Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting of June 13–14, 2013
Introductory Remarks and Report by the Chief Electoral Officer
The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) welcomed members, new participants and the Online Party of Canada, which registered since the last ACPP annual meeting in October 2012. A representative of the Online Party briefly introduced the party and described its objectives.
The CEO referred to his appearance before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) on May 28 on three topics:
- Main estimates 2013–2014;
- The report on preventing deceptive communications with electors; and
- The review of compliance with election day registration and voting process rules.
The CEO thanked political parties for their fall 2012 participation in the Compliance Review consultative process and for providing feedback on the discussion paper on deceptive communications with electors. Their input was very important for the preparation of these reports and recommendations.
Deceptive Communications with Electors
The CEO made two comments related to the recent report Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors.
First, Elections Canada is planning to collaborate with other government agencies to draw attention to certain rules that apply during election campaigns. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is currently in the process of establishing new rules. As well, the government has indicated new legislation will be announced. Once these rules and legislation are in place, Elections Canada will analyze what they mean for political parties. Elections Canada would like to organize, in collaboration with the CRTC and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, an information workshop with political parties, as well as possibly electoral district associations (EDAs), to increase awareness of the telecommunication and privacy rules that are applicable during election campaigns.
Second, the Federal Court recently dismissed the application to overturn the election in six ridings over allegations of fraud tied to deceptive calls made at the last general election. The Court concluded that fraud occurred, but was not satisfied by the evidence that it had influenced the results of the election. The Court indicated that it is the sole responsibility of Elections Canada to inform electors of their polling locations. For this reason, Elections Canada will not provide polling site data to political parties in the next general election in 2015.
The CEO highlighted legislation currently before the House:
- Bill C-7, An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits. The bill remains in the First Reading stage and is on hold pending a decision on the reference case currently before the Supreme Court of Canada.
- Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to political loans). Although the bill is in the Committee stage, it is believed that it will be replaced by a larger reform of the Canada Elections Act announced by the government. A few public hearings took place, but work on the bill has since been suspended.
- Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act and related legislation. The bill includes a provision that will clarify how contributions to political parties and charities will be dealt with differently than contributions. It has not yet received Royal Assent, but it is expected to be fully passed within the next couple of weeks. This item will be discussed in more detail later in the agenda.
The CEO noted that in November 2012, Elections Canada published a report evaluating the 41st general election. In April 2013, the report and official results for the by-elections held on March 19, 2012, in Toronto–Danforth, and on November 26, 2012, in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria were submitted to Parliament.
The CEO plans to submit a recommendations report on enforcement in 2014. The purpose of the report is to examine the current compliance and enforcement tools in the Canada Elections Act, and to propose amendments that would strengthen and modernize enforcement. Currently, sanctions are not proportionate to some offences. Elections Canada is looking at alternative methods of enforcement, such as administrative monetary penalties for minor contraventions, as well as raising the maximum fines for more serious offences. Elections Canada plans to engage political parties in fall 2013 to seek their feedback on a number of discussion papers related to enforcement.
Elections Canada will publish a report in fall 2013 on issues related to political financing: administration of the political financing regime; regulated political entities; regulated activities and reporting requirements.
The Commissioner of Canada Elections will also publish his first annual report in fall 2013 on the status of the commissioner's activities, issues and challenges. This report aims to provide more information on the activities of the Commissioner's Office, improve transparency, and develop a better understanding and awareness of the elections regime for candidates in political parties.
Reporting on Court Cases/Rulings
The CEO highlighted the following court cases:
- Etobicoke Centre: The Supreme Court of Canada rendered an important decision in Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj in October 2012. The Court found that the errors were related to record-keeping and were not sufficient to overturn the results of the election.
- Rose Henry Case: Voter identification requirements are being challenged as unconstitutional by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. In 2010, the trial judge upheld the requirements as a reasonable limit on the right to vote. The matter was brought before the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which heard the case in February (2013). A decision has not been rendered.
- Five-Year Rule: A constitutional challenge related to the “five-year rule” that prevents Canadian electors who have been abroad for more than five years from voting under the Special Voting Rules. The case, Frank v. Canada (Attorney General), is expected to be heard in Toronto in 2014. Elections Canada is not a party to the litigation.
