Liberals to table bill aimed at making voting more accessible

The Liberal government will table amendments to the Canada Elections Act on Thursday, including changes aimed at “increasing accessibility” and “ensuring as many Canadians as possible have the right to vote,” the parliamentary secretary to the minister of democratic institutions says.

Details of the measures won’t be made public until the legislation is tabled in the House of Commons, but Mark Holland told reporters Wednesday morning that the bill will deal with “some of the ways in which Canadians have been disenfranchised.” 

The Liberals have several outstanding campaign commitments that a bill could deal with, and the government has also promised to address limitations on the right to vote for citizens living abroad.

In their election platform last year, the Liberals said they would “repeal the anti-democratic elements in Stephen Harper’s Fair Elections Act” and “restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification” at polling stations.” (Elections Canada refers to the cards it mails to homes during election campaigns “voter information cards.”)

The previous Conservative government removed the information cards mailed to voters from the list of acceptable documentation in 2014, but the move was criticized as an unjustified change that would make it harder for some Canadians to cast a ballot.

Additionally, the Liberals promised to improve how voters are registered and remove Conservative restrictions that prevent Elections Canada from actively encouraging citizens to vote.

Ex-pat voting rights

Maryam Monsef, the minister of democratic institutions, promised last month the government would soon come forward with legislation concerning the ability of Canadians living abroad to cast ballots in federal elections.

Under current restrictions, citizens are not eligible to vote if they reside outside the country for five years, but that law is currently the subject of a legal challenge.

“The government of Canada is firmly committed to enhancing Canadians’ participation in their democratic institutions and believes that more Canadians should have the ability to vote, not the opposite,” Monsef said in October when the federal government had a filing with the Supreme Court.

“We are currently examining the law as it relates to long-term non-resident Canadians who wish to vote in federal elections and we intend to introduce legislation this year that will meet the needs of highly mobile Canadian citizens who live in today’s increasingly interconnected world,” she said.

In September, Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer, also released a report with numerous recommendations for modernizing Canada’s elections, including a suggestion that Parliament consider moving voting day to a weekend.

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