toward making sure that everybody's votes can count.

In addition to that, once the bill gets to committee, we need to look at ways in which people with disabilities can maintain their autonomy and be able to cast their ballot independently, without the support of other individuals. Yes, again, I am an eternal optimist and hope that we can come together to see the bill at committee. It is great to set up those systems of support. Where we can, let us set up a system where all Canadians can show up at the polls and know that they can confidently and successfully cast their own ballot. I think about the tremendous amount of people who are reaching out with visual impairments as just one example. People with visual impairments could cast their own ballot if the systems were set up for them to do that on their own, so it is important that we look at this.

Another piece I want to cover is around the inclusion of Inuktut on federal ballots, which is vitally important. I had the honour of visiting my colleague, the member for Nunavut. In Nunavut we visited Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, and it is quite evident that there are a tremendous number of individuals living in Nunavut who speak Inuktut as their primary and first language, so making sure that the ballots have the language spoken by the residents in the area is vitally important to decrease barriers to participation and to ensure that people understand confidently whom it is they want to vote for.

My colleague, the MP for Nunavut, has been doing an incredible amount of work on this. The member has put forward, for example, Bill C-297, which I wanted to highlight. The goal of this bill is that in an electoral district on indigenous land, the Chief Electoral Officer may require all the ballots for the electoral district to be prepared and printed in both official languages, as well as in the indigenous language or languages of the electors, using the appropriate writing systems for each language, including syllabics, if applicable. It is really important that we listen to indigenous people across the country and make sure that ballots are accessible for them to be able to vote as well. This is an example of important legislation that the government can be leaning on to move us in the right direction. I hope this is legislation that we will be reviewing very closely at committee stage.

The MP for Nunavut did actually participate in the process of a report from the Standing Committee on Procedural and House of Affairs that is entitled “The Inclusion of Indigenous Languages on Federal Election Ballots: A Step Towards Reconciliation”. There were a couple of pieces in it that I wanted to highlight. The MP for Nunavut pointed out that “most elders in Nunavut cannot read English or French.” This expands on what I was just talking about. She spoke to the fact that in order “to make reconciliation meaningful, Indigenous languages needed to be protected and promoted.”

She went on to point out that “unilingual Inuktitut speakers find the complaints process inaccessible”, so that makes it challenging for them to be able to voice the barriers that they are experiencing in being able to cast their ballots as a result of previous oppressive systems that they have experienced. Also, the MP for Nunavut told the committee that she heard of people who have been “turned away from voting in Nunavut because of language barriers.” This is clearly not good enough, and it is something we need to be looking at closely in committee to make sure that we are moving in the right direction.

The proposed bill does have some pieces we need to be sure to look at in committee stage. One piece is around the third-party activities. I would like to reiterate that it is vitally important that unions are able to communicate with their members. We know that “at the core of a union's mandate and function is the ability to communicate freely and effectively with...members.” Workers across the country who are unionized are impacted dramatically by the decisions being made right here in the House. We know that these decisions are life-altering. It is important that people across the country are aware of these, and it is vitally important that union representatives are able to communicate these matters with their membership. With that, there is some work that needs to happen and that needs to be prioritized at committee stage to ensure that the bill is not taking away those rights of unions across the country.

I would be remiss if I did not speak about the issue that seems to be coming up over and over again in the House. There was a date proposed to push forward the date of the election by one week in the legislation. Unfortunately, this is highly problematic. I cannot speak to any other members' intentions. Whether intended or unintended, the consequence of this proposal would be that members of Parliament would receive a pension that they would not have otherwise been eligible for. As I said at the beginning of my speech, there are so many people across the country struggling to make ends meet, and now is not the time for members of Parliament to think about their own financial gains or their own pensions. Now is the time for members of Parliament to create legislation that would truly help Canadians across the country.

Therefore, I want to reiterate that first priority. Once we get this bill to committee, I would be moving an amendment to ensure that this date would be moved back to the original date so this would no longer be a concern of members of Parliament and of Canadians across the country. It is vitally important that we do what this legislation intends to do, which is to strengthen our democracy and to make sure that we reduce barriers so that people would be able to fully participate in our electoral system. There is important content within this legislation that we need to be moving forward with.

