Madam Speaker, before I jump into my remarks on Bill C-19, I want to take this opportunity on the floor of the House to recognize that it is International Women's Day. I also note that today we are debating two different bills. We are debating Bill C-19 right now, which is about pandemic elections, and the government plans to call Bill C-24 in the afternoon, which is about dealing with the economic consequences of the pandemic.
Of course, we know that the pandemic has had a disproportionate influence on women in Canada, particularly in its economic impact, because those in the caring economy and those working in low-wage jobs have seen a disproportionate impact on their finances. I think it is important not only to recognize the general importance of International Women's Day but also to recognize its importance in the context of the debates we are having today in the House.
On Bill C-19, I am very glad that it has finally made it to the floor of the House of Commons. As far back as last June, I had reached out as the NDP's democratic reform critic to the other parties to try to get a conversation started on this issue. Unfortunately, that did not happen over last summer, but it did begin finally in the fall, in the procedure and House affairs committee.
For Canadians who are interested in this issue, both reports by the procedure and House affairs committee and the testimony that is on the record there would be a benefit in trying to get a better handle on some of the issues that are at play and some of the very real challenges that Canadians and the country would face in the event of a pandemic election. That is why the NDP has worked hard in this Parliament to make Parliament work and to try to find and broker compromises that would allow us to respond to the needs of people here in Canada to get us through the pandemic and to make sure that partisan politics are not distracting us from that very important task.
When it comes to the bill itself, I will say that the procedure and House affairs committee has heard consistently that there needs to be more flexibility than our current system allows, and in a few different ways, in order to make sure of how things will progress if we have a pandemic election. Of course, we have heard from many sides of the House today that the best way to protect both public health and our democracy during this pandemic is to avoid having an election.
We know that it takes effort on all sides of the House, but principally we need a government that is willing to work in good faith with the other parties in order to define its path forward and to define its pandemic response. We have seen the government do this at various times during the pandemic so far. We have been able to find that path forward, and I think that as long as that spirit of collaboration persists on the government benches, we will be able to continue to find that path forward until it is rightly and properly safe to have an election and let Canadians decide what they liked, what they did not, whose interventions they appreciated and whose they did not, and what they want in terms of a government as we get out of the pandemic and get on with the recovery in earnest.
What are some of the things that Bill C-19 would do?
Bill C-19 would grant an additional adaptation power to the Chief Electoral Officer, which we think is a good thing. There is clearly going to be a need to adapt some things on the fly, as it were, in response to emerging conditions. We think it makes sense, because the Chief Electoral Officer already has power to adapt the act, that we would add public health explicitly as a consideration that the Chief Electoral Officer could take into account when exercising that power to adapt.
There are some moves in the right direction in terms of long-term care and trying to clear some of the legislative roadblocks to conducting a vote safely in long-term care facilities. I am not sure that the bill addresses all of the issues there, but certainly being able to have one polling station per institution, which the legislation currently does not allow for, is an important change. This would provide flexibility for Elections Canada in order to make sure that legislative requirements would not cause Elections Canada either to require the same people to move from institution to institution—which clearly is not a good idea during the pandemic, and in many cases not consistent with local public health orders—or, just as bad or worse from the point of view of democracy, to cancel a polling station in a long-term care facility because of an inability to do it at one facility only.
One of the important themes to bear in mind for members as we debate this legislation and for Canadians as they consider this larger point about a pandemic election is that our job is twofold: It is not only to protect public health, although it is obviously also that, and very importantly that, but to protect democracy as well.
If we have an election during the pandemic that succeeds in protecting public health at the expense of people not voting, either because their perceptions and fears about personal health cause them to choose not to participate or else because people who would choose to participate face insurmountable barriers in doing so, then we would have failed. It is not enough to simply protect public health; we also have to protect our democracy. That is a difficult thing to do, and that is one of the reasons that it is better if we do it in a preventive way by working well at the job we were elected to do, which is to defend the interests of Canadians, and prevent the triggering of an election in any event.
Of course, the NDP has asked many times in this House for the Prime Minister to commit to not unilaterally calling an election, which is now consistent with the recommendation in the final report of the procedure and House affairs committee. We have not had that commitment yet. I think that would go a long way to reassuring Canadians that we are not going to find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of a pandemic election.
There are some other things that the bill would do. I know my time is even more limited today than usual, given some of the proceedings of the House earlier today, but I do want to speak to some of things that have yet to be addressed in the legislation. By way of challenge, I would note something that the minister also noted in his lead speech on the bill, which is that these provisions are only set to come into force 90 days after this bill receives royal assent—in other words, after it passes through the House and the Senate and then gets the final nod from the Governor General.
