Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here and to recap the brilliant first 13 minutes of my speech in the last six minutes that I have.
First of all, with respect to an election in a pandemic, the most important point is that Canadians do not want an election in a pandemic. The most recent Ipsos poll on April 21 said that Canadians, in the majority, thought that it would be unsafe and unfair. It is important to take their views into account.
The Prime Minister clearly wants an election, and this is why the Liberals are spending so much effort ramming these bills through, and talking about the stalling and the delaying. At the end of the day, we want to put the health and safety of Canadians over that partisan interest.
Ontario is in lockdown, and some of the other provinces are similarly struggling with COVID-19. We have hotel quarantines. It is not safe to fly. Certainly with all of those messages out there, it would be hypocritical to try to hold an election in a pandemic.
In terms of the bill and the changes that are proposed, let me just give a little tour through the things I like and the things that I do not like. We have a tried-and-true democratic process in Canada. Canadians have had confidence in this process. I think we should minimize the changes that are proposed. If we need to do something to protect the health and safety of voters and workers, those are good changes. If the change does not support that, I am not sure we want to tamper with a process we all have confidence in.
The three-day election period is a very good idea. This would give more time for people to get to the polls and allow for COVID spacing protocols.
I like the idea of the ballot boxes for mail-in ballots at the polling stations. This was tried in the B.C. election and was very well received. With the expectation that there would be huge numbers of mail-in ballots, this would help address the capacity. If people leave it late, and they are worried that Canada Post would not deliver their ballot on time, they could drop it off at the polling station.
I like the electronic request for mail-in ballots; that is a great, progressive thing. As I understand it, the methodology is going to be that if people request a mail-in ballot, they would then not be eligible to show up and vote at the polling station. They would be taken off the polling station lists. That is a good way to prevent double voting. That is not specifically in the legislation and is something that should be detailed. That is the right protocol. I have spoken to many returning officers, and they have already been trained on these changes and that is their current understanding.
There are things I do not like in this bill. There are additional powers for the Chief Electoral Officer to make changes. I do not take issue with some of the specific ones that are cited. However, there is an overarching sense that he could basically do whatever he wants for health and safety; that is a bit broad. I would like to see some oversight from each of the parties that are participating in the election. That would be a great way to make sure that changes that are warranted are approved by the oversight, and that would keep us on track.
I have difficulty with counting ballots after election day. We have always counted everything right up to election day. I think people have confidence in that. We do not want to do anything to open the door to even perceived influence in our elections. The interesting thing is that in the bill, it says it would only be done if the Monday of the election was a holiday. However, that is not the understanding of the many returning officers I have spoken to. They think they will count them if they show up by Tuesday. That is a clarification that needs to be made, both in the legislation and in the training.
The other thing, obviously, is to correct the English-French discrepancy. In the French it said that the ballots were going to be counted in the national capital, and in the English it said it would be done at the local returning office. My understanding is it is going to be done at the local returning office. I think that is the right place for it in order for them to be sure they have controlled who is requesting a mail-in ballot. They are sending out the kits, and they will then know who is not eligible to vote at the polling station. That is the way to go.
What is missing in the bill? There is a sunset clause in the preamble, but it did not make it into the bill. The government says these are temporary measures. How temporary? There is no description of what we are going to do about scrutineers and making sure that scrutineers are able to observe the process, especially with the COVID distancing.
The returning officers have been asked to prioritize vaccinations for the elderly or election workers. That is something that should be considered. It does not necessarily have to go in the bill.
A recommendation to change the hours of voting on Sunday will really limit the number of locations. We want those polling locations to have a lot of space so that they can do the COVID protocols, but if they start at 9 a.m. on Sunday, many churches will not participate. Putting that timing from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. might allow more location flexibility.
There was a proposal for electronic voters lists so that at every polling station, somewhat like they do provincially, we would be able to see who is off the list. That would be good. What to do if what happened in Newfoundland occurs here? We definitely need to see that contingency plan and I did not see that in the bill.
It looks like that is the end of my whirlwind tour.