As progress on some measures in the Liberal-NDP confidence-and-supply agreement continue to play out publicly, the two parties have quietly been in talks to table electoral reform legislation before the next federal vote.
Leading these negotiations on the political front, are Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and NDP MP and democratic reform critic Daniel Blaikie.
In an interview with CTVNews.ca between NDP caucus retreat sessions in Edmonton, Blaikie said there has been “a fair amount of work done,” towards drafting amendments to the Canada Elections Act.
While not a full-scale overhaul of the federal voting system as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once promised, within the two-party confidence-and-supply agreement are a series of electoral reform proposals aimed at expanding “the ability for people to vote.”
Specifically, the Liberals and New Democrats agreed to explore:
Allowing an “expanded” three-day voting period during general elections;
Allowing voters to cast their ballots at any polling place within their riding; and
Improving the mail-in ballot process with both accessibility and maintaining integrity in mind.
“I think if you look at all of those items… those are all things that will require some kind of legislative change,” Blaikie said, adding that the working expectation is that the trio of reforms would be contained in one bill that could be passed in time for the next election.
“I think people on both sides are keen to try and hammer out those final details and have a product that can be tabled in the House of Commons… I’m optimistic that we will have a bill that certainly includes ways of implementing what was in the [deal],” Blaikie said.
What remains to be revealed if, and when, the legislation comes to fruition, is how far the two parties agree to go, whether directly advancing voting accessibility reforms, or enacting some sort of process to further study expanding voting access.
It’s also unclear whether these measures would be in effect for the next federal election, or if the bill would set the timeline for enacting any reforms some time into the future.
On this, the NDP said there have been conversations with Elections Canada centred around implementation, to ensure their desired changes to how Canadians cast their ballots, are feasible.
Expanding the amount of days Canadians have to cast their ballot may be the most significant proposal currently under negotiation.
While Blaikie was hesitant to get too far into specifics of the discussions that have taken place, he said some of the options that have been deliberated include having a voting weekend, expanding voting hours, or potentially adding more advance polling dates closer to election day.
“There’s more than one way to do that. I think the real goal is to make voting more accessible… So we’ve tried to keep an open mind about it,” he said, adding that hearing what Elections Canada has to say about how it would impact their operations, “has been instructive in terms of the discussions.”
Motivating the push for voters to be able to cast their ballots at any polling place in their riding is in-part Blaikie’s experience watching prospective voters be turned away over his years involved with campaigns, both as a candidate, and an organizer in various capacities.
He said in 2024 with the verification technologies available, this policy can be revised while maintaining electoral integrity.
If the Liberals are looking to make further election law reforms, it is possible amendments to enact the trio of reforms could be rolled in to a larger bill. However, that would be a move the New Democrats could only support if the other measures are ones that they can back.
“Issues around democracy and the integrity of elections have been a hot topic in this Parliament for some very good reasons, so we’ll see if there ends up being something more,” Blaikie said.
While neither side of the negotiations would divulge with any precision the timeline or the current state of draft legislation, Blaikie noted “there’s only so much parliamentary runway, and in a minority Parliament, it’s not always clear just how much runway there is.”
LeBlanc’s office told CTVNews.ca that the two parties are “currently working on” this legislation, but also declined to offer any further specifics on the timeline, vowing “next steps will be communicated in due course.”
“Access to the vote is a fundamental principle of Canadian democracy, and our government is committed to further strengthening it,” said spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Comeau.