Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-19, the election in a pandemic bill.
What I would say at the outset is that Canadians do not want an election in a pandemic. The only people who want an election in a pandemic are the Liberals, because they are putting their partisan interests over the health and safety of Canadians.
The polls reflect what I am saying. The polls on whether Canadians want an election, and when they want that election, show that 47% of Canadians want it in the fall of 2023, as it is scheduled, and 10% would want it in 2022. A full 70% of Liberal supporters want it in 2023.
The Prime Minister needs to listen to Canadians. We have seen the disastrous things that have happened in the country when B.C. and Saskatchewan had their elections. There were huge spikes in COVID thereafter. I know some people believe that is only related to the Thanksgiving weekend, but the timing of the elections was very suspicious as well. We see what happened in Newfoundland and the fact that the COVID situation can change. We have seen that across the country. Regions can have spikes, and all of a sudden, they are in a difficult situation.
It is incumbent upon us as leaders to listen to Canadians, and to put their health and well-being first. First and foremost, I would say we need to do everything we can to not have an election in the middle of a pandemic. It is ridiculous to think that people cannot travel, but we could have a federal election, or that we would have areas on lockdown, but think it is okay to have a federal election. I cannot make the point too strongly that we must not, as leaders in this country, put people in jeopardy.
In terms of the proposed changes, I thought I would speak to those one at a time. The first change I want to talk about is extending the number of voting days to have voting periods on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The whole purpose of this legislation is to try to protect the people who are working the election and the voters. Every measure we could put in place that would allow more time and more spacing between people would be very helpful.
There was some discussion about whether there would be bus transportation on those weekend days in some areas. However, the fact that the traditional Monday is retained would address that concern.
There were also some concerns expressed about the fact that churches are operating, some on Saturday and some on Sunday, and that this might have an impact on polling locations. I think it would be incumbent on the government to consider changing the time the voting stations would be open on the Saturday and Sunday in order to not eliminate those locations that would have quite a bit of space and would be conducive to COVID protocols and that kind of separation.
The next change would be the granting of additional powers to the Chief Electoral Officer to do a number of things, such as extend vote times up to midnight, increase the number of election officers at a polling station, determine what is satisfactory proof of identity and residence, adjust the timeline of election tasks other than polling days, and do whatever is needed to address health and safety.
I understand that we need some flexibility because the COVID situation is dynamic, but there needs to be some kind of oversight in order to protect a tried and true democratic process. Canadians have confidence in our process, and I think potentially having the oversight of a member representative, for example, one from each party that is represented here in the House, might be a good way to get a balance between giving the electoral officer the ability to be flexible to react to COVID situations and making sure that any changes that are put in place are felt to be fair by all.
In terms of the voting hours being extended to midnight, the only concern I have there is that in some ridings, such as my own, many people working the polling stations are seniors. If they had to be up multiple nights until midnight, that could be taxing on them, especially in this difficult period. That is something to think about.
The changes would go into effect 90 days after royal assent, but the Chief Electoral Officer could accelerate that. In speaking to some of the returning officers across the country, they have already been trained on these changes, even before we have talked about it here in Parliament, which I do not think is acceptable. Certainly a conversation should be held with the Chief Electoral Officer as to how much time they need in order to make sure they would be prepared. That is something the committee could consider when the bill goes back there.
The writ period being slightly longer due to the additional days is not necessarily a bad thing because, with all of the mail-in ballots we expect to see, perhaps an increase from the current 50,000 to five million or even 10 million, we need to make sure there is enough time to get those ballots out to people who request them, and for them to mail them back.
We know with the volumes we see around Christmas that sometimes there are delays with Canada Post, so that is a consideration. I would strongly recommend that we go to the longer electoral writ period. I certainly think that was the testimony of the Chief Electoral Officer and many of the stakeholders that were heard at PROC.
Another change would be that the location of polls could be changed as long as it is published on the chief electoral web page. We need to be very careful with that one to make sure that people do not get confused about where they need to go to vote.
Having reception boxes installed at each of the polling stations to receive mail-in ballots is a very good idea. This is going to make sure that people who have left it too late or are concerned that the ballot may not arrive in time through Canada Post because of the volume, can go to the nearby polling station and deposit those mail-in ballots. This is something that was tried in the B.C. election and was very successful. I really think it is a great idea.
