Thank you very much, Chair, and the committee, for inviting me here again. I am delighted to be back with my officials to look into BillC-76 before you start your clause-by-clause study of the legislation.
I'd like to thank you for your commitment to study Bill C-76, the elections modernization act. I truly appreciate the hard work you have already put into studying this pivotal piece of legislation, one that will, I believe, help strengthen our electoral laws and safeguard our future elections at the federal level here in Canada.
Our government is committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions and restoring Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic process.
I firmly believe that the strength of our democracy depends on the participation of as many Canadians as possible. I also firmly believe that the elections modernization act is the right piece of legislation to make our electoral process more accessible for all Canadians.
This bill will reduce the barriers to participation that Canadians currently face when voting or participating in the democratic process in general.
No Canadian should face barriers to voting, whether they live abroad, are in the Canadian Forces, are studying at university or are without a fixed address.
Reinstating the voter identification card as a proof of residency means making voting easier for more Canadians. Restoring the option of vouching for another eligible Canadian means making voting easier for more Canadians. Voting is a right, and it is our responsibility to make voting accessible to as many Canadians as possible.
Through Bill C-76, we are extending accommodation measures to include all people with disabilities, not just those with physical disabilities.
The bill will increase support and assistance to voters with disabilities at polling stations, regardless of their type of disability, and will provide them with the opportunity to vote at home.
Canadians with disabilities may also find it more difficult to participate in political campaigns because campaign materials in offices are not accessible. Bill C-76 will encourage political parties and candidates to accommodate electors with disabilities by creating a financial incentive through reimbursement of expenses related to accommodating measures. For example, this would include sign language interpretation during an event and making the format of material more accessible.
This bill also amends election expenses so that candidates with disabilities and candidates caring for a young family member who is ill or disabled find it easier to run for election.
The bill will allow candidates to use their own funds, in addition to campaign funds, to pay for disability-related expenses, child care costs or other relevant expenses related to home care or health care. These expenses will be reimbursed up to 90%.
Our Canadian Armed Forces members make tremendous sacrifices in protecting and defending our democracy. The elections modernization act will make it easier for our soldiers, sailors and air personnel to participate in our democracy. It allows our CAF members the same flexibility as other Canadians in choosing where to cast their ballot, whether it be to vote at regular polls where they reside in Canada, to vote abroad, to vote at advanced polls, or to vote in special military polls as they currently do.
Many of us have constituents in our ridings who have lived in Canada but who are currently living abroad. Whether they are there to work or study, Canadians living abroad should always have the opportunity to participate in our democratic process and to express themselves on issues that affect them.
Bill C-76 will remove the requirement that non-resident electors must have been residing outside Canada for fewer than five years. It will also remove the requirement that non-resident electors intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future. This will extend voting rights to over one million Canadians who are living abroad.
As a federal government, it is our responsibility to make it easier and more convenient for Canadians to vote. This includes their experience during the voting process, whether it is at the advance polls or on election day.
The elections modernization act provides Canadians with more flexibility by increasing the hours of advance polls to 12-hour days. We will also streamline the intake procedures during regular and advance polls.
This bill will also expand the use of mobile polling stations on advance polling days and election day to better serve remote, isolated or low-density communities.
For Canadians to participate fully in their democratic right to vote, they must first know when, where and how to vote. Historically, Elections Canada has conducted various educational activities with Canadians as part of its election administration mandate.
In 2014, the previous government limited the Chief Electoral Officer's education mandate, removing the CEO's abilities to offer education programs to new Canadians and historically disenfranchised groups.
Our government believes that we should empower Canadians to vote and participate in our democracy. We believe that the Chief Electoral Officer should be able to communicate with all Canadians on how to exercise their democratic right.
This is not about partisanship. This is about providing electors with information related to the logistics of voting, such as where, when and how to cast a vote. We want Canadians to be ready for election day, no matter what political party they vote for.
This also means preparing first-time voters. The creation of a register of future electors will allow Canadian citizens between the ages of 14 and 17 to register with Elections Canada. When they turn 18, they will be automatically be added to the voters list.
While more young people voted in 2015 than in previous elections—57% of voters aged 18 to 24 voted—their rate of participation was still lower than that of older Canadians. In fact, 78% of voters aged 65 to 74 voted. This measure will encourage more young Canadians to participate in our democratic process.
As the Minister of Democratic Institutions, it is my responsibility to ensure we maintain the trust of Canadians in our democratic process. The elections modernization act will make it more difficult for election lawbreakers to evade punishment by strengthening the powers of the commissioner of Canada elections and offering a wider range of tools for enforcement.
By making the Commissioner of Canada Elections more independent and giving him new powers to enforce the Canada Elections Act and investigate violations, we will continue to work to ensure the strength and security of our democratic institutions.
The commissioner of Canada elections will be independent from the government, moving back to Elections Canada and reporting to Parliament though the Chief Electoral Officer rather than a senior member of cabinet.
He will also have new powers with the administrative option to impose monetary penalties for minor violations of the act related to election advertising, political financing, third-party expenses and minor voting violations. Most importantly, he will also have the power to lay charges without the prior approval of the director of public prosecutions and will be able to seek a court order to compel a witness to testify during an investigation of electoral offences.
Through budget 2018, the government allocated $7.1 million over five years, beginning in 2019, to support the work of the office of the commissioner of Canada elections. This funding will help ensure the Canadian electoral process continues to uphold the highest standards of democracy.
Many Canadians are concerned about the consequences and influence of money on our political process. With Bill C-76, we are ensuring that our electoral process is more transparent and fair. The bill creates a pre-election period beginning on June 30 of the year of the fixed-date election and ending with the issuance of the writ.
During the pre-election period, third parties will have a spending limit of approximately $1 million, adjusted to inflation, with a maximum of $10,000 per electoral district. This spending limit will include all partisan advertising, partisan activities and election surveys. During the election period, there will be a spending limit of approximately $500,000, and a maximum of $4,000 per electoral district in 2019.
This legislation will require third parties that spend more than $500 on partisan advertising and activities during the pre-writ and writ period to register with Elections Canada. Third parties will also be required to open a dedicated Canadian bank account and use identifying tag lines on all partisan advertising. These measures will ensure greater transparency and provide Canadians with more information with respect to who is trying to influence their decision.
The Government of Canada must ensure that our democratic institutions are modern, transparent and accessible to all Canadians. We are committed to maintaining and strengthening the confidence of Canadians in our democratic process.
Building on the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and the work of this committee, the elections modernization act will improve Canadians' trust and confidence in Canada's electoral system.
I look forward to your questions.