Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 20 and 21, 2016
Introductory Remarks by the Chief Electoral Officer
Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), welcomed members of the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP) to the 2016 Annual General Meeting (AGM). He started by commenting on his recent resignation announcement, explaining that it'd be preferable to leave his position at the end of the year to allow his successor the necessary time to assume the responsibility for and guide the future direction of Elections Canada.
The CEO mentioned that Belaineh Deguefé is also retiring and introduced his replacement, Hughes St-Pierre, who will be Acting Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Integrated Services, Policy and Public Affairs (DCEO ISPPA).
The CEO then recognized participants for whom this was their first ACPP AGM, and brought to members' attention that two returning officers (ROs) would be attending the meeting as observers and to give an overview of the complexity and challenges of running an election. He also advised ACPP members that the members of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues would give a presentation about their experience and some of the barriers faced by electors with disabilities, as well as their suggestions on how to improve the political participation of Canadians with disabilities. He explained that these presentations are meant to provide ACPP members with an understanding of a range of perspectives, both internal and external, that the agency has to take into consideration when planning its ongoing improvements to the electoral process.
The CEO then shared a few broad assessments that Elections Canada has made on trends that are guiding their future direction.
- Increasing comfort with technology.
- During the 2015 election, 1.7 million Canadians used online registration to check or update their information or to register
- Online registration was the preferred registration method for those aged 18–44
- The agency should continue to focus on online services, while maintaining a reasonable level of service at RO offices
- Increasing mobility of Canadians.
- More and more Canadians are required to travel for work or education and are away from home for extended periods of time
- An increasing percentage of Canadians cite being out of town or away from home as a reason for not voting (9% in 2004 to 15% in 2008 and subsequent elections, based on Elections Canada's national surveys of electors)
- This means Elections Canada needs to provide more accessible and convenient options for absentee voters than voting in advance or on the day of the election
- The Canadian population is aging, and there's an increasing number of Canadians with a disability.
- Seniors are the fastest-growing population group
- In 2012, an estimated 3.8 million Canadians reported being limited in daily activities due to a disability (Canadian Survey on Disability, Statistics Canada, 2012)
- As the 65+ population increases, we can expect that the number of Canadians limited by a disability will also increase
- There will be increased pressure on Elections Canada to improve physical and technological accessibility for electors
- The agency will want to examine ways in which the vote-by-mail process can be made more accessible and convenient for voters, and this will likely involve leveraging web services
- Current voting process is labour-intensive, onerous and error-prone.
- Between the 38th general election (GE) and the 42nd GE, the average number of election workers per polling location increased from 8.5 to 14 (Source: Elections Canada historical data)
- More people rather than better technology has been the response to increasingly complex processes
- The voting process is increasingly out of sync with electors' and workers' expectations
Electoral Services Modernization
The CEO explained that, in order to address these challenges and build on the successes of the 42nd GE, Elections Canada is in the process of establishing an agenda for Electoral Services Modernization (ESM) to enhance the experience of voters throughout their voting journey. The agency's intention is to improve voter information, voter registration and voting services, and to enable better and more efficient front line services to voters and candidates. The centrepiece of the ESM agenda is the Voting Services Modernization (VSM). This initiative seeks to eliminate barriers to voting by simplifying the voting process, providing more opportunities to vote and increasing the awareness and effectiveness of all existing voting channels, including special ballot voting.
As these changes would require legislative changes, the CEO explained how he will table a new strategic plan and recommendations for amendments to the Canada Elections Act (CEA) in early fall 2016.
Elections Canada's role in electoral reform
The CEO then discussed the government's program on electoral reform and the special committee that was formed to study various electoral systems, and the possibility of compulsory voting. The CEO clarified that Elections Canada's role is to prepare for various scenarios and, first and foremost, to ensure that, as they discuss these issues, parliamentarians understand the implementation and operational implications of choosing any particular system. During exchanges with parliamentarians on this matter, the agency has underlined the importance of timing and indicated that the agency needs 24 months to get a reform in place. Therefore, Elections Canada's role is to focus on the administrative implications, whatever shape the reform might take.
The CEO encouraged those political parties not represented in Parliament to reach out to the special committee tasked with studying this matter and invited members to ask their questions and share their comments.
Round table discussion
Following the CEO's opening remarks, ACPP members expressed their appreciation of the CEO's leadership during his mandate and thanked him for his service, professionalism and dedication.
Members asked questions about online services and, more specifically, whether candidate's nominations could be done online. They also noted that Elections Canada must take into consideration people who are not technologically savvy when planning to bring more technology in the voting process. The CEO assured members that exploring changes to the nomination process to eventually bring it online was within the scope of the ESM initiative; that more and more electors are looking for alternatives other than election day; and that there is a significant increase in participation at advance polls. Elections Canada is also proposing that voting day should be on a weekend, as opposed to a Monday, and looking at ways to make voting by mail more convenient.
Members also asked questions about the timeframe that Elections Canada needs to conduct a national referendum. The CEO let members know that the agency would need at least six months to be ready to run a referendum and that, although it is not a constitutional requirement to hold one, it's been the practice in many jurisdictions to seek out public support for changes.
The CEO was asked why would there be a need to change riding boundaries to accommodate the changes brought by the electoral reform. The CEO noted that, for example, some mixed systems have several members representing large ridings, which could involve significant redistribution, unless Canadians wish increase to the number of members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons.
The CEO was asked if Elections Canada was planning to analyze the issues faced by remote communities, namely rural, northern and Indigenous communities, and it was noted that many problems that arose during the last general election seemed to stem from training issues. The CEO let members know that Elections Canada conducts an analysis after each election and that the agency is looking into redesigning its approach, particularly for advance polls. There is a need to engage more locally before elections and the agency is considering recommending ways to better serve small communities, such as by obtaining more flexibility to offer mobile polls.
Finally, members asked about the transition period following the CEO's recent resignation. He explained that the tradition for appointing a CEO is a unanimous resolution in the House of Commons. Internally, Elections Canada is making some adjustments for the transition, but the position cannot be vacant. Should that be the case, the Chief Justice would appoint someone until Parliament makes a decision. There is no interim and Parliament cannot shorten the duration of an appointment, which is 10 years.