Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Halifax.
It is my honour to speak in favour of Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act. There are many important facets of the bill, but today I will focus on how this legislation would address barriers that prevent some Canadians from participating in the democratic process.
There are four groups of people that regularly encounter difficulties at the ballot box: persons with disabilities, those who have difficulty producing identification, electors living abroad for more than five years, and women and men who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Let me begin with electors who have disabilities, both physical and cognitive. Elections Canada has made efforts to help electors with mobility issues by introducing provisions to provide what has been referred to as level access. An example is providing ramps for wheelchairs at polling stations.
The bill would expand upon the options for persons with disabilities who, for reasons of their disabilities, would be better served by casting their votes in locations other than their originally assigned polling stations. Currently, to acquire a transfer certificate, an elector needs to apply in person to the returning officer or the deputy returning officer. Under the provisions of this bill, the Chief Electoral Officer would be given greater discretion as to how to provide that certificate, with an eye to making it easier for persons with disabilities to vote.
Another provision of this bill would expand the ability of electors with disabilities to be visited by an election officer to vote at home. This option would be available where the polling station was not accessible to the elector.
Another kind of barrier is encountered when electors come to the polls and find that they do not have the appropriate ID to provide their name and address. Following the 2015 election, Statistics Canada found that an estimated 172,000 electors who did not vote stated a lack of ID as the reason.
The bill before us would restore the authorization of the voter information card as identification at the polls and the practice of vouching by another eligible elector for the identity and residence of someone without the necessary ID.
Research has shown that when authorized, voter information cards have been beneficial to groups that have traditionally voted in lower percentages than the national average. These groups include students and indigenous electors. The research also demonstrates that seniors in residences and long-term care facilities use voter information cards as ID 73% of the time. These cards are readily identifiable, easy to use, and with appropriate safeguards, a secure way to establish a right to vote. Indeed, during a federal election, these cards are perhaps the most accurate piece of government-issued identification.
The Chief Electoral Officer has long recommended allowing these cards to be used. The bill before us would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to add the voter information card as an approved form of ID, at his or her discretion. To ensure the continued integrity of the process, an elector would still be required to show an additional piece of identification confirming identity, alongside the voter information card, as was the case prior to the adoption of the so-called Fair Elections Act.
The bill before us would also restore the practice of vouching as a method to make voting more accessible. Under the provisions of this bill, an eligible voter would be able to establish both the identity and the residence of an otherwise eligible voter who did not have ID. In other words, they could vouch for the voter.
Restoring vouching would make it easier for people without the required ID, such as individuals who are homeless, to vote. However, we would ensure that there were safeguards so that the vouching system was not abused. The person vouching would have to have proper ID and reside in the same polling division as the elector being vouched for. One elector would not be able to vouch for more than one other elector, and an elector who had been vouched for could not then vouch for another elector. This would prevent the practice of serial vouching, in which people might in effect vouch for each other.
This brings me to the third group currently denied access to Canadian elections: Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five consecutive years. Under the bill before us, electors who have lived more than five consecutive years outside of Canada would be entitled to vote. The electors would also no longer need to have a stated intention to return to Canada.
The current system provides non-resident voters with a wide choice among the electoral districts where their ballots could be counted. The bill before us would stipulate that non-resident electors would be required to vote in the electoral district corresponding to their last place of ordinary residence in Canada.
Finally, let me turn to the Canadian Armed Forces electors, whose voting rights are defined in division 2 of part 11 of the Canada Elections Act. These provisions were initially implemented to help armed forces personnel participate in the election process. Over the years, other parts of the act have been amended to reflect changing realities, but division 2 of part 11 has not. This facet is important to me because in Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley is a Canadian Forces base, 17 Wing Winnipeg, and other important military institutions that play a crucial role in the community.
It is our responsibility as members to protect the rights of our brave women and men who protect us on a daily basis. Elections Canada has been working with the Canadian Armed Forces to determine the best way to facilitate voting by Canadian Armed Forces electors. The bill before us would provide Canadian Armed Forces electors with options for voting similar to those enjoyed by other Canadians. The statement of “ordinary residence” would be eliminated and Canadian Forces electors would be able to update their information like any other elector. This would enable them to cast their votes in the electoral district to which they have the strongest connection.
Since we now have fixed election dates, the Minister of National Defence would be able to designate election liaison officers to help facilitate the military polls before the writ is dropped. It is hoped that the percentage of Canadian Forces electors who cast a vote will increase in the next election as a result of these measures.
Each of the provisions I discussed will not only make it easier for Canadians to participate in elections but will also strengthen our democratic institutions and our democracy as a whole. I hope hon. members from all parties will support this bill and I look forward to a thoughtful and fruitful debate on this important matter.