Voter Identification Policy
The CEO explained that in the next general election, all voters will be allowed to use the voter information card as proof of address when presented with another authorized piece of identification. Voter identification policies will be also changed to make voting more accessible and convenient, to speed up the process at the polls, and to reduce exceptions and vouching on election day. Currently, the list of acceptable identification includes some 40 pieces. Elections Canada is responsible for ensuring these identification requirements are reasonable for electors. The draft policy will be shared with political parties for their feedback in fall 2013, after which Elections Canada will finalize the policy.
Extending Special Ballot Voting Services to Additional Locations
The CEO noted that at the last annual general meeting in October 2012, ACPP members were informed of plans to extend special ballot voting services to additional locations. Special ballot voting is currently offered in local Elections Canada offices, acute care hospitals, and at very remote locations such as work camps and forestry and mining communities in northern Canada. Other electors wishing to vote by special ballot and who cannot go to a local Elections Canada office must do so through a written application mailed to Elections Canada. To make special ballot voting more accessible, Elections Canada's current plans are to set up satellite offices offering special ballot voting and registration services on approximately 40 university and college campuses, in 40 youth community centres and in 40 Friendship centres. The number and location of these sites have not been finalized. Elections Canada will engage organizations and administrators of these locations to determine the locations. These offices will enable youth, students and Aboriginal electors to access services that are usually available at local Elections Canada offices. Our current plans are to open these offices shortly after the list of candidates has been finalized and to have them remain open for about 10 days. Political parties will be consulted in fall 2013 on the level and method of scrutiny by candidates' representatives appropriate for this type of operation.
New Electoral Boundaries
The CEO noted that Elections Canada expects that the boundary commissions will have completed their final reports and the new representation order will be proclaimed in September 2013. However, the new boundaries will only become effective at the next dissolution of parliament. Until they are in effect, the current boundaries will be used for any by-elections which may take place.
Political Financing Information Materials
The CEO indicated that Elections Canada has completed its effort to simplify, rationalize and consolidate political financing information into a new set of handbooks for candidates, leadership candidates, nomination contestants, associations and registered parties. The handbooks are available on the Elections Canada website and will be updated as required when there is new legislation. The CEO thanked political parties' representatives for their input during the development of the handbooks.
How Parties Update Their Lists with Elections Canada Lists
The CEO noted that Elections Canada provides the lists of electors to MPs – and, upon request, to political parties – once a year (by November 15), as specified in the Act. The preliminary lists of electors are also provided to political parties and candidates at the start of an election. These lists are extracted from the National Register of Electors, which is updated on an ongoing basis using administrative data sources, such as income tax and driver's licence files, as well as voters' list data from provincial and territorial electoral agencies. MPs and political parties use these lists for various elector engagement activities, including direct mail to electors.
Candidates and political parties are encouraged to inform Elections Canada of any issues they encounter when using the data and to provide specific details where possible. Elections Canada receives complaints about errors and often discovers that the information the political party or MP is using is not current or does not reflect what was provided to them from the National Register of Electors. The CEO noted that in 2007, a new provision in the Act allowed Elections Canada to assign a unique identifier associated with each elector to facilitate updating the list. However, even with the unique identifier, errors are still found.
The CEO indicated that Elections Canada would like to engage political parties and their technical representatives to better understand how they use lists provided by Elections Canada, to understand what is causing the issue, and to determine if changes are required. This will be especially important following redistribution, where elector records in the Register and in political party databases will need to be reconfigured to align with revised electoral district and polling division boundaries.
Canada's Democracy Week 2013
The CEO noted that the third annual Canada Democracy Week will take place from September 16–23. Inspired by the United Nations' International Day of Democracy (September 15), this civic education initiative celebrates democracy and the importance of voting. This year's theme is “connect”. Throughout the week, youth aged 14 to 30 will be invited to connect with community leaders and to discover new ways to engage in their community. Again this year, young people can participate in the National Democracy Challenge, which runs from September 16 to November 16. Youth are invited to submit a creative video, image, or piece of writing to present examples of democracy in action. In September, representatives of political parties are invited to connect with youth, help promote the Week, or organize their own event celebrating the benefits that democracy brings to life in Canada each and every day.
Elections Canada Consolidation
Lastly, the CEO mentioned that Elections Canada staff from a number of locations will be moving into one building at 30 Victoria in Gatineau, Quebec. The move will take place between October and December 2013.
