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Senate committee to study electoral reform bill

Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to study Bill C-76.

Legislation to modernize Canada’s election laws and make it easier for Canadians to vote has advanced to a Senate committee for consideration after completing second reading.

Senator Dennis Dawson, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, said Bill C-76 has four main goals: to make the electoral process more accessible, more secure and more transparent, as well as to modernize the administration of elections.

“Canadians are privileged to have one of the most lauded, exemplary election administrations in the world,” Sen. Dawson said during a speech on October 31, 2108.

“Bill C-76 modernizes this democratic process for our current age. The electoral system will be more open to a greater number of Canadians while simultaneously being more secure.”

The bill was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on Wednesday after a second reading debate that included a special hearing with Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault and Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté. Senators were able to question the top officials during a two-hour committee of the whole meeting in the Senate chamber on Tuesday.

Perrault urged Senators to keep in mind that in order to have the new measures proposed in C-76 in effect ahead of the next federal election, final testing of changes to IT systems would need to be done in January 2019.

“Because of where we are in the electoral cycle, time is of the essence as we need to prepare for the next general election,” he said.

Côté added that “the passage of this bill in a timely way is an overriding factor” he hopes Senators consider during the course of their review.

“We have been preparing for the next general election for some time now. Bill C-76 contains provisions that will make our work easier,” he said.

From our perspective, it is important that the bill comes into force as soon as possible so that we can incorporate its content into our preparations at the earliest opportunity.

More accessible

Bill C-76 makes voting easier for many Canadians, including those with disabilities, those living in remote locations, and Canadian Armed Forces members and their families.

It proposes to reintroduce the voter information card as a valid piece of identification that can be used at the polls. In a 2016 Statistics Canada survey, more than 170,000 Canadians said that a lack of ID was why they did not vote in the 2015 election.

The legislation would:

  • Increase assistance at the polls and extend the process to vote at home for voters with disabilities;
  • Allow employees of long-term care facilities to vouch for multiple residents to ensure that they can vote;
  • Allow Canadian Forces electors to choose the voting method that best suits their needs, be it at a traditional polling station, an advance poll or at a Canadian Forces voting station.

More secure

The legislation aims to curb threats posed by foreign interference, online disruption and disinformation. It would:

  • Prohibit foreign entities from spending any money to influence elections (they can currently spend up to $500 on election advertising);
  • Create a new offence against obstructing, interrupting or interfering with computer data during an electoral period;
  • Require online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, to maintain a publicly accessible registry of political ads published during the pre-election and election periods;
  • Prohibit communication during an election period that intends to mislead the public about the source of the information (whether it be a political party or an election official); and
  • Require political parties to have a privacy policy for the protection of personal information, which would be made publicly available online.

More transparent

The legislation proposes to change spending limits for third parties and political parties during an election period, as well as establish spending limits for third parties and political parties during the pre-election period. It would also require third party advertisers to identify themselves on partisan advertising during the pre-election period, a rule that already exists during the election period.

Modernize administration

Bill C-76 also aims to modernize the administration of elections, including reducing wait times at polling stations, allow Canadians under 18 to serve as election officials and to extend advance polling hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The legislation would also limit the election period to a maximum of 50 days.

Senate committee to study electoral reform bill