Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – October 11–12, 2012
Introductory Remarks and Report by the Chief Electoral Officer
The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) introduced Sylvain Dubois, the new Deputy Chief Electoral Officer of Political Financing, and thanked François Bernier, who is retiring, for his years of service. He then presented an overview of key activities since June 2011 and upcoming initiatives.
Appearances and Legislative Reform
The CEO noted that he has appeared before House and/or Senate committees on six occasions over the last year. He highlighted legislation of interest to Elections Canada that has received Royal Assent or is currently before the House, including:
- Bill C-13: An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011 and other measures. Part of the bill amended the Canada Elections Act (CEA) to phase out quarterly allowances to registered parties.
- Bill C-20: An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act. The bill readjusted the number of members of the House of Commons and resulted in 30 additional seats (for a total of 338 ridings). It also resulted in technical amendments, such as reducing Elections Canada's implementation period after the proclamation of the representation order from 12 months to seven.
- Bill C-7 – An Act respecting the selection of senators and amending the Constitution Act, 1867 in respect of Senate term limits (Senate Reform Act) is still before the House. It proposes 10-year limits for Senate terms and recommends senators be chosen from a list of nominees submitted by a provincial/territorial government.
- Bill C-21 – An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to political loans), which received second reading last week, was approved in principle and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC). The CEO noted he will be appearing before PROC on October 23, 2012.
In response to a question about Bill C-21, the CEO noted that a report was not yet available; however, following his appearance on October 23, a transcript of PROC's proceedings will be available. He also noted that PROC is likely to hold hearings wherein the public may make remarks.
The CEO intends to submit a number of reports to PROC. These include:
- A consolidated report on the evaluations of the 41st general election. This report will share Elections Canada's assessment of the experience of voters and political entities in the last general election, as well as the agency's performance in administering the election. It will be published before Christmas and ACPP will be advised.
- A report on communications with electors by political entities (which addresses some issues around "robocalls") by the end of March. It will present issues and recommendations arising from alleged improper communications received by electors during the 41st general election, highlight investigative challenges, and suggest potential legislative or regulatory changes that could assist in preventing similar conduct or facilitate enforcement.
- A report expected in April 2013 outlining recommendations to improve compliance with standards and procedures on voting day. This report will address issues raised in Etobicoke Centre and will be further discussed at the meeting, along with feedback that will be sought from ACPP members.
The CEO noted the by-election that was held in Toronto–Danforth (Ontario) in March 2012 and the three vacancies in the House of Commons (Victoria, British Columbia; Durham, Ontario, Calgary Centre, Alberta). The Calgary Centre by-election must be called by December 4, 2012. Depending on the results of the Supreme Court of Canada decision, there is the potential for a fourth in Etobicoke Centre. By-elections are often used to pilot new initiatives, and the impending ones will be used to pilot a quality control initiative for registration and voting procedures on ordinary and advance polling days prior to the 2015 general election.
42nd General Election: Administrative Improvements
The CEO noted that several improvements for the 42nd general election will be discussed later in the meeting. The focus will be on improving services to electors and political entities, as well as increasing the agency's administrative efficiency. The CEO highlighted the need for fiscal restraint and consideration of the timing of the next election. Many of these planned initiatives were also discussed with PROC members who visited Elections Canada recently. The CEO noted that the agency has identified April 2015 as its general election readiness date.
In response to a question regarding a potential change in the timing of the next general election, the CEO clarified that Elections Canada has no information in this regard and that it is up to the Prime Minister and provincial premiers, who may decide to modify current election dates.
The CEO noted that in April 2012, Elections Canada launched Phase 1 (outside an election) of its online voter registration service (e-registration). He invited members to test the system and advise Elections Canada if they encounter any issues. The service offers to Canadians an additional and convenient way to check whether they are registered to vote and update their address. To date, the service has processed over 8,000 successful transactions, 83% of which were registration confirmations. As the CEA requires a signature and/or documentary proof for most new registrations and for address changes between electoral districts (EDs) during an election, legislative changes are required in order to allow for the full range of e-registration services. The CEO noted that the required legislative changes have been recommended and endorsed by PROC, and Elections Canada is awaiting the government's response. Elections Canada plans to offer the service during the 2015 general election.
