Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise in the House today to discuss Bill C-76, the elections modernization act, with my esteemed colleagues.
This bill would be a generational change to the Canada Elections Act. Many of the changes proposed in this bill are long overdue and would fulfill long-standing recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer to adapt the administration of Canada's federal elections to a modern age.
Bill C-76 contains measures on four important themes. First, the bill seeks to make the electoral process more transparent to Canadians. Second, it aims to enhance the accessibility of elections to all Canadians. Third, it would update the Canada Elections Act to adapt to the ways in which our elections have changed. Fourth, it seeks to strengthen the security and integrity of Canadian elections.
I now wish to discuss the themes in greater detail to remind my colleagues of what exactly the bill proposes to do, and how. With the introduction of fixed election dates in 2007, elections can begin in earnest well before the official writ is dropped. To address this, Bill C-76 would introduce a pre-election period. When all political entities know that an election is likely to be held on the third Monday of October in an election year, they are able to spend large sums of money in the medium term right before an election with no regulatory oversight until the drop of the writ. This new pre-election period would introduce limits on political parties and third parties in the months leading up to the writ period.
Bill C-76 would also introduce new requirements on third parties, including spending limits for the pre-election period, reporting on a greater number of activities and the need to register with Elections Canada when spending more than $500 on partisan activities or election advertising. Additionally, new reporting mechanisms for third parties to occur during the election campaign, rather than after, would ensure Canadians have a clearer look at how these entities spend money before they vote.
The bill would also limit the actual election period to 50 days, which would help us avoid a long-drawn-out campaign like in 2015. Combined with the elimination of a pro-rated increase for spending limits, this bill would save taxpayers money. This bill would also help make the electoral process more accessible for Canadians.
Great care has been used in determining groups of Canadians who may face barriers when exercising their right to vote, including electors with disabilities, electors who have trouble producing identification, electors who are living abroad and electors in the Canadian Armed Forces. New measures in Bill C-76 would aid these specific groups in exercising their franchise, along with improving general accessibility for all Canadians.
The bill would reform many of the provisions allowing for people to vote outside of the polling station, and would redefine what can constitute an accessible polling place. For people who may have trouble producing appropriate identification, Bill C-76 would reintroduce provisions of vouching for an elector's identity or residence. Additionally, the Chief Electoral Officer would be able to approve the voter identification card as proof of residence.
There are appropriate protections in place for these changes, so Canadians would be assured that the security of the election would not be sacrificed. Additionally, changes would be made to allow Canadians who have been living outside of Canada for over five years to vote. Once again, the bill would make the electoral process more accessible for all Canadians. This would include candidates and young Canadians.
Bill C-76 would introduce new expense reimbursements to provide support to candidates with families and candidates with disabilities, or those who may care for someone with a disability. These changes come from the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, and should simplify the administrative hoops that candidates are required to jump through in order to run their campaigns.
Additionally, the bill would enable the Chief Electoral Officer to establish a register of future electors. There are an estimated 1.5 million Canadians aged 14 to 17 who would be able to register with Elections Canada. Once they reach the age of 18, they would seamlessly be transferred to the register of electors and be ready to exercise their right to vote.
I also want to mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for Guelph.
The register of future electors would be totally secure, separate from the established register and completely voluntary. This register would be an excellent way to engage young Canadians and harness interest in politics.
Regarding the administration of the election, Bill C-76 also makes changes that would have an impact throughout the entire delivery of the election. In the past, there was a degree of prescriptiveness, which was necessary, in the Canada Elections Act. However, this prescriptiveness has evolved from a necessity to a detriment. The bill would give the Chief Electoral Officer greater ability to organize the election in a more efficient and fair manner. These changes would impact polling-place procedures and address a number of issues causing long lines at the polls.
Last, Bill C-76 would bolster the security and integrity of our elections. The bill would make it more difficult for third parties to use foreign money during elections without facing penalties. I would also note that there are significant changes to the Commissioner of Canada Elections in this bill. The commissioner would now be a part of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer as has been the case through most of our commissioner's history. This relocation would be accompanied by a new compliance mechanism, an administrative monetary penalties regime, which would allow the commissioner to more efficiently allocate resources and would provide him or her with a mechanism to enforce the Canada Elections Act without invoking criminal penalties. The commissioner would also be given the ability to compel testimony, which would streamline his or her investigation of offences against the act.
This is only a rough outline of what Bill C-76 would accomplish. Canadians enjoy a high degree of confidence in our elections, which is especially important in these fractious times. We are convinced that Bill C-76 would help retain this high level of confidence in our elections.