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Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 27–28, 2011

Introductory Remarks

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) presented an overview of key activities since June 2010.

Recommendations Report following the 2008 General Election

The CEO noted that he submitted his Recommendations Report following the 2008 General Election to the Speaker of the House on June 10, 2010. After submission, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) met on ten occasions to discuss and review the report from October 2010 to March 2011. The CEO appeared before the Committee on October 7, 2010, and Elections Canada provided technical support to the committee during its review. The CEO noted that parliamentarians had not completed their review of the report as the work of Parliament was interrupted at the call of the 41st General Election. The CEO intends to ask the Committee to resume and complete its review of the recommendations when it returns in the Fall.

The CEO also remarked that Bill C-7 on Senate reform had been tabled (Short title: Senatorial Selection, Senate Term Limits) and would likely be referred to PROC for study. As well, a bill proposing a new formula for the allocation of seats in the House of Commons would likely have to be introduced and passed in the House of Commons this year, in order to allow the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment process to be completed using the new allocation and numbers. He added that the Government’s plan to phase out direct taxpayer subsidies to federal political parties would likely be accomplished over the next three years.

2010 By-Elections

Three by-elections were held on November 29, 2010, in the ridings of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, Vaughan and Winnipeg North. The CEO reminded ACPP members that Elections Canada tested the use of an assistive voting device (AVD) for individuals with visual impairments and limited dexterity in the electoral district of Winnipeg North as a pilot project.

On March 1, 2010, the CEO submitted his report on the pilot project to PROC and to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

At that time, the CEO indicated that Elections Canada would not proceed further with this device, but will continue to study additional methods that could facilitate voting for electors with disabilities.

Overview of the 41st General Elections Canada

The CEO stated that overall, the delivery of the 41st General Election went very well. He indicated that he would submit his report to the Speaker of the House of Commons towards the end of summer. As was the case after the 2008 General Election, the CEO will also provide a report on the evaluation of the 41st General Election in December 2011. [Please note that the report has been delayed until late 2012]

The CEO noted that the numbers of voters at advance polls for the 41st General Election increased by 35%, which had caused slow downs at some polling locations but these were resolved as expeditiously as possible. The high turn-out at advance polls indicates that electors want to take advantage of alternative voting opportunities and that they are asking for more convenient ways of voting.

Improving access for electors with disabilities

Following the Hughes Decision from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Elections Canada has made a number of improvements designed to ensure accessibility of polling sites.

Based on data contained in Elections Canada's polling sites systems, 20 sites were not accessible for the 41st General Election, compared to 39 sites for the 40th General Election.

The CEO noted that for the first time during a general election, electors were able to submit feedback about polling site accessibility through a new accessibility feedback process and over 1600 electors provided comments on the accessibility feedback forms available at advance and regular polls and on Elections Canada website.

Extending opportunities to vote at advance polls in rural areas

The CEO reported that in Spring 2009 (April/May), an electoral geography revision activity was conducted by Returning Officers with the objective of increasing accessibility to the vote at advance polls in rural areas.

As a result, 398 advance polls were added, an increase of 10.2% compared to the 40th General Election.

Some remote aboriginal communities in Churchill, Manitoba and around James Bay asked for advance polls to be created in their communities. Plans were modified and adaptations to the Act were made to facilitate the delivery of advance poll services at these remote locations in the General Election.

Voter Information Card (VIC) as proof of ID and Address for selected groups of electors

The CEO noted that during the by-elections of November 29th, 2010, and again on election day, May 2nd, the Voter Information Card was authorized as a proof of address, in combination with another document authorized by the CEO, for the purpose of voting, at polling stations on First Nations reserves, in long-term care facilities and seniors’ residences, and in student residences on college and university campuses:

The CEO stated that, based on results of our evaluations, he will examine the possibility of extending the use of the VIC to all electors for the 42nd General Election.

Communications and Outreach during the 41st General Election

The CEO then reported on the following enhanced communications and outreach activities targeted to specific groups during the 41st General Election:

Students:

During the 41st General Election, Elections Canada enhanced communications by expanding its advertising placement strategy to include areas with a high volume of youth and student traffic, such as university/college websites, digital screens, backlit posters, and buses.

The Student Vote Program was put in place again in this General Election, with 4,330 elementary and secondary schools participating, an increase of 24% from the last general election.

Aboriginal Electors:

Elections Canada engaged the Assembly of First Nations to create a call centre to contact 350 First Nations communities in 20 priority electoral districts in Canada to ensure that Aboriginal electors were aware of their eligibility and options to vote.

