OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says he's simply in "listening mode" on the idea of making voting mandatory in Canada after recently raising it before a virtual crowd.
The remarks came when O'Toole was asked about proportional representation during an event hosted by the Delta Chamber of Commerce in British Columbia earlier this month.
O'Toole said he did not support that kind of electoral reform, but added that he has been "thinking about and talking about" how Australia requires its citizens to go to the polls.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world that has made it compulsory to vote at all levels of government, or else risk a modest fine, and voter turnout is relatively high.
The Conservative leader noted Canadians living abroad can vote, a right that has been protected by the courts.
"Now that people can live in Hong Kong or Europe and vote — shouldn’t we be following the lead of one of our sort of peer parliamentary democracies, like Australia, and thinking that basic element of citizenship is voting, even if you mark none of the above?" O'Toole told the virtual crowd on April 16.
"I think that’s a civic duty that we should encourage. I’m going to look closely at what Australia's been doing. I think there’s a lot of things we can do to bring up confidence.”
Asked about his comments on Tuesday, O'Toole said he has heard from some people who believe mandatory voting would allow citizens to see the value of the democratic process at a time when public belief in federal institutions is low.
"How can we examine ideas to recommit to our parliamentary democracy? We're just in listening mode," he said.
"Some people look to Australia, a similar parliamentary democracy, with their approach with respect to mandatory voting. It comes up occasionally … we haven't announced any policy whatsoever."
O'Toole has promised a Conservative government would bring more transparency and accountability to Ottawa in hopes of restoring people's faith in the system, also using it as a way to point to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's past ethics breaches.
Trudeau repeatedly promised, both as Liberal leader on the campaign trail in 2015 and then in his government's first speech from the throne, to get rid of the first-past-the-post electoral system in time for the 2019 election.
Trudeau later ditched that pledge after the issue was studied by a House of Commons special committee on electoral reform, which also examined mandatory voting.
The committee recommended against bringing compulsory voting to Canada.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he'd rather see voting made more accessible than mandatory.
“I’ve talked about lowering the voting age, getting kids in high schools to start voting and to create that culture of voting there. I think those are some of the things that I’d put more of my emphasis on," he said Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2021.
— With files from Christopher Reynolds
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press