Strategic Plan 2008–2013
Message from the Chief Electoral Officer
In February 2007, I was honoured to be appointed Chief Electoral Officer of Canada by the House of Commons. I was entrusted to lead an organization staffed with dedicated professionals who possess an undeniable expertise in the administration of all aspects of the Canada Elections Act; I was struck by their commitment to our statutory mandate and to continuously improve its delivery.
It quickly became apparent that faced with an unpredictable election cycle – four general elections have been held in the last nine years – combined with significant ongoing legislative reforms, critical recruitment and staff retention challenges as well as a technology infrastructure that is quickly nearing the end of its useful life, the organization was under significant pressure to enhance its management capacity and invest in its long-term sustainability.
Following a review of our environment, both internal and external, we have designed a five-year strategic plan that identifies three strategic objectives and four critical enablers to ensure that Elections Canada continues to deliver its statutory mandate in a fair, transparent and effective manner. Our three strategic objectives of Trust, Accessibility and Engagement will ensure that Canadians continue to have confidence in their electoral process, participate actively in the selection of their representatives and thereby contribute to the overall health of Canada's democracy.
Enhancing and maintaining the integrity of our electoral process and Canadians' perception of it is at the core of our Strategic Plan. We will carry out the administration of statutory provisions in a consistent and predictable manner and improve quality assurance programs to attest to the integrity of the process. We will also carry out ongoing reviews of the increasing administrative and regulatory burden political entities face in complying with the Canada Elections Act and aim at meeting the purpose of the legislation without unduly restricting legitimate participation in the electoral system.
Canada's electoral process is grounded in participation, which in turn confers legitimacy on our governing institutions. Participation requires open access, and Elections Canada is committed to identify and remove barriers to participation. In that regard, as secure technological advances become more broadly available they offer opportunities to increase overall accessibility. As we embrace new technologies and provide more convenient methods of registration and voting, we will ensure that the integrity of the process is not compromised. As we proceed to improve access, we intend to seize the opportunity provided by the Canada Elections Act, which permits the Chief Electoral Officer to study and test alternative voting methods, including electronic voting processes for use during by-elections or general elections, with the prior approval of the appropriate committees of the House of Commons and the Senate.
In moving forward, we will need to foster the engagement of Canadians and their representatives in our efforts to make our electoral process more responsive to their needs and expectations. We will seek active involvement of Canadians, particularly those who are involved through political parties and as parliamentarians.
Our Strategic Plan will serve as a compass for the next five years as we are called upon to make the difficult choices that will sometimes be necessary to ensure that Canadians receive value for money in the programs we deliver. The plan will need to be supplemented by frameworks that will articulate our strategies in the areas of human resources, information technology, governance and communications, which are critical enablers in meeting our strategic objectives and in ensuring that Elections Canada continues to earn the confidence of Parliament and Canadians.
1 Our Mandate
Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament. We must be prepared at all times to conduct a federal general election, by-election or referendum, administer the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act, monitor compliance and enforce electoral legislation. Elections Canada is also mandated to conduct voter education and information programs, and provide support to the independent boundaries commissions in charge of adjusting the boundaries of federal electoral districts following each decennial census. Finally, Elections Canada may carry out studies on alternative voting methods and, with the approval of Parliament, test electronic voting processes for future use during electoral events.
2 Our Mission
Ensuring that Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate.
3 Our Values
Our day-to-day activities and decision making are guided by the following key values:
- a knowledgeable and professional workforce
- transparency in everything we do
- responsiveness to the needs of Canadians involved in the electoral process
- cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act
- continuously earning and maintaining the public's trust
- stewardship and accountability in how we manage our resources
4 Our Vision
An accessible electoral framework that Canadians trust and use.
5 Our Environment
Our strategic objectives for the next five years are influenced by our environment, particularly the following elements.
5.1 Human Resources
Elections Canada has a permanent employee base of 330 people. However, it currently relies on casual, temporary and contract personnel and core staff overtime to prepare for and conduct electoral events, especially so when workload peaks. This situation creates high turnover among Elections Canada personnel who hold positions where electoral expertise is critical. This in turn makes knowledge transfer difficult and results in the agency having to continuously retrain parts of its workforce.
The succession of minority governments and significant electoral reforms have also placed high demands on agency personnel.
The combination of those pressures ultimately limit our organizational capacity to take on additional work resulting from electoral events or further electoral reforms. This is an area that will require close attention.
