Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, colleagues, for your invitation to be here with you today.
The last time I was here we talked about the Senate appointment process and the government's mandate and commitments on ways we can improve our democracy and our democratic institutions.
I'm very much grateful for the opportunity to be here with you today for a number of reasons. You've had more than 40 meetings; it has been about a year since this Parliament began sitting, and you and I very much walk the same path. We have the same challenges and we have the same goals of protecting what's working and what we are so fortunate to have and improving it further.
As always, your input and perspective are greatly appreciated. As my parliamentary secretary Mark Holland and I have travelled the country and studied the work we're doing, time and time again the testimony that has come before this committee comes up, around a family-friendly Parliament, for example. The work this committee has done and the conversations you've had come up again and again. As you know, my work on this file is shaped mostly by a desire to make this place more inclusive, to make the voting process more accessible. I know that together we share these objectives. We have a lot of work to do, and we've begun some of that work.
I also know that you have been reviewing the recommendations our Chief Electoral Officer made based on the results of the last election. I'm really looking forward to the results of that study. I'm looking forward to the possibility of hearing more about that work today. As I've said, we're very proud of the phase one reforms that we've introduced through Bill C-33. We believe it's a strong bill, but I'm also mindful of the fact that the bill could be further strengthened, and if your committee and the work you've done could contribute to that, I think we would serve Canada well.
Now, before I move on I think it's really important, given that it's the middle of December, Mr. Chair, that I take this opportunity to express how much I value—and I think we all share this—the work we've been able to do with our Chief Electoral Officer. He has served this country and Canadians for a decade, and his professionalism and dedication to this country and to the health and integrity of our democracy, I believe, are a model for public service. I'm sure we all wish him well in his retirement, which is imminent.
As you know, Bill C-33 proposes amendments to the Canada Elections Act. We introduced it in the House recently, and it's important to talk a little about the current Canadian context for Bill C-33.
You've been involved in this conversation, colleagues, as has the electoral reform committee. What Mark Holland and I have heard across the country is that, while it's important to enhance the way we vote, it's also really important to make it easier for people to get to the polling station, to prove their identity, to have the right information, and to remove unnecessary barriers that exist. This is in line with what we've heard across the country.
As we work towards electoral reform, while it's clear there are sometimes contradictory perspectives on process and many different perspectives, I think something we can all agree on is that our democracy is connected very much to who we are as individuals and to our sense of identity as Canadians. Canadian democracy continues to be a model for the world.
That's why I think it's really important that any improvements we make be in the best interests of all Canadians, and that's what Bill C-33 is all about. The changes we're proposing in Bill C-33 are about empowering Canadians with the knowledge they need and encouraging greater engagement in our democracy.
Bill C-33 is about helping more Canadians learn about the value of voting. It's about empowering more Canadians who qualify in casting a ballot. It's about breaking down barriers that don't need to be there, that currently prevent too many Canadians from voting. While it's true that the democracy and culture we have here in Canada are the envy of the world, and they work, we can't be complacent. The pressing challenge for us ahead I believe is to make sure that our democracy works for all Canadians without exception.
We want to make it easier for Canadians to vote, because when that happens, democracy is better. This is a goal that I believe we can all agree on. It can only be accomplished if we all work together. You may recall the conversation I had with the good folks at the press gallery after introducing Bill C-33, when I mentioned how important it is for me for this bill to have benefited from the expertise and contributions of all parliamentarians. I want to reinforce that here today. I am counting on your deep expertise and knowledge of electoral reform to achieve that.
To paint the picture of this suite of reforms that I have been mandated to ask for, I'm going to set aside Bill C-33 for just a moment, just to let you know what we've done in the past year and what's ahead of us. I have a feeling I'll be coming back to this committee again and again, and I think it's helpful for you to know what initiatives are likely to come before you for deliberation.
As you know, the Prime Minister set a rather ambitious agenda for democratic reform. While it brings many complex challenges, we are making progress on this agenda.
A non-partisan, merit-based appointment process for the Prime Minister to be advised on Senate appointments so that accomplished Canadians from all walks of life from across the country would be considered for the Senate has been established.
A parliamentary committee has studied electoral reform. The committee's report was received on December 1. The government will be responding in detail to that report in the new year.
The matter that brings me here today is an item that is in my mandate letter. As you know, the Fair Elections Act has unfair aspects which were controversial in nature but also unhelpful in engaging Canadians and allowing them to participate in their democracy in their ability to vote. These are things I have been asked to address through repealing those elements of the Fair Elections Act. These again are things that make it harder for Canadians to vote and easier for lawbreakers to evade punishment.
With Bill C-33, the government has introduced some amendments to advance these commitments. The focus was on making changes to those areas that we heard most loudly on from Canadians. We've heard from the debates that took place in the House and in committees like this one, during the last election, and from people, frankly, who I've met across the country in talking about electoral reform, that changes need to be made. There was no good reason why some of those changes were introduced in the first place.
There are other changes that have been suggested and the government will be looking to introduce further legislation going forward. I look forward to the input and advice of this committee to make sure that we're putting the best possible legislation forward to benefit all Canadians.
What is Bill C-33 about? It responds to the concerns that I've just shared with seven important reforms.
The first two reforms focus on making it easier for eligible Canadians to vote. Ultimately, it would increase voter participation through reinstating the voter information card and the vouching process.
The third reform is about engaging Canadians through education about Canada's electoral process.
The fourth, and this is something that I've heard across the country, is about engaging youth further by providing an opportunity for Elections Canada to pre-register youth ages 14 to 17, so that they can be invited to be part of the democratic institutions at an earlier age.
The fifth reform is about building more integrity into our voting system by giving Elections Canada the resources it needs to clean up the data in the national list of electors.
Our sixth reform would make the administrative adjustments necessary to formally return the commissioner of Canada elections to Elections Canada.
Finally, our seventh reform would make it easier for Canadians working and living abroad by expanding the right to vote to over a million Canadians, even if they've been away from home for more than five years.
Again, I want to be clear. I believe these are strong reforms that we've introduced. There's more work to be done and we'll be introducing further legislation, but Bill C-33 is the first of a series of reforms that will come before you for consideration.
Another area that is a priority for Mark and me is to focus on ways to improve access to the democratic process for Canadians who are often on the margins of our society. I'm talking about homeless people, young people, seniors, indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, those with physical disabilities, those with various abilities and exceptionalities, and of course, those who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Bill C-33 aims to address some of those challenges for these groups by making voting easier for groups that traditionally and consistently experience difficulty proving their identity. There is also a great deal invested in enhancing youth participation through a future list of electors being generated, but as always, there's more work to be done.
Something that we can look forward to in the future is a commitment to bring forward options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party debates. The options that we present need to be informed by the input of Canadians, political parties, broadcasters, journalists, and others as we work towards this goal. We've learned that knowledge is key to democratic participation, and leaders' debates are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to educating Canadians. I know that the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations are before you. You'll be working together to enhance the accessibility of our elections. I very much look forward to hearing your recommendations on the Chief Electoral Officer's advice.
I want to thank you, again, for the opportunity to be here, Mr. Chair. I'm very happy to answer any questions that colleagues may have.