Madam Speaker, as I was saying, we could expect if we were to hold a federal election in Canada, especially without passing Bill C-19, voters would face many of the similar challenges we have seen across our country over the last year and a bit since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Canadians would probably choose not to vote rather than go to a public place to cast their ballot.
During this devastating third wave, the last thing our government wants is an election. I, for one, always say that the only election date I want to talk about is the one in October 2023, which is four years after the last one. I know many would see an election during a COVID pandemic as a public health risk and would limit Canadians' access to their democratic right to cast a vote. As such, in my opinion, it is really important for us to advance this bill swiftly so that in the unlikely event of an election, we can improve the conditions and opportunities for Canadians to safely vote as well as protect our democratic process.
Why have we introduced the legislation? Elections Canada realized there could be an election during this pandemic, as we did as the national government, and after much consultation has proposed some temporary rules in the unlikely event an election should occur.
Elections Canada has been following the provincial elections in our country and the various different elections that have taken place around the world. It has monitored contingency planning that has been developed both by international and various electoral management bodies. It has engaged with Canadian public officials, heard about best practices from various bodies and learned from recent elections held during COVID. Elections Canada has also established an internal working group to determine how it can be as prepared as possible for an election held during COVID-19.
Out of this work, on October 5, the Chief Electoral Officer suggested the study and adoption of a new temporary law.
Some of the key changes the Chief Electoral Officer proposed was making Saturday and Sunday voting days, increasing voting hours from 12 hours on one day to 16 hours over two days; granting authorization for the Chief Electoral Officer to determine how and when voting could occur in long-term care facilities and other similar settings; and adding more flexibility to adapt the act to emergency situations to make it easier to respond to the pandemic. Bill C-19 builds on these recommendations and adds other special measures to ensure Canadians can vote safely.
What are some of the additional measures we have proposed in the bill?
First, we would give the Chief Electoral Officer more flexibility to adapt the act to ensure the safety of election officers and voters. It would also give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to set days and hours for polling divisions established in long-term care homes.
Our government recognizes that vulnerable populations like seniors have very specific needs in this pandemic. We also know we need to protect their right to participate in the Canadian democracy and ensure Elections Canada has a way to safely collect votes from them. This bill would provide a 13-day window to safely deliver the vote to long-term care facilities and similar institutions. This period would give election staff enough time to engage with those facilities and to determine a safe time for them to deliver the vote.
Bill C-19 would also extend voting hours, giving Canadians more opportunity to vote in a safe way that works for them. It would create a three-day polling period which, to me, is awesome. People could vote Saturday, Sunday or Monday. It would help spread the voters out, reducing crowds in voting places, and would give people who might not be able to vote on the weekend, maybe because of a religious observance on Saturday or Sunday, the option to vote on Monday. It would also add more advanced polling days, four days of 12 hours each, for voting since we would anticipate more Canadians to vote early in a pandemic election.
Bill C-19 would grant the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to respond to emergency situations like local unexpected outbreaks of COVID-19. It would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to modify the day on which certain things would be authorized or required to be done before the polling period. The Chief Electoral Officer would also be able to move a deadline a day backward or a day forward by up to two days, or the Chief Electoral Officer could also move the starting date or the ending date of a period in which certain things would be authorized or required to be done by up to two days.
Finally, the bill would make mail-in voting even more accessible. If Canadians did go to the polls in the pandemic, we anticipate that many more would want to vote by mail. Of course, we know that this would be a whole new way of voting in Canada, other than in the provinces that have already seen such elections. We know this is an option that many Canadians would want to see.
With Bill C-19 passed, Canadians will also be able to apply online to register to vote by mail and cast a ballot from the comfort and safety of their home. It will also allow for secure drop boxes at polling stations so that those who do not have time to send their ballots through the mail can instead drop them off. It makes voting more accessible by allowing voters to register to vote by mail using an ID number, like a driver's licence number, rather than a full copy of their identification. Finally, it gives voters the flexibility to choose to vote in person instead if they have already registered to vote by mail. If they do, they would have to return their mail-in kit or sign a declaration at the in-person voting location that they have not yet voted.
There is a clear need for the bill as indicated by the Chief Electoral Officer, but it is important to note that there are some limitations of the bill. The primary one is the need for a preparation period for Elections Canada. This means that Parliament needs to move swiftly to get the bill to committee. I have heard a number of amendments and recommendations that my colleagues would like to propose, and they should be genuinely considered. Then it still needs to come back to the House for a third reading. Elections Canada then needs 90 days to implement the bill after royal assent. The longer we wait, the greater the risk of a possible election during a pandemic with no safety measures for Canadians.
I want to reiterate that the special legislative measures that are being proposed would cease to be in effect six months, or at an earlier date determined by the CEO, after a notice is given by the Chief Electoral Officer that indicates the measures are no longer necessary in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This notice would only be issued following the consultation with the Chief Public Health Officer.
With such a limited scope, I see no reason for disagreement or delay on the bill. All parties should be able to unite to quickly get these common-sense protections for voters into place.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the importance of Bill C-19 and why it should be passed quickly.