TORONTO — The new Liberal government wants more Canadians to vote in elections and won't be reviving measures proposed by the former Conservative regime that critics said would have the effect of suppressing voting, the Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday.
At the same time, a spokesman for the PMO said the government had made no decision on an existing law — currently subject of a court battle — that effectively disenfranchises expats abroad for more than five years.
"We will be able to clarify our intent in the coming months," Olivier Duchesneau, deputy communications director in the Prime Minister's Office, said in an email.
Stephen Harper casts his ballot at an Elections Canada poling station in Calgary. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)
"But we believe that more Canadians should have the ability to vote, not the opposite."
Two expat Canadians in the United States launched a constitutional challenge to rules in the Canada Elections Act that bar them from voting from abroad. They were initially successful in Ontario Superior Court in 2014, but the province's Court of Appeal sided with the Conservative government in July.
The two are now waiting to see if the Supreme Court of Canada will take up their case. In the interim, they have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to withdraw the government's defence of the legislation if the top court does agree to a hearing.
The PMO said no decision has been made on the litigation or the existing legislation, but made it clear the Citizens Voting Act — or Bill C-50 — proposed by the former government would stay dead.
"We believe that more Canadians should have the ability to vote, not the opposite."
Among other things, it tightened ID and registration requirements for voters living abroad. The Conservatives argued it was aimed at preventing fraud, but critics said it would make it harder for expats to vote.
The bill, introduced last December by then-democratic reform minister Pierre Poilievre in response to the initial court decision, passed second reading in May and was being debated in committee. The legislation died on the order paper when the election was called.
"The government is committed to scrapping the Citizens Voting Act," Duchesneau said.
During Trudeau's recent visit to the U.K., one Canadian made a point of button-holing him in London
to ask whether he would reinstate voting rights for long-term expats.
Although Trudeau made no promises, Laura Bailey told The Canadian Press that she was heartened when the rookie PM told her, "We'll work on that."
Trudeau has previously promised to repeal parts of the Tories' Fair Elections Act, which tightened identification requirements for voters in Canada but which critics said would make it more difficult for some people to cast ballots.
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