OTTAWA — All parties have given approval in principle to a bill aimed at ensuring a federal election could be safely conducted, if need be, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill C-19 passed by a vote of 330-1 at second reading Tuesday, with Independent MP Derek Sloan registering the only objection.
It will now go to a House of Commons committee for scrutiny and possible amendments. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has said the government is "wide open" to improvements to the legislation.
The all-party approval came one day after New Democrats joined forces with the minority Liberal government to cut short initial debate on the bill, which had been stalled since its introduction more than five months ago.
Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs blasted the Liberals and NDP for colluding to gag democracy on a bill that's supposed to protect it. But they all ended up supporting it in the end.
"Yesterday we opposed the Liberals' gag order on Bill C-19 since changing the rules of democracy must be done by consensus and not by muzzling democracy," Bloc House leader Alain Therrien said in a statement Tuesday.
"Now the Liberal-NDP alliance wants to decide on its own the terms of the next election. However, today we will be voting in favour of committee study of the bill so that we can continue the debate and table our amendments."
Chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault appealed to parliamentarians last fall to swiftly pass legislation empowering Elections Canada to temporarily adopt new measures in the event of an election during the pandemic.
All parties profess not to want an election during the health crisis. But because the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, an election could theoretically happen at any time, should all main opposition parties vote non-confidence in the government or should Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decide to pull the plug himself.
The bill would apply only to an election held while the pandemic continues to rage.
Among other things, it would allow for a three-day voting period, rather than the usual one day, make it easier for voters to obtain and cast mail-in ballots and give Elections Canada more flexibility to conduct mobile polls in long-term care facilities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2021.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press