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Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 8, 2015

Introductory Remarks and Report by the Chief Electoral Officer

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Marc Mayrand, welcomed members of the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP) to their 2015 AGM. He noted that this is probably the last face-to-face meeting before the next general election, and he recognized the new participants. He also provided an update on EC's preparations leading up to the next general election.

Update on ACPP activities

ACPP members met for their AGM in October 2014, and again in December 2014, when a second general meeting took place to finalize the Opinions, Guidelines and Interpretation Notes (OGI) process, the OGI Steering Committee mandate, and the ACPP Terms of Reference.

ACPP meeting summaries are now available on the EC website, in a new section dedicated to advisory groups.

A technical briefing was also held in January 2015, to support the operation of the OGI Steering Committee. A great amount of work is being done on OGIs.

A teleconference was held in May 2015 with ACPP members to inform them about plans for the by-elections taking place in the electoral districts of Ottawa West–Nepean, Peterborough and Sudbury – all in Ontario.

Update on election readiness

As we are now no more than a few months away from the start of a federal general election, EC has reached a readiness state. All returning officers are appointed and in a state of readiness, potential offices and points of service have been identified, returning officers are now assigning polling places for polling divisions, voting location accessibility has been assessed, and field technology has been tested.

Redistribution – Schedule 3

As a result of the October 2013 representation order, which increased the number of electoral districts from 308 to 338, the list of districts that make up Schedule 3 must be updated.

Electoral districts in Schedule 3 are generally very large or have restricted transportation and communication networks. Therefore, candidates in these districts are required to obtain only 50 electors' signatures on their nomination paper (instead of 100).

The list of electoral districts making up Schedule 3 must be published in the Canada Gazette within seven days after the call of the general election. This list has been shared with parties in advance, to help them plan for the fixed-date election.

The CEO informed the ACPP that he will also write to the Clerk of the House of Commons to provide this list following the ACPP AGM. As well, returning officers will be informed of the Schedule 3 districts, to help them in their preparations and allow them to inform local candidates of any implications for them.

List of electors

In April 2015, EC sent letters to each political party asking them to officially request a copy of the annual list of electors, as per the Canada Elections Act. This early distribution of the annual lists to MPs and political parties took place in advance of the fixed election date. Political parties requesting lists also received a separate CD-ROM with concordance information for the 2013 Representation Order. In addition, EC provided official versions of the electoral district maps, polling division maps, and postal code documentation for all of Canada. As discussed in October, only electronic copies of the maps are currently being provided to registered political parties.

Polling division maps are continually being updated to reflect the movement of population and the addition of new streets and developments. Therefore, EC will continue to modify the maps until the start of the next general election. Once the general election is called, printed maps will be distributed to candidates, and they will also be available to order.

After the election is called, candidates and political parties will receive, on request, preliminary lists of electors that reflect the 2013 Representation Order – electors and addresses will be directly associated with the 338 electoral districts. There will be no further requirement for concordance information.

Special Voting Rules expansion

This initiative is designed to give youth – including Aboriginal youth – increased access to the electoral process, in a way that responds to their life circumstances. EC will be offering special ballot voting and registration services in the offices of additional assistant returning officers at selected campuses, Aboriginal Friendship Centres and community centres.

A total of 56 institutions and centres across Canada have been approached to help implement the initiative; this will translate into approximately 60 to 80 voting locations.

Participating institutions have so far confirmed 58 locations, including 44 locations in educational institutions, 12 in Friendship Centres and 2 in YMCAs. Once returning officers have confirmed the complete list, EC will send it to ACPP members and other stakeholders (expected later in summer 2015).

Social media

English and French Twitter accounts and YouTube channels were recently launched to provide Canadians with information about the electoral process. EC is encouraging Canadians and political parties to follow and to share EC's tweets and posts with their networks. But enquiries from political entities should continue to be directed to EC through the usual channels.

Consultations

On April 23 and 24, 2015, EC held the fourth meeting of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues in Gatineau, during which updates were provided on initiatives for the 2015 election. EC worked with group members on a visioning and prioritization exercise to identify priorities that they would like to see EC pursue beyond 2015. This will advance the collective objective of making voting as accessible as possible.