There were several questions about extending special ballot voting services to students on campuses. The CEO clarified that voters always have to vote for a candidate running in the electoral district in which they ordinarily reside. If the student identifies his or her place of ordinary residence as being on campus, he or she will be voting there. If, however, their ordinary residence is not on campus (e.g. if it is where their family lives), they can register and vote by special ballot in that electoral district, provided they have the required proof of address.
In reference to questions about the Federal Court decision on the six contested elections (Sandra McEwing), Stéphane Perrault clarified that the Court's refusal to overturn the election despite evidence of fraud does not mean that electoral fraud is permissible. He explained that the Court found that the evidence did not warrant overturning the election because it did not show that the fraud had an effect on election results. Mr. Perrault explained that an election can also be overturned, according to the Court, if the fraud is of such scope as to call into question the integrity of the electoral process, or if it is found that the winning candidate or his campaign participated in the fraud.
New electoral legislation generated extensive discussion, with members seeking information on the CEO's recommendations, expected timing and specific provisions related to privacy and compliance with voting procedures on election day.
The CEO noted that recommendations have been put forward regarding preventing deceptive communications with electors, issues of privacy, new offences for impersonation of Elections Canada or political entities, retention of documents, better tools for Elections Canada to conduct investigations, and authority to require a person to testify or produce documents with pre-authorization of the court. It will be the government's decision on when to introduce the new legislation. With respect to specific provisions, the CEO noted that recommendations have been made, but it is premature to discuss specifics until the legislation is available.
There were a number of questions from members about the lists of electors provided by Elections Canada to political parties. Some members expressed concerns about privacy, the lack of rules governing the collection and use of electors' data, and the practice of Elections Canada providing these lists to political parties.
The CEO clarified that the list of polling locations will no longer be shared with political parties; however, as prescribed in the Act, Elections Canada will continue to provide the lists of electors to political parties and candidates at different times during and between elections. The CEO noted that only basic information – name, address and unique identifier – are provided. The unique identifier was introduced to remove errors and simplify updating the lists of electors. Sharing this type of information with political parties is common practice among electoral management bodies. Political parties gather other information from various sources and integrate it into their own databases. Privacy issues were raised in the report on preventing deceptive communications with electors. The CEO acknowledged that there currently are no rules governing the collection of data by political parties and that he has brought these issues to the attention of PROC. The CEO reiterated Elections Canada's willingness to work with each political party to minimize errors, examine how these lists are used, and to look for ways to meet specific needs.
Questions were raised about the use of security features in the lists of electors – for example, tracking to know if a list of electors is forwarded to a marketing company. The CEO indicated that there are security features to facilitate tracking of the data.
A number of questions were asked about Elections Canada's decision to not share polling location information with political parties in 2015. The CEO responded that the policy is based on the court decision. He also noted that the policy does not address all of the issues and does not prevent people from making calls and misrepresenting themselves as Elections Canada workers. Belaineh Deguefé added that the policy will allow the agency to run a public information campaign to inform electors of ways to find their polling location. The CEO noted that parties should refer electors to their voter information card, the local Elections Canada office, or the Elections Canada website for information on their polling location.
A number of questions were asked about online services, including the E-Registration service, online voting and open-source software.
The CEO noted that Elections Canada has explored the feasibility of introducing online voting for federal elections. Findings revealed that start-up costs would be significant but could be offset by longer-term savings in other areas. The more important barriers identified were authentication, given the lack of a national system, and the readiness of society for unsupervised voting. Elections Canada had been exploring the idea of conducting a pilot, but for these reasons, the agency decided not to pursue a pilot at this time. The CEO did, however, acknowledge that Internet voting will likely be implemented at some point in the future and noted that we continue to monitor research and implementations in other jurisdictions.
In terms of moving toward more use of other online services, Elections Canada has provided a recommendation to PROC that would support more use of technology for electoral operations, but legislative change would be required. Some research on online voting is available on the Elections Canada website. Elections British Columbia is currently chairing a panel on online voting, and they have a lot of resources and studies on the topic that might be of interest. Elections Canada does not currently have an open-source roadmap; however, the agency is in the process of updating elements of its IT infrastructure.
In response to a request for clarification on the date of the next general election, the CEO indicated that it is scheduled for the third Monday of October in 2015. The CEO noted that the agency has set a readiness date of April 2015.