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Statements and Speeches

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Appearance of the Chief Electoral Officer
before the
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Concerning the Main Estimates 2013–2014 and reports
on preventing deceptive communications with electors and
compliance with election day registration and voting process rules

Introduction

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to address the Committee today. Appearing with me are Stéphane Perrault, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Legal Services, Compliance and Investigations, Belaineh Deguefé, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Policy, Planning and Public Affairs as well as Michel Roussel, Executive Director, Registration and Voting Services.

Last year, I committed to produce two reports. The first was in response to the occurrence of deceptive communications with electors during the 2011 general election. I transmitted it to the Speaker on March 26, 2013.

The second was the result of a comprehensive review undertaken in light of procedural and recordkeeping errors by election officers during that same election. I shared this report directly with the Committee on April 30, 2013.

I am pleased to discuss these two reports today, as well as my Office's Main Estimates for 2013–2014.

Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors

I will deal first with the report entitled Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors.

Underlying Values and Interests

For electors, communication with parties and candidates during an election is fundamental to effective participation. Parties and candidates need also to contact individual electors to engage them in the political process. With new technology and increasingly sophisticated software, political entities can more readily understand demographics and identify elector preferences, as well as communicate with them.

However, these communications need to be regulated. Abusive communications that convey false information or mislead electors are likely to undermine trust not only in the perpetrators, but in the political process as a whole.

The recommendations that I put forward in my report are designed to reconcile those different interests. While some of them are administrative, most require legislative change. I would like to highlight a few recommendations that require legislative intervention.

Protection of Electors' Personal Information

The first responds to Canadians' concerns regarding what may be a significant amount of personal information, gathered by parties in their databases. Electors need and expect assurances that their personal information is used for proper purposes and is adequately safeguarded.

There are principles accepted throughout the world with regard to the protection of personal information that apply in Canada to most non-governmental organizations, large or small. They relate to collection, use and dissemination, and to the responsibility that each organization must assume for personal information under its control.

I recommend that political parties be required by law to have in place policies and rules that are in line with these privacy principles, before receiving voters lists from Elections Canada.

Improved Regulation of Telephone Calls

A second set of recommendations is designed to better regulate telephone calls made by political entities to electors.

I recommend new rules governing calls to electors to complement current CRTC rules on unsolicited communications. For example, in all cases, callers should be required to disclose the name of the candidate or party on whose behalf they are calling.

As well, political entities should be required to provide specific information about telemarketing services on a timely basis. On the other hand, companies providing the services should be required to keep records of communications made during an election period. The records would be disclosed to the Commissioner to facilitate an investigation, following judicial authorization.

These recommendations would ensure greater transparency of campaign activities, a more rapid intervention in the case of complaints, and more effective investigations.

Increased Powers for the Commissioner of Canada Elections

Indeed, the investigations into deceptive calls have made us keenly aware that the Commissioner of Canada Elections needs better tools to do his work. Good rules are of little use if they cannot be enforced.

I have recommended that the Commissioner be granted the power, subject to prior judicial authorisation, to compel persons to provide information relevant to an investigation, either by testifying or by producing documents. The Commissioner strongly supports this recommendation.

Under the Charter of Rights, information so obtained could not be used against persons required to testify. However, it could help to determine whether an offence has indeed been committed, and thus make it possible to act more quickly and to facilitate the investigation.

Such a power already exists in most provincial electoral statutes. At the federal level, it also exists under the Competition Act.

Compliance Review

Those are my key recommendations for preventing deceptive communications. I will now turn to the report entitled Compliance Review, dealing with voting day procedures.

As the Committee is aware, in the last general election, there were a number of procedural and recordkeeping errors on election day for registration and voter identification.

While there is no evidence that unqualified electors were allowed to vote, the conduct of an election must be accounted for through proper record keeping.

I therefore commissioned an independent electoral expert, Mr. Harry Neufeld, to conduct a rigorous and comprehensive review to understand the scope and the causes of these errors, and engage stakeholders in proposing solutions for the next general election and beyond.

We agree with Mr. Neufeld that, in the longer term, a fundamental redesign of the voting process is required. A simplified process is vital to sustain an electoral system that, for one day every four years, relies on ordinary citizens to serve their neighbours and democracy in the role of election officers.

Redesigning the voting process is a large undertaking that demands a prudent approach. As required under section 18.1 of the Act, I intend to seek the approval of this Committee, as well as the Senate committee responsible for electoral matters, to pilot a new voting model that will include technology at the polls and a reallocation of election officer tasks.