Much to my surprise, but yet also not much to my surprise, in response to this portion of the legislation, the Conservatives came out with an amendment to cut and gut the entire legislation, which would see this legislation no longer move forward at all. With that, it would take all of the items that I have been talking about during my intervention today. It would take away the proposed increase in accessibility for people living with disabilities. It would take away having polls in long-term care homes or having polls on student campuses, and looking at increasing the advance polling days so that we are not so reliant on just one day. There are many important aspects in this bill.

To see the Conservatives respond by saying that we just need to cut the whole thing is not surprising because, currently, we have a system that benefits the Conservatives. We know that the existing system, where we have barriers to participation that benefit the Conservatives' corporate friends, is exactly what the Conservatives want to see maintained. Therefore, instead of putting forward an amendment to cut and gut the legislation, my NDP colleagues and I are proposing a solution to the problem, which is to amend the existing legislation to move the election date back to the original date and to see that particular issue no longer in place in the bill so that we can move forward with strengthening our democracy and with making sure that Canadians can fully participate in the electoral processes.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done to strengthen our democracy. This is an important step in the right direction, which I am fully in support of. The NDP has done a tremendous amount of work to make this legislation happen and to see all of this work put into place. There is more that needs to be done. I hope that my colleagues in this chamber will continue the important work of looking at electoral reform and looking at implementing a system of proportional representation.

The Liberal Party campaigned on the 2015 election being the last first-past-the-post election. Now would be a really wonderful time to see the Liberals follow through with that promise so that Canadians could see their votes adequately and effectively represented right here in the House of Commons. With that, I will say that this is an important bill. There is some work that needs to be done, but it is vitally important that all members unite to see Canadians show up at polling stations, feeling confident in our democracy and in their votes.

Bill C‑65—Time Allocation MotionElectoral Participation ActGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2024 / 5:15 p.m.
See context


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, first of all I would like to commend the great work of the commissioner of Canada elections, who has reached out to my office a few times regarding preparing for the next federal election, based on the work that I had started by introducing my bill, Bill C-297, to amend the Elections Act with respect to indigenous languages. I just want to use this time to follow up and ask the minister what kind of work is being done as a pilot project to make sure that indigenous languages are also on the ballot.

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

June 22nd, 2022 / 4:35 p.m.
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Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-297, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (Indigenous languages).

[Member spoke in Inuktitut and provided the following text:]

ᓯᕗᓪᓕᕐᒥᒃ ᐊᒃᓱᐊᓗ ᖁᔭᓕᒍᒪᕗᖓ ᒪᓕᒐᓕᐅᖅᑎᖅᔪᐊᕐᒃ ᐊᑦᒪᓐᑕᓐ- ᒍᕆᔅᐹᒧᑦ, ᐊᐃᒃᐲᒪᑦ ᑖᒃᓱᒥᖓ ᒪᓕᒐᒃᓴᒃᒥᒃ. ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᒪᑦᓇᓪᓗᐊᕕᒃ ᒧᒥᓛᖅ ᖃᖅᑲᖅ ᒪᓕᒐᓕᐅᖅᑎᖅᔪᐊᖑᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᓄᓇᕗᒻᒧ ᐱᒋᐊᖅᑎᓚᐅᖅᑕᖓ ᑲᔪᓯᑎᓐᓇᓱᒃᑲᒃᑯ

[Member provided the following translation:]

First off, I would like to very much thank my colleague, the member for Edmonton Griesbach, for seconding my bill. This bill builds upon the great work started by my predecessor MP for Nunavut, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, and I thank her.


She said: Mr. Speaker, first off, I would like to very much thank my colleague, the member for Edmonton Griesbach, for seconding my bill.

This bill builds upon the great work started by my predecessor MP for Nunavut, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, and I thank her.

Nunavummiut and other speakers of indigenous languages have an inherent right to receive information and cast a ballot in their own language. In the 2019 election, voter turnout for indigenous people living on reserves was 51.8%. In Nunavut, which is almost entirely indigenous, voter turnout was under 50%, well below the Canadian average of 76% voter turnout. The federal government's report in PROC recognized that indigenous peoples, especially elders, would face significant barriers to voting in a COVID election.

How can it be that in Nunavut, where the first language of 46% of the voters is Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun, ballots are only in English and French? The Crown and the federal government have an obligation to work with and build trust with the indigenous communities and people throughout Canada.

This bill, if enacted, would represent a meaningful step towards that building of trust and respecting of our inherent rights, and would hopefully lead to greater participation in our democratic electoral process by indigenous peoples throughout Canada.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)