Feds to table Elections Act changes to respond to COVID-19
Elections materials are displayed at the Elections Canada distribution centre as workers prepare shipments in Ottawa on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
OTTAWA -- The federal government will be tabling proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act, making adjustments to how federal elections are administered in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who holds the title of the President of the Queen’s Privy Council and is responsible for electoral matters, has given notice of a new bill entitled “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response)”.
The legislation is expected to be tabled on Thursday, and while it remains to be seen what it includes, Elections Canada had recommended a series of amendments to the Canada Elections Act to help the federal elections agency make voting more accessible and safe, should the next national vote happen while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing.
Elections Canada has said it would be able to run a general election during the global health crisis, but is anticipating an uptick in mail-in voting and so the agency is hoping to be given more flexibility for voters and those running the vote, including big changes around when people cast their ballots.
In particular, Elections Canada has suggested:
A weekend election, featuring a two-day polling period on a Saturday and Sunday, instead of the traditional one-day vote usually held on a Monday, to give Elections Canada the ability to set up polling places in larger locations to enhance physical distancing and help with recruiting poll workers;
Increasing the number of voting days for electors in long-term care facilities, to prevent poll workers from having to enter multiple facilities in a day, given the high-risk environment they have shown to be during the pandemic; and
Allowing mail-in ballots sent before the deadline to be accepted up until the day after polls close.
It remains to be when whether the Liberals will heed any, all, or some of these recommendations. CTVNews.ca has reached out to Elections Canada and LeBlanc’s office for comment.
There are already interim changes underway that don’t require legislation, given the Liberal minority and the possibility for a snap election being called at any time.
These include: implementing physical distancing and other public health guidelines at polling places, procuring masks and single-use pencils to be provided to electors to fill out their ballots, and increasing the capacity of the existing vote-by-mail system.
While so many services and day-to-day aspects of Canadians have gone online in the wake of the pandemic, Elections Canada says it has not considered introducing internet voting.
MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee have also been studying the feasibility of running an election during the pandemic, and is continuing to hear witnesses on the topic.