Advisory Group members have expressed an interest in meeting with ACPP members to discuss some of the proposed activities emerging from this exercise. ACPP members agreed in principle with this request.

Impact of Bill C-50 on the next general election

The CEO appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on May 7 to discuss two topics: the 2015–2016 Main Estimates and Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

Though the amendments proposed in Bill C-50 relate mostly to the Special Voting Rules (SVR), which allow people to vote by mail, the bill also proposed other important changes for voters living outside Canada, as well as new ID requirements for all electors.

The bill would also permit EC to receive information from Citizenship and Immigration Canada about non-citizens, so they can be deleted from the register of electors.

EC is closely monitoring this bill, and it will give the ACPP more information about its impact and implementation, should it receive royal assent.

Official languages

In 2014, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages audited EC's service to electors. The report identified areas where improvements could be made; however, some of the proposed changes cannot be made in time for the next general election.

EC has taken the position that, in recruiting poll workers, returning officers must ensure that bilingual services are available at polling locations where a significant proportion of electors speak the minority official language. EC is asking for the support of political parties in spreading the word and encouraging candidates to submit names of bilingual poll workers to help returning officers achieve this objective.

Electoral integrity

ACPP members were informed about the work being done in the area of electoral integrity.

Poll worker performance

EC has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve compliance. These include simplifying procedures and providing clearer instructions for election workers, modernizing training, and enhancing recruitment practices. The role of central poll supervisors was also renewed, and they will be able to guide staff at polling places and ensure that procedures are followed.

In addition, a quality management program has been established whose short-term focus is to test the updated material that will be used in the next general election. Testing so far indicates that, despite improvements to EC's manuals and training, the application of special procedures continues to challenge poll workers due to those procedures' complexity.

EC has also launched a procurement process for the independent audit of poll worker performance introduced by Bill C-23, and is awaiting bids from interested parties. This process should be completed by the end of July, in time for a fall election.

Incident detection and response

Following the 41st general election, EC began working to improve its ability to respond to electoral incidents that may interfere with voter participation. In this regard, EC will monitor the election environment so that it is better prepared to detect and respond quickly to any incidents that threaten the integrity of the election process.

However, this is a shared responsibility, and other players have important roles. For example, through their behaviour, political actors and voters play a key role in ensuring the integrity of the election. The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for enforcing the Canada Elections Act. But both EC and the Commissioner depend considerably on the vigilance of electors and political actors, and on their diligence in promptly reporting incidents.

Among the complaints EC expects to receive, some will relate to conduct that may contravene certain provisions of the Canada Elections Act. EC's role is to work with the Commissioner to help him address those complaints.

As well, EC expects to receive complaints regarding conduct that is seen as unethical or unfair, without necessarily being illegal. In such cases, even when it is not within EC's mandate to intervene, the complaints will not be ignored. EC will keep track of these cases and possibly report on them after the election so that Parliament may decide if a legislative change is required.

Round table discussion

Following the CEO's presentation, ACPP members posed questions regarding ACPP-related information on EC's website, as well as requests for clarification about Bill C-50.

Questions were also asked on what can be expected in terms of illegal activities during the election, and how to inform voters of the ways to report instances they encounter. The CEO clarified that it would depend on the issue and the circumstances. There are various scenarios, and EC would respond accordingly: for example, through public announcements or the media. EC is also inviting Canadians to use the form on EC's website to report incidents, noting that it is important to state the date and time, the location, and who was involved. EC plans on promoting the web form, to standardize the collection of information and improve response time. Poll supervisors will also be present to deal with any incidents at polling stations; they will respond according to the situation.

The CEO was also asked to comment on the challenges the implementation of Bill C-23 may bring to this election, and if the CEO would make recommendations regarding them. It was noted that yes, after the election, the CEO will meet with ACPP members to discuss matters that should be brought to Parliament's attention, and he will seek input on potential recommendations.