That is an important point to bear in mind when we are addressing the general theme of a pandemic election: Even if the legislation were to pass and receive royal assent today, which of course is not going to happen, we would still have to wait another 90 days before an election could be held under these new rules, as opposed to the existing ones. That is important to mention. Although I appreciate that it will take time for Elections Canada to bring these new measures into force, I think it is important to the general point of getting better reassurances from the Prime Minister and the government about whether we will have an election or not. As much as some people in the House will like certain things about this bill, even if we were to pass it today, it would not be in effect for some time, so there is clearly a need to be working in collaboration for some time to come so as to avoid an election on the existing set of rules, which I think are not adequate to the circumstances.
I also know that there has been a lot of talk about whether we should accept ballots postmarked by election day, whether the cut-off should be election day for mail-in ballots and whether the cut-off should be the Tuesday after the election day, as this legislation foresees. There is something I want to put on the record about this point, because I think there is more than one way to solve this problem. I think the best way will be the one on which we can find as much agreement as possible. I beseech members in all parties to keep an open mind about this, because it is a very difficult circumstance.
I do think that having a hard cut-off point for when ballots are accepted that corresponds to election day really does put us in a risky situation. Some people may have applied in good faith for a ballot and did not get it in a timely manner and did as much as they could to ensure that it would get to Elections Canada.
This is recognizing, of course, that doing as much as they could will be different for different people. It matters whether someone has their own vehicle and whether the person is able to drive or not. It matters whether or not they have someone in their support network who can get them to a designated drop box outside a returning office. It matters how easy it is for them to get to the local mailbox, which can vary depending on the weather. There are all sorts of things that come into play. It is not like a normal election.
I want us to ensure that people who apply for a special ballot but do not get it in time, or who are not able to get it in the mail or the drop box in time for other reasons, are not deprived of their right to vote. This is because I think we have a double duty here both to public health and to democracy.
It would be tragic if a number of Canadians were not able to exercise their right to vote because of administrative complications and deadlines beyond their control. I do think it would be harder to meet the normal deadlines of an election we are used to if we have a pandemic election.
I call for some open-mindedness on that, as we go forward. I am sure it will be the subject of some debate at committee when the bill finally gets there, as I am confident it will. The discussion is not over, and I think it is important that we perhaps at least agree on some of the guiding principles for that conversation before partisan lines get drawn too starkly in the sand.
I do think there are a number of things that are not addressed in the bill that ought to be addressed. For instance, there is the question of how to collect nomination signatures. Everyone in this House knows that 100 signatures from people who live in the riding are needed in order to be officially nominated as a candidate with Elections Canada. Usually that is done by going door to door with sheets of paper and pens. That is not going to make a lot of sense in the context of a pandemic election, so we need another way that is appropriate and safe to do that.
This bill does allow for people to apply for a special ballot online. While I think that is a great thing, a great tool, and that it will be wonderful for the people who are able to avail themselves of that because they have the technological literacy and the equipment in their own home, I am very mindful that there are a lot of people for whom that technology is not accessible. Those people are going to need to apply in person without having to print the documents at home.
We in the NDP recognize that we have an incredibly valuable resource at our fingertips, which is Canada Post. It has a number of postal outlets in every community across the country with people who already check ID for other reasons. I think it is well equipped to be a space for those who need it to go and apply for a special ballot in person.
We encourage the government and Elections Canada to look very seriously at leveraging that network to ensure that people can access their right to vote, if the time comes when they will be required to do so. Whether that is best done in the legislation or not is a question we are open to discussing, but seeing a commitment to that is important in recognizing all the people for whom online is simply not the best tool.
We have talked a little bit about the campus vote program. There are obviously some different opinions about whether that ought to continue, but we heard from student representatives at committee. Students very clearly continue to live and work on campuses, and we can increase access to the vote if we maintain that important program. It ought to be done.
I think one of the other things that we need to see, which I am sure Elections Canada will be addressing in its own way, is that we should know if there is anything legislatively required in order to do this in the best way before we approve the bill. There is the question of scrutineering in long-term care facilities. As much as we have talked a bit about how to staff those, there is still the question of having scrutineers come in.
Those are my initial thoughts. I can see the Speaker is anxious to get on with the orders of the day. Thank you very much for your grace in allowing me to conclude.