Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate on this important bill, Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act.
Although there are many parts to this bill, today, I want to talk about how this legislation will make it easier to vote and ensure that all Canadians are able to participate in our democratic process.
Although there are many parts to this bill, today I want to talk about how this proposed legislation would make it easier for eligible Canadians to vote and how the bill would ensure that all Canadians are able to participate in our democratic process.
Whether a Canadian is living abroad, has a disability, is in the Armed Forces, lives in a care facility, is at university, has no fixed address, or is working an inflexible schedule to provide for their family, no one should face barriers to vote. Voting is a right, and as the federal government, it is our responsibility to make voting accessible to all Canadians. I firmly believe that the strength of our democracy depends on the participation of as many Canadians as possible, and that is why first and foremost this proposed legislation would undo many of the restrictive voting laws put in place by the previous government.
The previous government also put in place legislation to amend the Canada Elections Act, but its legislation was not drafted with Canadians and their needs in mind. It made it harder for Canadians to vote. Among other things, the so-called Fair Elections Act eliminated the use of vouching and the use of voter identification cards as a form of ID. This was a form of voter suppression. It was the gerrymandering of not a polling district's boundaries but rather the gerrymandering of the very act of voting itself.
A 2016 Statistics Canada survey found that approximately 170,000 Canadians did not participate in the last election because of the Conservatives' decision to make voting less accessible. The Harper government was determined to wring political gain from every measure and was determined to bring a fierce partisanship to something that ought to not have been partisan.
Official opposition members will tell us that it is not that hard for Canadians to obtain proper ID. They will make false comparisons between voting and boarding an airplane or buying a six-pack of beer. In fact, how curious to hear from the member for Banff—Airdrie raise this old canard this afternoon mere hours after he and I both heard the acting Chief Electoral Officer say at the procedure and House affairs committee that voter ID cards need to be used in conjunction with another piece of ID in proving the elector's identity. The names must match on the identification and the VIC. The level of integrity in that process is very high. We used it in 2011 and there were no concerns of fraudulent use.
Therefore, let us retire this old fiction, shall we?
According to Elections Canada, 68.3% of eligible voters cast their ballot in 2015, which is up 7%, or over 2.5 million, from 2011. This was not because the Conservatives' Fair Elections Act removed barriers to voting but rather because Canadians stood up against the barriers created by the Conservatives. We have listened to Canadians, and we have been delivering and will continue to deliver real change for the middle class and for all Canadians.
For Nova Scotians, getting a piece of government-issued ID is not always affordable. The cost of a driver's licence is nearly $90. The cost of a passport is over $100. Reinstating both vouching and the voter ID card will help not just Nova Scotians at the polls but all Canadians who cannot afford these pieces of identification to vote.
Bill C-76 would repeal many elements of the previous government's legislation and ensure that all Canadians have the ability to participate in a democratic process. We believe that voter participation actually strengthens our democratic system—unlike the Conservatives, who continue to produce barriers and continue to breed cynicism around our democratic processes.
My constituents in Halifax have shared with me their concerns about how difficult it can be to vote. Long lines at the polls, unexpected life events, work or personal responsibilities, confusion around where to vote, and lacking proper ID are all reasons to stay home on election day. Canadians in my riding work hard, and I suspect my colleagues in all corners of this House would say the same about their constituents. No one should be prevented from voting because they are working hard to provide for their family, caring for a loved one, are away from home for work or school, or have other responsibilities on election day.
We can make voting more convenient.
The elections modernization bill will make voting more convenient for all Canadians. We will streamline the intake procedures during regular and advance polls to reduce wait times, and increase the hours of advance polls to 12-hour days.
Currently, there are barriers in place that have made it more difficult for some Canadians to take part in the democratic process. This includes persons with disabilities, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and Canadians living abroad. We want to make it easier for all Canadians to engage with our democracy.
This legislation would increase support and assistance for Canadians with disabilities by expanding accommodation measures to include all Canadians with disabilities, not just those with physical disabilities, and this includes expanding the option of at-home voting.
Let us talk about Canadian Armed Forces members, who make tremendous sacrifices protecting and defending our democracy. Our government will make it easier for soldiers, sailors, and air personnel to participate in our democracy. We will do this by allowing them the flexibility to vote at regular polls where they reside in Canada, to vote abroad, to vote in advance polls, or to vote in special military polls, as they currently do. This is a big issue for voters in my riding, Halifax, many of whom serve in the Royal Canadian Navy. I hope that my colleagues who represent ridings with Canadian Armed Forces personnel will be in support of the bill.
I imagine there is not a single member of the House who does not represent some constituents living abroad. Whether they are there for work, for school, or to support their families, Canadians living abroad should still have the option to continue to participate in our democracy and have their say on issues that are important to them. Currently, non-resident Canadians may vote only within five years of leaving Canada and must demonstrate an intention to return to Canada.
Through Bill C-76, our government will restore voting rights to more than one million Canadians living abroad.
In the past, Elections Canada has engaged in a range of educational activities with Canadians as part of its core mandate of administering elections. Unbelievably, in 2014, the Harper Conservatives limited the Chief Electoral Officer's education mandate, removing the CEO's ability to offer education programs to new Canadians and historically disenfranchised groups.
Our government believes the Chief Electoral Officer should be able to communicate with all Canadians about how to access their democratic rights. Our government believes the participation of as many Canadians as possible is essential to having a strong democracy.
That is why Bill C-76 would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate to undertake broad public education campaigns about elections. This is not about partisanship. This is about ensuring that all Canadians know where, when, and how to vote. We want Canadians to be ready for election day.
Through the bill, we would empower Canadians to vote and, more broadly, to participate in our democracy. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions. We want to restore Canadians' trust in our democracy and, if passed, Bill C-76 will do just that.