In terms of allowing mail-in ballots to be counted after the election if the Monday is a holiday, I would say that we have a tried and true election process. Canadians have confidence in it. We do not have the same issues they have in other places, and we have to be very careful not to make any changes that are not needed in order to protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic. With the measures such as ballot boxes at the different polling stations for late mail-in ballots and things like that, this is really not something that is needed.
Allowing an electronic application for the mail-in ballot is something that people will want. The only thing that needs to be considered is the fact that many people, some of whom are seniors, will not necessarily have a printer with which they can photocopy their ID when they have to mail back their package. Some consideration of how that is going to be addressed from the point of view of capacity would be good as well.
As to long-term care institutions, we heard testimony at PROC that they were looking for the minimum amount of time and the minimum amount of interaction to minimize the risk from COVID. The legislation says that there will be 13 days for voting in long-term care, but not to exceed 28 hours. That is really much longer than what the long-term care folks wanted. They had envisioned people from Elections Canada coming in to potentially administer the vote from room to room to room for those who did not choose a mail-in ballot.
In addition, some of the folks I have spoken to have said that, should there be an election in a pandemic, they would want to make sure that the people working the election could have priority access to getting vaccinated, if they so choose, before the actual voting days. That is another consideration.
Rapid tests was another topic discussed. The use of rapid tests to ensure confidence that those going into the long-term care facilities did not add risk would be something to consider as well.
In terms of things that were not considered in this legislation that should be fixed or added, the sunset clause is in the summary, but it is not in the bill. There should be some statement that says whether we want these changes to be permanent, or whether we want these changes to fade after the pandemic is over, or some kind of provision like that.
I appreciated the point made about collection of signatures by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, with candidates being required to have those 100 signatures and that in a pandemic that it is probably not the best idea. It is going to be more difficult to do.
We should be looking at all the procedures related to candidates. Scrutineering would be another one. It is not clear in the legislation how we are going to do that, but one of the things that gives people confidence in the process is that there are scrutineers. If they have to stand six feet away from people, logistically, will they be able to see the ballots? How will we address that?
Concerning these mail-in ballots, I understand there was an error in the legislation and that the English version says something different from the French version, and that the Speaker clarified that the French version was correct. The local returning office is going to be where those mail-in ballots go. Depending on the volume there, how many people will be needed to scrutineer? Those details are not in the legislation, and so certainly that is a consideration to keep in mind to maintain the high confidence Canadians have in the electoral process.
We want to make sure that the mechanism to prevent double voting is in place. With the local returning offices being involved, they will then have a very easy way to take the voter's list and, once people have requested a mail-in ballot, to make sure that unless the mail-in ballot is returned, they would not be able to vote at the polling stations as well, and that sort of thing. That would be very important.
The main thing about this bill is that we want to protect the workers and the voters, and we want to do that in a way that continues to uphold the confidence that Canadians have in the electoral process in Canada.
I am a little disappointed that the Liberals introduced this legislation without waiting for the report from the PROC committee. That committee heard testimony from a lot of different kinds of people, from the disabled to our first nations people, on a lot of the specific considerations that would be needed to fine-tune this process and make sure it is suitable for every Canadian to have equal access to vote. To make sure that the process is well understood, one of the considerations when it comes to implementing a change is that the changes have to be well understood, or there will be confusion and people may not want to vote.
Let me just summarize again that Canadians do not want an election during the pandemic. They have been clear about that. We need to do everything that we can. I see committees being filibustered and some of the antics that are going on, which slow down the work that committees are trying to do. That is not helpful. We need to work together, as Parliament, and get through this pandemic. That has to be the priority and it behooves us to make that the case.
The additional thing I wanted to talk about was the changes for health and wellness. I do not think we have enough definition around that and the additional powers with the electoral officer. That will need some consideration when this goes to committee.
It is worth hearing from some of the stakeholders again to better define things like the long-term care facilities and how we are going to do that, especially with those on lockdown. What are we going to do in that scenario? There is more conversation to be held, but I see my time is up.