Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Willowdale this morning.
I am proud to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-76, which would empower more Canadians to vote and would ensure that elections are protected from interference. This legislation would give more Canadians the opportunity to vote by reducing the number of barriers to casting a ballot and would limit interference by ensuring the integrity of our voting process.
I would like to take this occasion today to welcome back to the House the Minister of Democratic Institutions, who has just returned from maternity leave, and to offer my congratulations to the minister.
In terms of an overview, let us turn back the clock to 2014, the year Stephen Harper's Conservative government enacted the so-called Fair Elections Act. In a blatant attempt to secure re-election, the Harper government at the time sought to impede rather than enhance access to voting. That legislation made voting at the polls more difficult and, amazingly, even prohibited the Chief Electoral Officer of this country from educating Canadians about the importance of getting out to vote.
In addition to that, the Harper Conservative government made elections longer and more expensive, in a blatant attempt to crush opposing political parties by simply outspending them. The self-serving rules imposed by the previous government should not be tolerated by any member of the House regardless of their political stripe. This is the very reason we introduced Bill C-76.
Plainly, Mr. Harper's plan backfired. Rather than keeping voters away in 2015, they came out in droves to vote him and his party out of office. In doing so, they also sent a very clear message that affronts to our democracy should not and will not be tolerated.
I recall very specifically the campaign of 2015 when engaged citizens in my riding spoke to to me about what they called the “unfair elections act”. They demanded change. The folks in Parkdale—High Park said that loudly and clearly to me. I heard from those constituents and communicated their concerns here in Ottawa. Our government is responding today with Bill C-76, legislation that would enable Canadians to come out and vote and prevent the manipulation of our democracy.
There are two broad categories. The first category is about access. As a fundamental principle, our government believes in the notion of making it easier, not harder, for people to vote. Unlike the Conservatives, we do not regard a larger number of people participating in elections as a threat to democracy, but a manifestation of a healthy democracy. That means giving Canadians the tools to be able to participate in our voting system.
For all Canadians, regardless of their background or their station in life, a participatory democracy means giving every Canada an equal chance to obtain a ballot and to cast a vote. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism, I take seriously the issue of access and inclusion, and I am most proud of the fact that Bill C-76 will increase the ability of diverse Canadians across a wide array of demographics to participate in our democratic process. Allow me to explain.
First, let us speak about low-income Canadians. For those who may not have the wherewithal to obtain government issued photo identification, Bill C-76 would allow them to use the voter information card as a legitimate form of identification at the polls. This will ensure that fewer voters are turned away at the polls, allowing more Canadians to exercise their democratic right to cast a ballot in federal elections, reversing one aspect of the unfair elections act.
Second, for Canadians who may not even have the wherewithal to possess a voter information card, we will reintroduce the old, pre-Harper system of vouching, which allows a registered voter to vouch for the identity of another person. Mr. Harper's legislation eliminated vouching and was strongly criticized at the time by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. In 2015, a whopping 172,000 people, particularly youth and indigenous persons, cited their lack of identification as the reason they did not vote. On this side of the House, we do not fear youth and indigenous voices; we encourage them. With this change in Bill C-76, we will re-enfranchise such people.
Third, we are taking significant steps to increase the access and participation of young Canadians. With this bill we will create a national list of pre-electors, so that Elections Canada can pre-register Canadian youth aged 14 to 17 to vote. Elections Canada will administer the list and sign up young people to receive information about voting until they reach voting age. The evidence has demonstrated clearly that once a person votes, they are more likely to continue to vote in subsequent elections. Our goal is to help, not impede, young people so that they make voting a lifelong habit.
Fourth, for Canadians with disabilities, we are taking vital steps to increase their access to and opportunity to cast a ballot. We currently have accommodations for persons with physical disabilities to vote from home.
Disabilities can be both physical and intellectual. To include more Canadians in the pool of potential voters, we are expanding the provisions for voting at home for any elector with a disability, irrespective of the nature or extent of his or her disability. The same concept would apply to transfer certificates. Right now, only a voter with a physical disability can apply to vote at a different accessible polling station. Under this bill, we will extend the same accommodation to those with intellectual disabilities. This is meaningful inclusion in action.
Bill C-76 goes even further. It provides funding for important initiatives so that Canadians with disabilities can vote. This bill encourages candidates and political parties to take specific measures to accommodate voters with disabilities and reduce the barriers to their participation in the democratic process by offering financial reimbursement for their efforts.
Fifth, for trans and non-binary Canadians, we are taking important steps to boost voter access and participation. Under Bill C-76, requirements to indicate a voters sex on the list of electors or other documents is being deleted. Trans and non-binary Canadians will no longer be required to explain or confirm their gender identity at the polls before they are given a ballot. This type of measure will ensure that all LGBTQ2 Canadians are welcomed at voting stations and encouraged to cast a ballot.
Sixth, for Canadians abroad, Bill C-76 would restore the access to the democratic process that Stephen Harper severed. Under the unfair elections act, Mr. Harper took away the right to vote from one million Canadians who had been living abroad for more than 5 years, a decision which prompted a charter challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case was Frank v. Canada, which was heard on March 21 of this year.
Our government is not waiting for the court to render its decision about the charter protected voting rights of Canadians abroad. We are acting now with this legislation to restore such rights. We are saying to the one million Canadians around the globe, in the 21st century, in an era of mobile work and mobile workers, that their right to have a say in the election of their national government should not be fettered by the international demands of their employment.
Seventh, as I said at the outset, our government does not fear citizen participation in the democratic process; we encourage it. That is why, in an effort to improve access of all Canadians, we are removing what was one of the most egregious instances of abuse on the part of Stephen Harper's previous government. Under that government's unfair elections act, it prohibited the Chief Electoral Officer of our country from educating adult Canadians about voting and the importance of casting a ballot.
Not discouraged, the Harper government prohibited the Chief Electoral Officer from doing his job, from building civic literacy and educating Canadians about why it was important to participate in our electoral system. I am as incredulous today as I was in 2014 when I first learned about this aspect of Stephen Harper's legislation. To prohibit a non-partisan officer like the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada from informing Canadians about the merits of casting a ballot in our system of government is nothing short of anti-democratic. It was at the very core of why Canadians responded so resoundingly against Mr. Harper in the 2015 election, and why we are restoring such a basic aspect of the Chief Electoral Officer's duties with Bill C-76.
My final point on access relates to indigenous persons. It is connected to the broad measures we are taking under this legislation to facilitate more people being able to cast a ballot.
The structural changes in Bill C-76 would make voting faster and less time consuming, thereby increasing the number of Canadians likely to cast a vote. The changes include being more flexible with where one can vote at a given polling station; enhancing the use of special ballots; keeping advance polls open longer; and using mobile polls more frequently to reach those in low density, remote, and isolated communities.
The impact on access will be tangible. Many indigenous persons in our country live in more remote and isolated communities. By making this important change, we are empowering indigenous persons' voices to be heard and counted within our democratic process.
With respect to the second category, it talks about the integrity of our democratic process. The bill speaks for itself with respect to placing important limits on things like the length of an electoral campaign and the power to enforce against breaches of the act and electoral fraud.
The previous unfair elections act passed under the Harper government impeded instead of improved access to the ballot box. As a government, we believe that when more Canadians vote our democracy is strengthened, not threatened. That is why we have tabled Bill C-76, legislation that would increase access for all Canadians of diverse backgrounds to the ballot box. That is why I will be voting in support of the bill. I urge all parliamentarians to do the same.