Advocates for the blind and marginalized Canadians with a range of disabilities warned MPs Tuesday the government’s plan to legislate an end to vouching in federal elections would prevent many of the people they represent from being able to vote. Leaders from the Canadian Institute of the Blind, which lends support and volunteer services to tens of thousands of blind or partially sighted citizens, and an advocate with People First called on the Conservative government to amend key sections of controversial election legislation they said would heighten ballot box hurdles that their members and clients already face. The testimony came as a House of Commons committee hearing witnesses on Bill C-23 began a rush to jam in as many witnesses as possible in the two weeks remaining before a government-imposed May 1 deadline for the committee to complete its business and send the bill back to the House for final passage.
The Procedure and House Affairs Committee is rushing the witnesses through in a last-minute rush before the Commons recesses on April 11 for a two-week Easter break.
The witness testimony on Tuesday added support to critics who have said the government should have conducted widespread consultations before unexpectedly tabling the bill last Feb. 4. Titled the Fair Elections Act by the government, the bill will severely limit programs and campaigns the chief electoral officer uses to inform voters and encourage turnout and would bring in other measures that critics say would actually deter some citizens from turning out to vote.
The national director of the Canadian Institute for the Blind told the committee Tuesday that a section prohibiting the chief electoral officer from conducting pilot projects with alternative methods of conducting elections without prior approval from the House of Commons and the Senate—such as online voting—should be amended to require Elections Canada to begin developing new ways for blind and partially sighted citizens to cast secret ballots without help from polling officials.