The Assembly of First Nations contacted Band Managers and other leaders in Aboriginal communities located on and off reserves to encourage local leaders to work collaboratively with Returning Offices and local Community Relations Officers. First Nations located north of the 55th parallel received the highest priority. The CEO indicated that Elections Canada will evaluate the effectiveness of this outreach initiative.

Issues Arising During the 41st GE

The CEO then reported on a number of issues that arose during the 41st General Election.

Statutory holiday

The timing of advance polls on Easter and Passover was a concern raised by several religious organizations. Elections Canada engaged national representatives and religious organizations to explain that this was not something that they could control and that the Act was very strict in this regard.

Elections Canada also developed proactive media relations and information on "ways to vote" which was provided through a variety of media to communicate with a wide range of electors.

The CEO noted once again that voter turnout at advance polls on the holiday Friday and Monday was the highest in history, resulting in some delays and line-ups as Returning Officers were required to respond within the existing advance poll framework (for example, every elector voting in advance needed to complete and sign a register prior to voting).

Special ballot Voting – Guelph University

The CEO noted that a well-intentioned returning officer at the University of Guelph decided to set up a special ballot registration and voting booth, without the prior authorisation of Elections Canada. The CEO also reported that this initiative was not without incident and resulted in several complaints. Elections Canada immediately sent an e-mail bulletin to student organizations clarifying Elections Canada’s position and provided information noting that special ballot kiosks were not permitted on campus.

While the votes cast were determined to be valid, the special advance poll at Guelph had not been approved. The ACPP and other stakeholders would be consulted if Elections Canada were to consider changing the way advance polls and special ballots are conducted on campuses. The CEO also indicated that certain jurisdictions have much more flexible voting rules for students and that other electoral management bodies around the world are looking at ways of making voting more convenient.

The CEO reported that Elections Canada will review the situation and will, in consultation with all interested stakeholders, identify what service improvements could be initiated to improve the convenience of voting for students. The review will consider what amendments, if any, would be required to the Canada Elections Act.

Special Voting Rules – Deletion from the International Register after living abroad for five years

The CEO reported that, with some exceptions, Canadians residing abroad are only authorized to vote by special ballot in an election if they have been residing outside Canada for less than 5 consecutive years immediately prior to applying to vote and they intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future.

Up to and including the 2006 election, anyone who had returned to Canada, even for a brief visit, was deemed to have "resided here" and the 5-year clock was reset, allowing them to vote by special ballot.

Following the 2006 election, Elections Canada changed the information it provides to Canadians temporarily residing outside Canada to more closely respect the text of the legislation by indicating that the five-year period begins from the date the elector leaves Canada to live abroad and remains in effect until the date the elector returns to Canada to reside. The CEO noted that a visit to Canada does not constitute a resumption of residence and does not interrupt the five-year limit for the purpose of voting by special ballot.

The CEO indicated that some Canadians living abroad were surprised at the change in interpretation, had started a petition and were considering launching a court case to challenge the validity of the provisions.

The CEO noted that this is another example of an issue that could prompt a review of the special ballot regime.

Administration of candidate nomination papers

The CEO reported that, in a few cases, incidents occurred at the close of nomination resulting in individuals being denied the right to be candidates. Three of these incidents are being investigated:

The CEO indicated that once the investigations are completed, Elections Canada will report back to the individuals affected as well as to their respective parties.

In some ridings in Quebec, issues were raised following the election around the validity of signatures on nomination papers. The CEO reported that Returning Officers are instructed to ensure that there are at least 100 names and signatures of electors with addresses in the riding, but that they cannot validate the signatures.

The CEO indicated that it might be time to engage stakeholders in a review of the nomination process.

Prank Calls

The CEO reported that the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections received a number of complaints regarding efforts designed to discourage voting in general or voting for a particular party.

Two practices were identified. The first was rude telephone calls at late or inappropriate hours purporting to be from a particular political party, when in fact they were not. The intention appears to have been to discourage the elector from voting in general or from voting for a particular party.

The second practice involved telephone calls purporting to come from Elections Canada advising that the polling station for the elector had been changed to a different, more distant location. Electors appeared at the new polling location and could not vote there.

The CEO noted that there had been a significant number of complaints related to the prank calls, and that the investigation was being given a high priority.

Social Media

The CEO reported that a number of Canadians had flouted the current law on reporting election results in parts of the country where polls had not yet closed, primarily via social media such as Facebook. The CEO stated that Elections Canada could not police the Internet to prevent this type of leak. He also indicated that the impact of third party social media campaigns should be looked at.