Another challenge comes from the task of recruiting some 180,000 additional temporary workers to support the electoral framework in the local Elections Canada offices across the country during a general election. This is a unique situation in which very few government organizations find themselves, and it calls for exploring innovative approaches to recruiting and training workers.
On the other hand, now that the Chief Electoral Officer appoints, on the basis of merit, returning officers who are responsible for conducting electoral events in each of the 308 electoral districts in Canada, a new opportunity exists to further professionalize the role of the returning officer and ensure that they are well prepared to assist us in achieving our strategic direction. In addition, there is an opportunity to enhance the role of the 30 field liaison officers who support the electoral operations on a regional level across Canada.
5.2 Constant Operational Readiness
A general election requires a master plan that outlines hundreds of tasks to be performed within a very short window of time in each of the 308 electoral districts and in Ottawa. Electors across the country must be provided with the same level of service while acknowledging local considerations.
This requires careful planning to ensure the rapid deployment of resources and flawless execution of activities for an electoral event, as Elections Canada does not have a permanent infrastructure in the field and there is no room for error and a very short period of time to execute the numerous statutory obligations.
Since the 38th general election in 2004, we have been operating in the context of minority governments where a general election could take place at any time and, based on historical averages, could occur in a much shorter time frame than under majority governments. We must also implement new electoral legislation as well as plan and conduct by-elections as they occur.
As a consequence, we have been in a heightened state of election readiness since 2004. This has imposed a particular strain on the agency, monopolized most of our resources and left little room to tackle longer-term priorities. There are indications, given the results of the 39th general election and recent provincial elections, that minority governments may become more frequent occurrences in Canada. As such, Elections Canada must find a sustainable approach to adapt to this situation and maintain its organizational capacity over time.
In 2007, Bill C-16 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act introduced fixed dates for the conduct of general elections, unless there is an earlier dissolution of Parliament. The benefits of fixed-date elections will be felt most in the context of majority governments. By removing much of the uncertainty that surrounds the timing of general elections, this change will improve our capacity to plan our readiness activities and allow us to distribute our workload more evenly over a longer period of time, thus lowering extraordinary demands on our personnel. Bill C-16 also presents other operational benefits that we will be exploring in due time.
Voter turnout has been on the decline for a number of years in many democratic countries due to various, often complex dynamics. Canada is no exception. From 1988 to 2004, the participation rate in Canadian federal elections decreased from 75.3 to 60.9 percent, before increasing to 64.7 percent in the 2006 general election.
Should this overall declining trend persist, it could affect the legitimacy of our democratic process. Responsibility for addressing declining voter turnout and participation in the electoral framework is shared by many. Several factors are at play, and many of these go well beyond the mandate of Elections Canada.
In this regard, Elections Canada can lead with a strategy that entails partnering with those who can help in engaging and educating groups that participate to a lesser extent in the electoral process.
Elections Canada can further assist by focusing on research, education and accessibility. Canadians must be aware of how they can engage in all facets of the electoral process, and research must be pursued to better understand the evolving factors that influence participation and to help us develop appropriate programs and initiatives. Elections Canada must also ensure – while maintaining the integrity of the system – that the barriers facing some groups of electors are reduced and, where possible, eliminated so that all electors have equitable access to the exercise of their democratic rights.
An aging population will mean looking at new ways of making the vote more easily accessible to seniors. Other groups also require our efforts in finding ways to ensure that they can better understand the electoral framework and the very important role they play in it. We need to look at ways of engaging youth and strengthening their connection with the electoral process. Their keen interest in new technologies and in global policy issues offers opportunities that can perhaps be leveraged, especially in the context where the Internet is omnipresent.
5.4 Maintaining Trust
One of the strengths of our electoral framework is that it incorporates numerous checks and balances. Electors, candidates, political parties, parliamentarians, the media and civil society, alongside Elections Canada, all play essential roles in monitoring and ensuring the integrity of the system. Part of a healthy democracy is the ability for all to voice openly their concerns about the electoral system. In recent years, Parliament and the media have raised questions about some aspects of the electoral framework, particularly related to the registration of electors, the identification of voters and political financing. Recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act have introduced measures, such as new voter identification requirements at the polls and tightened rules for political contributions and the financial activities of parties and candidates, in direct response to such concerns.