Following a successful pilot test, my Office would propose significant legislative reform to implement the new model nationally after the election in 2015. I plan to engage both committees in the coming months on the model and our plans for the pilot.

In the interim, some improvements need to be made administratively. For example, we will simplify forms and procedures. As well, we will improve the delivery of our training program, notably by investing in computer-based training. In addition, we plan to extend, to all electors, the use of the voter information card as proof of address, when presented with another authorized piece of identification. This should reduce the need for vouching.

Yet such administrative improvements will have little impact, unless they are accompanied by a few specific legislative amendments.

For the most part, these amendments were identified in my 2010 recommendations report to Parliament, and were largely endorsed by this Committee. They were highlighted again in my response to Mr. Neufeld's recommendations. Three are most critical.

First, I am seeking legislative changes to allow full online voter registration, which would reduce the number of election day registrants and improve the quality of the voters list. The Act should provide more flexibility for electors to establish their identity and residence electronically. This would permit us to offer and promote a complete online registration service in most provinces and territories.

Second, I am seeking changes allowing us to recruit and train election officers earlier. The provision granting candidates the authority to nominate election officers should be removed. I realize this goes beyond my 2010 recommendation, which dealt with the timing of and responsibility for such nominations, but I believe it is warranted based on Mr. Neufeld's recommendation.

Third, the legislation should permit returning officers to appoint additional election officers, including supervisors, with the Chief Electoral Officer's authorization. Enough staff must be available to ensure prompt and efficient service at the polls, and to check that procedures are being followed.

I would welcome the inclusion of these amendments as well as those recommended in my report on Deceptive Communications with Electors in the government's anticipated election reform bill, and would be pleased to provide any technical support to the government in drafting that bill as well as to your committee during its review.

Main Estimates 2013–2014

I will now turn to the Main Estimates and other priorities for my Office in 2013–2014.

Budget Authorities of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer

Elections Canada is funded by and operates under two separate budget authorities.

The first is a statutory authority that draws directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This authority funds all Elections Canada expenditures other than the salaries for indeterminate positions. Our projected statutory draw for 2013–2014 is $85.8 million.

The second is an annual parliamentary appropriation, which covers only the salaries for indeterminate positions. For these Main Estimates, our appropriation is $30.1 million – representing the salaries of approximately 372 full-time-equivalent employees. It is this component that the Committee is considering for approval today.

Fiscal Restraint

As I informed the Committee last year, Elections Canada has reduced its operating budget by 8 percent in response to the Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

To ensure that resources are focused on the highest priorities linked to our mandate, Elections Canada completed a zero-based-budgeting review in 2012–2013. In addition, we began implementing workforce adjustment measures and informed employees, in January, that 32 indeterminate positions would be eliminated.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment

The agency's plans and priorities for 2013–2014 are twofold. First, we are continuing to support the electoral boundaries readjustment process. Once the commissions have completed their final reports and the new representation order is proclaimed, likely this September, we will have seven months to implement the new boundaries.

Improvements for Electors and Political Entities

Second, we will continue to pursue a number of initiatives to bring registration and voting services closer to electors. These complement our efforts to improve compliance and maintain Canadians' confidence in their electoral system and in its administration.

For example, we are redesigning the voter registration system to access a national voters list. This is necessary in order to integrate the online voter registration service and offer it during elections. The new system will be an essential component enabling us to manage voters lists in real time at polling stations after the 2015 general election.

As well, in advance of the next election, we are planning to conduct pre-election drives to improve registration rates among youth and Aboriginal electors. We are also planning to expand voting services on campuses and extend them to some other locations where these electors gather, such as community centres.

With appropriate legislative amendments to provide full online registration, these initiatives will add convenience for electors and reduce known barriers, especially when combined with use of the voter information card as proof of address. They would also improve the quality of the voters list, decrease the number of election day registrants, and reduce the need for vouching.

Finally, we are continuing to enhance our information tools for political entities. This includes updating the handbooks for registered political parties and electoral district associations.

Conclusion

As I conclude, it is my hope that any amendments to the legislation will be adopted by spring 2014, in order for my Office to implement changes and secure additional resources in time for the October 2015 election. We understand that the government intends to table a comprehensive bill, which will need to be considered carefully.

I have provided two reference documents to the Committee, entitled "CEO's Report on Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors" and "A Review of Compliance with Election Day Registration and Voting Process Rules." These documents may be of assistance during our discussion.

As always, I would remain available to this Committee during its study of proposed legislation.

Mr. Chair, my colleagues and I are happy to answer any questions the Committee may have.