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The Trudeau government needs to move on Bill C-33 to amend the ‘Fair Elections Act’

Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions

In November 2014, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court challenging provisions of the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act for infringing on the right to vote guaranteed to Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We challenged the Act because:

1- it makes it more difficult for the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians about the electoral process and their right to vote

2- 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

3- prohibited vouching as a means whereby electors could establish their identity

4- diminished the independence and authority of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

During the October 2015 federal election, the Liberals specifically promised to:

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

2- restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification

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

On November 24, 2016, the CBC reported that the federal government had tabled Bill C-33, legislation that included:

1- an expansion of the Chief Electoral Officer’s mandate to include public education campaigns

2- a reversal of changes that disallowed the use of a voter information card as a piece of eligible identification at polling stations

3- a reversal of changes that disallowed one voter vouching for another

4- granting more independence to the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Little has happened since then.

In April 2017, The Hill Times reported, “The government is expected to soon move forward on Bill C-33, which amends the Canada Elections Act.”

In June 2017, the Canadian Press reported, “A spokeswoman for Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who took over the file in January, did not explain why the bill has not progressed beyond its introduction. However, Byrne Furlong did say Gould was committed to the legislation and its passage. ‘Bill C-33 is a priority for our government and we are looking forward to debating the legislation in Parliament’, Furlong said in an email on Wednesday [June 12, 2017].”

The most recent comment from the government on Bill C-33 in the House of Commons appears to have been on October 18, 2017, when Gould told the House of Commons, “The Government is taking measures to maintain the openness, the transparency and the accountability of our democracy. To this end, we have introduced Bill C-33 in order to increase voter turnout and to enhance the integrity of our electoral system.”

But despite these statements, the Parliament of Canada website indicates that the status of the legislation has not changed.

Furthermore, since the last federal election there have been twelve federal by-elections under the ‘Fair Elections Act’. At least two more by-elections are expected by June 2018 – and there may be more before the October 21, 2019 general election.

With the House of Commons resuming sitting on January 29, the Council of Canadians once again calls on the federal government to move forward with Bill C-33.