Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am pleased to be here today with my officials to meet committee members during their study of viable alternative voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system and their examination of mandatory voting and online voting.
I will keep my introductory remarks brief. I should point out that, as the Chief Electoral Officer, I perform the role of administering the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act, and organizing and overseeing the conduct of electoral events. This also includes administering the political financing provisions of the acts, monitoring compliance, and conducting appropriate public information campaigns.
When there is a readjustment of federal electoral boundaries, which normally takes place after every decennial census, my role is to support the independent commissions and implement the new boundaries set by those commissions.
Finally, after a general election, I submit to Parliament a report containing legislative amendments that, in my opinion, are desirable for better administration of the acts.
My next recommendations report will be submitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons in early fall. This report is typically referred to and examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is responsible for matters related to the election of members to the House of Commons.
My recommendations will include proposed amendments to the Canada Elections Act related to the voting process and the regulatory regime. Adopting these amendments will be essential to improving the experience of voters and political entities, irrespective of the voting system in place for the next general election. In that regard, these recommendations are complementary to the work of this committee.
Given the nature of my mandate, I intend to support the work of this committee by highlighting the administrative aspect of operationalizing changes that the committee may study. This is particularly important given the very short time frame available to make changes to the voting system, if they are to be in place for the next general election.
I do not intend to address the pros and cons of various electoral systems. The committee will hear about this from its witnesses, including members of the academic community, and perhaps groups representing citizens, and citizens themselves. As I indicated at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in April when they appeared on my office's main estimates, legislation enacting a reform should be in place well in advance of the next election to allow for proper implementation. I note that the government has committed to having legislation in May 2017, which I am comfortable with. In this regard I would like to point out some key considerations related to the implementation of a new voting system.
First, some alternative voting models you may consider may well require a redistribution of electoral boundaries. The current legal framework does not allow for redistribution except after each decennial census, and the current boundaries are supposed to be in effect until 2023. Nor does it allow for multi-member seats or regional groupings. Should redistribution be required because of a change in our voting system, enabling legislation will need to be put in place. Under the current regime the last redistribution exercise took 26 months to fully complete, and that was based on the newly compressed timeline that was enacted in 2011. While there may be ways to further reduce the timeline, the redistribution process should continue to reflect the fundamental principles of independence and neutrality through the establishment of an independent commission and a mechanism for public consultations.
Second, the introduction of a new voting system may make it difficult to publish the outcome of the election on election night by completing the counting of ballots manually at voting sites, as is currently the case. Canadians are accustomed to learning the results of elections quickly, and any possible delay should be considered carefully by the committee. For example, some systems require either moving all ballot boxes to a central counting place, which carries risk and can take significant time given our geography, or more likely would require the introduction of electronic tabulation at all polling places to ensure the timely release of election results on election night.
Third, in looking at other voting systems the committee may wish to consider the possible impact on the current political financing regime.
Fourth, consideration should also be given to the preparation of electors and election officers. An extensive public education campaign would be needed to ensure that Canadians understand the new system, and can exercise both their right to be a candidate and their right to vote. This is an aspect that cannot be overlooked and has been critical in other countries that have changed their electoral system.
My mandate in this regard would need to be clarified. The recruitment and training of election officers would also be crucial to ensure proper administration of the new rules.
Let me now turn briefly to online voting and mandatory voting. It is undeniable that many Canadians would benefit from the introduction of online or Internet voting. Internet voting would remove barriers and make a vote more accessible for various groups such as voters with mobility challenges, including seniors, those with visual impairments, and Canadians abroad. That being said, caution is needed in moving forward to ensure that Canadians continue to have the same high level of trust in the integrity of their elections. In this regard we are not currently planning to offer online voting in 2019. However, Elections Canada would certainly welcome direction from this committee in terms of a desirable approach in moving forward with Internet voting.
In examining this issue, the committee should consider a number of aspects, including social acceptance and the challenges that online voting present for the integrity and secrecy of the vote. I would ask the committee to consider the scope of the introduction of online voting, which may include limiting its use to particular groups of electors who would benefit most from this option, such as those with disabilities or Canadians living abroad.
Finally, with respect to mandatory voting I will simply note that there is a relatively broad range of experiences internationally. Currently 23 countries have legislation providing for mandatory voting at the national level. While I take no position on the merits of mandatory voting, I would encourage the committee to pay attention to several considerations during its study, including the provision of a compliance mechanism through sanctions or positive incentives, whether or not there should be exceptions for certain groups of voters, and of course acceptance by Canadians.
In closing, Mr. Chair, I wish to assure you that I and members of my staff will be happy to assist the committee in looking at these matters, particularly the operational and implementation aspect of various options for reform that the committee is considering.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee today as you begin work on your important mandate to review options to ensure that Canadians are effectively represented in the House of Commons. This rare opportunity does not happen often in many democracies. I wish you well in your work and I look forward to the outcome of your deliberations.
My colleagues and I are now available to answer your questions.