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 it 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.
After the October 2015 federal election, the 'mandate letter' from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef asked 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 last year, 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"; and "restore the independence of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, so that they are accountable to Parliament and not the government of the day".
This past April, Council of Canadians Board of Directors member Steven Shrybman, CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte and I met with Monsef to ask for an update and timeline on these key promises as well as the government's intentions around vouching (which allows someone with required identification to vouch for someone who does not have the necessary ID).
Today, CBC reports that the federal government has tabled legislation that would mean:
- A reversal of changes that disallowed the use of a voter information card as a piece of eligible identification at polling stations.
- A reversal of changes that disallowed one voter vouching for another.
- An expansion of the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate to include public education campaigns.
- The creation of a national register of future electors to pre-register Canadians aged 14-17 to vote.
- Help so Elections Canada can clean up the data in the national register of electors.
- Grants more independence to the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
- Extends the right to vote to more than one million Canadians who have lived abroad more than 5 years.
For more on Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, please click here.