Even though the government’s pandemic-election legislation is supposed to ensure Canadians can vote safely during the pandemic, its passage before a speculated fall election isn’t among the government’s priorities.
“While Canadians have demonstrated incredible resolve (during COVID-19), they need to know that an election can be administered in a way that is safe, secure, and accessible to all,” said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc, referring to Bill C-19.
Leblanc was testifying on Thursday at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC), which is studying the bill, and where he made the case for its passage.
Instead, the government is prioritizing passage of Bills C-6, C-10, and C-12 this spring, Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez said Thursday. The last sitting day for the House of Commons is currently scheduled for June 23, with the Senate planning to rise shortly after, giving Parliament just weeks to adopt the bill.
Members of the PROC still have to go through Bill C-19 clause by clause before sending it back to the House for third reading and a vote. From there, it would be sent to the Senate for consideration.
Speaking to MPs on Thursday, LeBlanc said he hoped senators can complete their work quickly to ensure C-19 passes before the session ends.
The legislation was tabled in response to recommendations by Canada’s chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, who gave lawmakers last October a list of changes Elections Canada wanted made to the Elections Act so an election during the pandemic could be held safely.
The recommendations included: giving Perrault the authority to decide when and how voting takes place in nursing homes; giving him more powers to adapt to an emergency situation; and replacing a single day of voting on Monday with two days of voting over a weekend.
The government responded with Bill C-19 in December, which would increase the number of voting days from one to three — the weekend plus Monday. It also includes provisions to make it easier for nursing-home residents to vote, and would increase the capacity for mail-in ballots, such as allowing voters to register for ballots online and setting up secure receipt boxes.
The measures in the legislation are temporary, and would expire after Perrault decides they’re no longer required.
On May 25, MPs from all parties supported a Bloc Québécois motion urging the government not to hold an election during the pandemic. But the motion isn’t binding, leaving open the possibility of a fall election. The motion said it would be “irresponsible” to hold an election during the COVID crisis.