Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre announced a few amendments to the government’s Bill C-50 Thursday, but made no apologies — or changes — to parts of the bill that have raised concerns about restricting voter rights.
C-50, the Citizen Voting Act, would change the Canada Elections Act and alter the way Canadians living abroad vote in federal elections.
Among other things, the bill eliminates the International List of Electors and rolls that information into the general register of electors for all Canadians and requires electors outside of the country to apply to vote by special ballot after a writ is dropped, and not before.
Poilievre appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee Thursday morning and defended a bill that critics have said is a solution looking for a problem — namely, attempting to prevent voter fraud overseas, where there’s little evidence of any real issues to warrant changing the Canada Elections Act.
The opposition has also accused the government of attempting to suppress votes with this bill, recalling problems with Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, that passed last year.
“This is the Unfair Elections Act, part two,” said NDP MP David Christopherson.
Opposition members are concerned about eliminating the International List of Electors, since many previous witnesses including Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand have said there’s nothing wrong with it. What’s more, only allowing electors to apply for special ballot after a writ is dropped could cause issues with time and make it difficult — and possibly impossible — for some to vote. There are also concerns unclear language around identification rules for eligible voters.
Folding the International List of Electors into a general registry is about fairness, Poilievre told the committee.
“The whole basis of this bill is we would treat international electors the same as special voting electors in Canada,” he said.
He added that he hasn’t seen that applying for special ballot after the writ is dropped has been a problem for voters.
“We haven’t found this to be a problem with special voting so far…for many years people have voted around the world [this way] because they’re residents in Canada,” he said.
“They have been very successful in [doing so]…I haven’t seen a reason why we need to change that.”
One amendment the minister did say the government would be making relates to voting attestation rules. Instead of only allowing for someone within an overseas voters’ same polling division, the bill will broaden the rule to allow anyone residing in the same constituency to attest for a voter who is living abroad.
No integrity to the voting system would be lost doing this, Poilievre said. Most people, he explained, know their MP or riding and can find someone in the same constituency to vouch for them, but few people even know what a polling division is.
As Poilievre’s hour before committee neared closing, he noted that provisions in the bill sholud be in place for the next election.
“We want the changes in the Citizen Election Act to be in force in the next election,” Poilievre said. We hope the Elections Canada chief electoral officer will cooperate with Parliament to make that happen in time, he added.