Samara on Bill C-76: Refreshing Our Election Laws

Blog Post

Happening Now Friday, June 08, 2018 View Count = 2288

Samara on Bill C-76: Refreshing Our Election Laws

Mike at PROC 1

The Samara Centre for Democracy was invited to speak before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) on June 7th, 2018. The committee studies and reports on the rules and practices of the House and its committees, electoral matters, questions of privilege, MP conflicts of interest, internal administration of the House, and services and facilities for MPs. It is currently reviewing Bill C-76  the government's proposed “modernization” of Canada’s election and political financing laws. 

Samara's Research Director delivered the following remarks to presiding members of the committee. (Check against delivery.)

Thank you for the opportunity to address this committee.

My name is Michael Morden, and I’m the Research Director of the Samara Centre for Democracy. Samara is an independent, nonpartisan charity that is dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy through research and programming.

Samara welcomes this effort to comprehensively refresh our elections law. This is a significant bill for Canada’s democracy. As it touches the democratic process itself, it deserves time and close scrutiny in Parliament, and a sincere effort to find cross-partisan consensus wherever possible.

Because of the length of the bill, I will contain our analysis to the elements that touch most closely on Samara’s past research – particularly related to voter participation, with a brief note on parties in closing.

First, on methods of voter identification, we suggest the following guiding principle: that the greatest priority be given to permitting as broad and flexible a range of methods for voters to identify themselves as possible. Where potential accuracy or administrative challenges may exist, Elections Canada should exhaust other options for addressing those problems before closing off possible methods of identification.

Therefore, we support restoring vouching and enabling the use of Voter Information Cards as valid methods of establishing voter eligibility.

Second, we also support expanding the mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer to provide non-partisan public education on Canadian democracy: addressing not just how to vote, but also why to vote, within classrooms and beyond.

Elections Canada is uniquely placed to fulfill this role as one of the few well-funded, non-partisan organizations focused on Canadian democracy.  Following the example of most other electoral agencies in the country, Elections Canada should be empowered to advertise and educate during and between elections, making use of partnerships with community organizations.

Third, regarding young voters: a Register of Future Voters could be useful for preparing and engaging young people, but only if it is paired with enthusiastic programming.

There is research evidence to suggest that where young voter pre-registration has been introduced and promoted, it can result in an increase in voter turnout in the 18-24 age bracket, thought the magnitude of the increase is debated.

However – and while we are only dealing with the text of the legislation here, it should nevertheless be noted in passing, as this has resourcing implications that could touch on the work of this committee – simply creating a system of pre-registry itself should not be expected to have significant effects. Pre-registry can be effective, but only if it is paired with strong engagement efforts and energetic promotion.

We are happy to see that many of the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendations are reflected in Bill C-76. But I also want to highlight an exception.

This bill ignores the suggestion that the law be amended to permit holding Election Day on a weekend. I’m aware that this is something that this committee has also discussed in past, but we think this idea is worth again exploring.

There is not systematic evidence to suggest that moving to weekend voting necessarily increases turnout. However, there are other immediate benefits, like making it easier to hire election workers, and having a wider selection of possible poll locations that are central, familiar, and accessible.

We think it is possible that weekend voting could also support higher turnout – if it is one piece of a broader state-and-society partnership to change how we experience elections, to make elections more social, festive, and community-based.

This committee could consider amending the bill to permit but not require weekend elections. These provisions could apply initially only to by-elections. In other words, the law could be amended to allow for experimentation, such as holding a set of by-elections on a Saturday or Sunday.  That experience could help inform Parliament whether or not to move the polling day of general elections.

Finally, on political parties:

We believe that it is important that the Chief Electoral Officer be given the power to compel receipts from parties. This is a power provincial electoral agencies hold, but not at this point the national agency – despite the fact that it provides the largest public subsidy to parties in the form of reimbursement.

This was a longstanding oversight. It should be corrected, and in fact, we should be asking for increasingly greater transparency in how parties spend the money that taxpayers reimburse.

Thank you.

On the Samara BlBlog logo representing the letter 'o'g