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The Council & CFS meet with the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Photo: Bilan Arte, Maryam Monsef, Brent Patterson.

The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students met with the Minister of Democratic Institutions this afternoon.

Canadian Federation of Students national chairperson Bilan Arte, Council of Canadians Board of Directors member Steven Shrybman and I met with Maryam Monsef and her chief of staff Ali Salam in their Centre Block office to discuss a key directive in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ‘mandate letter’ to the minister.

That letter asks the minister to “Introduce amendments to the Canada Elections Act to make the Commissioner of Canada Elections more independent from Government. In addition, repeal the elements of the Fair Elections Act which makes it harder for Canadians to vote and easier for election law breakers to evade punishment.”

During the election, the Liberals specifically promised to:

– “encourage more Canadians to vote, by removing restrictions on the ways in which the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada can communicate with voters”

– “restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification”

– “restore the independence of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, so that they are accountable to Parliament and not the government of the day”.

We asked for an update and timeline on these key promises as well as the government’s intentions around vouching, a measure prohibited by C-23, the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act. Simply put, vouching allowed someone with required identification to vouch for someone who did not at a polling station on the day of the vote.

The minister and chief of staff:

– noted they are in the process of consulting stakeholders on these issues

– did not specify a timeline for introducing these legislative changes

– indicated that they would fulfill these promises within this current term (before the October 21, 2019 federal election)

– highlighted they were open to ideas about how to make voting more accessible and how to address voter apathy

– welcomed the idea of meeting again.

In November 2014, the Council of Canadians and the CFS filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court challenging provisions of the so-called ‘Fair Elections Act’ for infringing on the right to vote guaranteed to Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We are pleased that the minister has been given an explicit mandate that reflects the key concerns in that challenge.

We see this as a significant win that came as a result of our outstanding constitutional challenge to four elements in the Act (which makes it more difficult for the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians about the electoral process and their right to vote; stripped the Chief Electoral Officer of his authority to authorize the Voter Information Card as a means for proving an elector’s residence or identity; prohibited vouching as a means whereby electors could establish their identity; and diminished the independence and authority of the Commissioner of Canada Elections).

Our organizations will be providing further input on democratic reform to the minister.