Advertising/Sponsorship Sold by Political Entities
The CEO noted that over the last year, there have been a number of regulatory issues where Elections Canada has needed to clarify its position, including how the agency will treat sponsorships and advertising sold by political entities at political events, such as annual conventions. The CEO noted that the sale of advertising space by political entities at political events blurs the line between commercial transactions and political contributions and may be perceived as an attempt to avoid the restrictions on contributor eligibility and contribution limits. Internal gatherings of parties, associations and their members do not constitute a commercial market, and advertising directed at them serves the same purpose as contributions. This would not apply where a true commercial market exists – for example, if a party that owns a building rents billboard space on the building. In that case, the market at which the advertising is directed is the general public.
Several questions were raised regarding the rules for advertising at political events, including whether a company selling its products in this forum would similarly be treated as a sponsor, and whether a party that obtained a fair-market value assessment for potential advertising would be subject to the same interpretation of sponsorship. The CEO reinforced Elections Canada's position that all instances of advertising at political events would be treated as sponsorship, and thus as a contribution, as the audience for these events is essentially restricted to party members. An inability to define what constitutes "fair market value" was one consideration in adopting a broad approach to this term. Should a party have commercial assets that lend themselves to advertising to the general public, those instances may be interpreted differently.
A question was asked about revenues obtained from website advertising, such as Google advertisements on a party's website. The CEO noted that if there is public reach through the website, then the commercial value of the advertising would have to be assessed.
The CEO noted that, as in the past, Elections Canada is willing to provide advice to any party in advance of them undertaking activities that may be deemed advertising/sponsorship. He noted that additional information will be included in forthcoming handbooks.
International Electors and the Five-year Registry Rule
The CEO noted that, with some exceptions, Canadians residing abroad are only authorized to vote in an election if they have been residing outside Canada for less than five consecutive years immediately prior to applying to vote. Two electors whose names have been removed from the International Register of Electors have filed an application challenging this decision on the basis that the five-year rule violates the right to vote protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This application is proceeding before the Ontario Court of Appeal, and Elections Canada is awaiting a ruling to determine how it will move forward.
Canada's Democracy Week
The CEO highlighted Canada's Democracy Week, which Elections Canada organized for the second consecutive year. The week is an annual civic education initiative that brings together multiple partners to engage Canadians, and youth in particular, in learning about democracy and the electoral system. There was a particular focus this year on engaging teachers and hosting interactive workshops with high school and post-secondary students on democratic engagement, civic education and active citizenship. The CEO highlighted some of Elections Canada's research, including data that show only about one third of youth aged 18–25 vote, and that youth who do not vote when they become eligible are less likely to vote in the future. This trend is of concern to the agency. In conjunction with the Public Policy Forum, Elections Canada recently held a workshop with stakeholders from across the country to discuss ways to address the issue of youth civic engagement, specifically youth voter turnout; members are invited to consult the event's report. The CEO also encouraged political parties to consider how they can get further involved in addressing the situation and invited them to contact Elections Canada with any ideas.
The topic of youth participation and recent trends (such as those around the Quebec provincial election) generated extensive discussion, with many members expressing support for Elections Canada initiatives in this regard. Some members felt that the current voting system, the timing of some elections, and the targeting of particular demographics at the exclusion of others during election campaigns alienates young electors.
In response to questions about research in this area, the CEO noted the National Youth Survey conducted by Elections Canada, which is available on the website. He also noted that the trend of declining participation is not unique to Canada, with many Commonwealth countries experiencing similar declines; a workshop will be held in February with Commonwealth countries to explore trends and potential solutions. Work is also ongoing with Canadian partners in this regard to target both teachers and young voters directly. The CEO highlighted curriculum jointly developed with Elections Ontario and a new voters' guide developed with the Library of Parliament.
Elections Canada will compile and circulate a summary of research on youth participation, with links to relevant reports.