A senior Canada Post official told a House of Commons committee Thursday that the Crown corporation is confident it could handle moving around millions of mail-in ballots if a federal general election were held during a pandemic.
Elections Canada has already testified before the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee that it expects as many as five million Canadians may choose to vote-by-mail if an election were held during the pandemic. By contrast, only about 55,000 Canadians voted by mail in the 2019 general election.
“I don’t have any concerns about that, about the volume of mail,” Canada Post’s Louise Chayer told the committee Thursday, acknowledging that Canada Post is planning on handling millions of mail-in-ballots.
“If it was 10 million (mail-in ballots), would you still be confident?” Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen asked Chayer.
“Yes. Yes,” she replied.
Canada Post currently handles about eight billion pieces of mail a year.
That said, Canada Post is working closely with Elections Canada to deliver on that kind of confidence.
For example, in response to a question from Conservative MP Corey Tochor, Chayer said Canada Post is working on contingency plans should one of the 21 processing plants it has throughout the country be forced to shut down in the event COVID-19 swept through the facility.
Chayer also said Canada Post has already been engaging in tests to make sure its automated sorting equipment can handle the Elections Canada ballot.
Chayer’s and Canada Post’s confidence about handling mail-in ballots is built on experience with three provincial general elections held during the pandemic in which the number of mail-in ballots soared compared to prior general elections.
“We are certainly ready to support an election when one is called,” Chayer said.
In each of those provincial elections, no election administrator, political party, or candidate complained about Canada Post’s performance in moving mail-in ballots to voters who had requested them. Nor were there complaints about Canada Post’s ability to move those ballots back in time to be counted.
Indeed, the chief electoral officers from all three provinces, as well as Canada’s chief electoral officer, have all testified as to their confidence in Canada Post’s ability to handle mail-in ballots.
MPs on the procedure and house affairs committee will make recommendations to the government about what, if any, changes should be made now to election rules so that a general election can be safely and securely held during a pandemic. Their recommendations are expected as early as next week with the government expected to make any rule changes early in the new year.
Any rule changes that are made would go into effect for the next federal general election, an election many political operatives in Ottawa believe will be held in the spring of 2021.
The role of mail-in ballots in the next general election has emerged as a key consideration for all MPs on that committee.
And, while the committee has not overtly addressed it, there are partisan considerations when it comes to mail-in-ballots.
In the three provincial elections and in the U.S. presidential election, the evidence is clear that progressive-minded voters used mail-in-ballots at a much higher percentage than conservative-minded voters.
And ballots cast by mail — which are often counted last compared to all other types of ballots — have, in some of those elections, turned winners into losers and vice versa versus the preliminary results announced on election nights.
In the Saskatchewan general election, for example, the NDP ended up with two more seats and the conservative Saskatchewan Party ended up with two fewer seats compared to preliminary results on election night once all mail-in ballots were counted. The Saskatchewan Party, nonetheless, ended up with a majority of seats in the legislature.
The same thing happened in B.C., where the NDP picked up more seats and the B.C. Liberals had fewer after the mail-in ballots were counted. The NDP had already secured their majority, though, even before notching the extra seats.
But the U.S. presidential election changed substantially from the preliminary election night results once all legal mail-in ballots were counted several days later: Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump.
During previous committee hearings on the rule changes to elections, both Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs have raised concerns about potential abuse or fraud or mail-in ballots in Canada, though none have been as skeptical about mail-in ballots as the U.S. president.
Chief electoral officers from Canada and the three provinces have all testified to the committee that they have no concerns about the security or integrity of the mail-in ballot system in Canada.