Elections Canada also plays a fundamental role in ensuring that Canadians continue to have the utmost confidence in their electoral framework. Part of this role is responding to questions raised about the system and its integrity. Another aspect is ensuring the quality and predictability of the administration of the electoral process so that all those who are involved are provided with consistent services, information and interpretations under the Act. We also have the duty to recommend to Parliament amendments to electoral legislation that would result in better administration of the Act. In addition, we have a responsibility to affirm the health of our electoral system. This is done by enhancing the transparency of all aspects of the process and by demonstrating that it is fair, inclusive and accessible to the entire Canadian electorate and others involved in the electoral framework.
On a different aspect of trust, it is also important to note that public service organizations currently operate in a climate of increased scrutiny linked to what some describe as an erosion of public confidence. More emphasis is now put on the accountability of public service managers, and reporting requirements to central agencies have increased. Building on the 2005 report from the Auditor General, which highlighted our strengths and made some recommendations for improvement, we are undertaking specific management initiatives such as establishing performance management frameworks to continue providing Canadians and Parliament with a transparent account of how we manage the electoral process and how we make the best use of resources to do so.
5.5 Electoral Reforms
Another of the strengths of our electoral framework has been its capacity to adapt to the evolving needs of Canadians, to facilitate access and to maintain a level playing field among political entities.
The process of electoral reform has been constant in Canada for over 15 years. This has provided a vehicle through which our electoral framework has evolved to respond to Canadians and Parliament's concerns.
As changes are considered by Parliament, Elections Canada provides expert advice and detailed impact analysis. Once legislation is passed, we must provide for the implementation of provisions within the time frames set by Parliament.
When changes to the legislation that govern the electoral framework are profound, such as the review of the political financing regime that resulted from Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), which came into force in 2004, we continue to monitor the application of the legislation. It is through this work that we can formulate recommendations to Parliament to further improve the electoral framework.
When the process of electoral reform intensifies (eight government bills have been tabled within the first session of the 39th Parliament) the demand on Elections Canada becomes substantial, especially in a minority government context where most of our resources are occupied in maintaining a constant state of election readiness or engaged in matters arising from previous general elections.
Elections Canada must be prepared as further reforms to the electoral framework are considered. We must take stock of the most recent changes made to this framework, evaluate their impacts and consolidate their foundation. We also intend to look at ways we can better support the legislator and aim to develop flexible technology and processes that allow us to rapidly adapt to our changing environment.
5.6 Longer-term Planning
The imperatives of election readiness and the conduct of more general elections over a shorter period under minority governments unavoidably impact Elections Canada's ability to focus on its long-term direction. Over time, this can leave the agency vulnerable and make adapting to change more difficult. Without a longer-term focus, there is also a risk that the agency may be put in a position to catch up with its environment and miss out on some opportunities. Guided by this new Strategic Plan, Elections Canada intends to address this challenge by reinforcing and further integrating its business and human resources planning while ensuring that longer-term objectives can be pursued even through the conduct of electoral events.
5.7 Regulatory Framework
Canada's electoral regime has seen the introduction of a complex, sophisticated and detailed regulatory framework over the years seeking to enhance accountability and transparency of political entities. Elections Canada is the guardian of this system; it is tasked with the responsibilities of monitoring activities, reviewing and, at times, auditing financial returns and seeking appropriate corrections and, where warranted, referring matters to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for investigation.
In carrying out its responsibilities in this area, Elections Canada has developed a number of tools and delivered training programs to help political entities understand the statutory requirements and facilitate their compliance. The complexity and demands of the regulatory regime are nonetheless daunting and causing many to hesitate becoming financial or official agents; in fact, many entities are pointing to the regulatory burden as overwhelming.
Yet the regulatory framework and the transparency associated with it play a critical role in the public trust regarding political entities. It is expected that the political financing regulatory framework will continue to evolve significantly over time, as evidenced by the recent adoption of the Federal Accountability Act and the introduction in 2007 of Bill C-54 dealing with political loans.
This rapid evolution imposes additional responsibilities on and challenges for Elections Canada. While the agency does not set regulations as such, it does – through all manner of administrative decisions such as the adoption of interpretations and positions – set precedents on discretionary matters that affect political entities. In its role, Elections Canada must first ensure that the administrative requirements are tailored and smart, that they facilitate compliance, provide for an efficient process and do not unduly detract political entities from carrying out their core activities. At the same time, it must continue to ensure a level of integrity in the system that warrants ongoing public confidence.