Statements and Speeches
Appearance of the Chief Electoral Officer
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
Presentation of the Main Estimates 2012–2013
May 29, 2012
Check against delivery
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am here today to discuss the 2012–2013 Main Estimates for my Office, including Elections Canada's priorities for this fiscal year.
Following seven years of minority governments, my Office is now working in a new operating environment. The election of a majority government means a fixed election date, with the next general election in October 2015. The agency now has a window of opportunity to pursue longer-term efforts to modernize the electoral process before returning to full election readiness.
My Office is also focused on some significant external and internal initiatives, such as supporting the readjustment of electoral boundaries, preparing for our forthcoming move to Gatineau, and managing the impact of fiscal restraint.
Before I explain our priorities, I would like to provide an overview of the budget authorities under which my Office operates, as well as an account of Elections Canada's response to fiscal restraint.
Budget Authorities of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer
The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer is funded by and operates under two separate budget authorities.
The first is an annual parliamentary appropriation, which only covers the salaries for indeterminate positions. For these Main Estimates, our appropriation is $29.5 million – representing the salaries of approximately 360 full-time equivalent employees. It is this component that the Committee is considering for approval today.
The second is a statutory authority that draws directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This authority funds all other Elections Canada expenditures. Our projected statutory draw for 2012–2013 is $114.7 million.
Elections Canada's Response to Fiscal Restraint
As I outlined in my January 2012 letter to this Committee, Elections Canada is reducing its annual operating budget by 8%, starting this fiscal year. In making these reductions, we did not include expenditures that fall outside our annual operating budget – namely, those related to:
- the transfer payments required by statute;
- the delivery of electoral events;
- the readjustment of electoral boundaries; and
- the relocation of Elections Canada's offices to Gatineau in 2013.
This left an operating budget of $94.1 million, which we then reduced by $7.5 million, or 8%. Elections Canada is applying these reductions in four ways:
- First, we have reduced the budget available to programs for time-limited initiatives. This budget, only available to programs through a rigorous annual allocation process, is used to renew program infrastructure and carry out initiatives aimed at improving election administration.
- Second, programs have been required, through a variety of measures, to achieve efficiencies and absorb maintenance costs for recently delivered information technology applications.
- Third, we are extending the time frame for the development and delivery of various programs and corporate initiatives. For example, we are now planning to conduct a pilot project on Internet voting during the next general election in 2015, rather than in a by-election by 2013.
- Finally, the agency is reviewing all programs to ensure that resources are focused on the highest priorities linked to its mandate.
We will await instructions from Treasury Board about how to fully reflect information on my Office's budget reductions in subsequent Estimates reports.
Impact of Cost Containment Measures
While our proposed reductions apply to statutory expenses, Elections Canada's annual appropriation is nevertheless affected by the 2010 budget restraint measures, which require departments to absorb the costs associated with increases in collective agreements. These measures have put pressure on my Office's ability to manage within its annual appropriation.
This situation has been exacerbated by a declining attrition rate. To the extent that departments are required to continue absorbing these costs in future years, I expect that my Office will not be able to manage its salary expenses within its annual appropriation by 2014.
To address this critical situation, and in an effort to minimize the impact on the services we provide to electors and political entities, Elections Canada is completing a zero-based budgeting exercise. This exercise will allow my Office to review its operations to identify additional cost savings, prioritize investments, and reallocate financial and human resources.
Elections Canada may nonetheless need to apply the Work Force Adjustment Directive to deal with the projected pressure on its annual appropriation.
I would now like to briefly describe our priorities for this fiscal year.
Elections Canada's Priorities
The 2012–2013 Report on Plans and Priorities indicated that Elections Canada would focus on two overarching priorities. These are the electoral boundaries readjustment process, and improvements for electors and political entities.
In light of recent events, we have readjusted our plans, to place a major priority on strengthening measures aiming to improve compliance with the procedures and standards applicable on voting day. Our intention is threefold: first, to review the voter registration and voting processes based on what transpired in Etobicoke Centre; second, to assess the effectiveness of existing checks and balances; and third, to engage key stakeholders in implementing solutions for the 2015 election. We believe this is critical regardless of the outcome of the appeal.
The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Process
Let me now turn to the electoral boundaries readjustment. The agency will continue enabling the 10 independent commissions to conduct their work in 2012–2013 by providing administrative and technical support. We will also begin the preparatory work required to implement the new boundaries. As prescribed by the legislation, Elections Canada must be ready to hold a general election using the new boundaries within seven months after the conclusion of the readjustment process, anticipated for fall 2013.
At this time, the process is on track. Commissions are planning to complete their proposals this spring and summer, and to conduct public hearings by the fall. I will continue to update parliamentarians throughout the process.
Improvements for Electors and Political Entities
A second priority for 2012–2013 is improvements in services for electors and political entities. With a fixed election date of October 2015, my Office has a two-year window of opportunity to focus on selected improvements before returning to election readiness in 2014–2015.
For the 2015 election, our focus is on improving convenience and accessibility for Canadians, while ensuring that the integrity of the electoral process is protected.
We are considering options for expanding the use of the voter information card as proof of identity and address, as well as expanding our online voter registration service, which was launched this April. In addition, we will look at options for establishing new locations to vote by special ballot, such as university and college campuses, and community centres serving electors with disabilities.
We are also planning to conduct pilot projects to test Internet voting as well as more efficient voting processes at ordinary and advance polls. These pilot projects require parliamentary approval.
I will keep parliamentarians updated through the House and Senate committees responsible for electoral matters, prior to seeking approval. I will also continue to engage key stakeholders, including the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, as these initiatives evolve.
In the case of political entities, we are pursuing our initiatives to reduce the administrative burden and improve our services to them. These initiatives include: e-filing capabilities, more efficient maintenance of registration information, and improved access to demographic data by polling division.
As Elections Canada implements measures related to fiscal restraint, it remains committed to offering career development opportunities and improving succession planning.
Lastly, we are preparing to move to a new facility in Gatineau and consolidate all Elections Canada offices in one location. This move is scheduled to occur in summer 2013.
In concluding, I would like to touch on a few other matters of interest to the Committee.
First, I would like to thank the Committee for its comprehensive consideration of my 2010 recommendations for legislative change. I look forward to the Government's response to your report.
Second, I plan to invite the Committee to Elections Canada's headquarters in the fall. This will be an occasion to provide you with an update on our key initiatives.
Finally, I would like to follow up on my previous appearance before this Committee regarding the so-called "robocalls" affair. During my appearance on March 29, I informed the Committee that we had, at that time, received over 800 complaints regarding alleged fraudulent calls made during the 41st general election. The total as of this week is now over 1,100 complaints; however, the number of new complaints is declining considerably.
I also indicated during my last appearance that I would provide you with a report before the end of this fiscal year. I would like to speak briefly to the nature and scope of that report, which is not dependent on the progress or outcome of the investigation.
The purpose of this report will be to suggest improvements to the Canada Elections Act in order to deal with a number of issues relating to new technologies and social media, as well as to how political entities communicate with electors during a general election. Among other things, it will address issues such as voter contacts, either through automated or live calls, and whether, or to what extent, these communications need to be regulated.
As for the investigation, I can confirm that it is ongoing and remains a priority for the Commissioner. However, until the investigation has been concluded, I am not in a position to provide additional information to the Committee.
I remain mindful that the Committee had previously asked that I appear in June to provide a follow-up on this matter. While I am available if the Committee so wishes, I believe an appearance at this time would be premature as it is unlikely that I will be in a position to provide any additional information on the investigation.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.