Returning Officer's Manual
Chapter 3 – Official Languages
This Chapter offers returning officers guidance on how best to provide services in both official languages, in accordance with the Official Languages Act.
- 3.1 Official Languages Act – Service in Both Official Languages
- 3.2 Bilingual Capacity Requirements
- 3.3 Bilingual Services in the Electoral District
- 3.4 Elections Canada Linguistic Support Tools
3.1 Official Languages Act – Service in Both Official Languages
As returning officer (RO), you have a duty, under the Official Languages Act, to ensure that Canadians can communicate with and obtain services from RO offices and other offices, polling places and advance polling places in the official language of their choice.
3.1.1 Communications With and Services to the Public
The Official Languages Act states:
Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that any member of the public can communicate with and obtain available services from its head or central office in either official language, and has the same duty with respect to any of its other offices or facilities
- within the National Capital Region; or
- in Canada or elsewhere, where there is significant demand for communications with and services from that office or facility in that language.
Official Languages Act, s. 22
Accordingly, you must ensure the capacity to communicate with and provide services of equal quality in both official languages
- at RO and additional assistant returning officer (AARO) offices wherever you are in Canada
- at polling places and advance polling places in the National Capital Region (NCR) and where there is significant demand (see 3.2.1, Identifying the Language Needs of an Electoral District for services in the official minority language
Communications with and services to the public include any contact (written and oral) with the public, such as greeting visitors, at reception, at public events, during voting, on signs and postings, as well as in publications.
You must make the utmost effort to prioritize the identification, recruitment and staffing of bilingual staff and poll workers, and to have at least one designated person at all times who is bilingual
- in every RO office and AARO office
- at every polling site and advance polling site where there is a significant demand for services in the official minority language
- at every polling site and advance polling site in the NCR
You must contact Elections Canada as soon as possible if you have difficulty recruiting bilingual staff and poll workers, or otherwise anticipate difficulties providing bilingual services.
3.1.2 Active Offer
The Official Languages Act specifies that appropriate measures be taken "to make it known to members of the public that services are available in either official language at the choice of any member of the public." These measures include "the provision of signs, notices and other information on services and the initiation of communication with the public."
Official Languages Act, s. 28
Active offer takes place at the time of initial contact and is a clear indication to members of the public that they can obtain services in both official languages. This means that election officers must make it clear to members of the public that they can communicate and receive services of equal quality in either official language.
Providing active offer means that ROs, elections officers and staff provide the initial bilingual greeting:
- in Quebec: "Bonjour-Hello"
- elsewhere in Canada: "Hello-Bonjour"
Active offer is a requirement at every RO office and polling site across Canada.
3.2 Bilingual Capacity Requirements
3.2.1 Identifying the Language Needs of an Electoral District
You must be familiar with the proportion and locations of the population that represents the official language minority in your electoral district (ED). To identify language needs and to adequately plan the delivery of bilingual services, you should first consult your ED's profile, which is available on the Elections Canada Intranet.
You should also review data from the latest Statistics Canada (www.statcan.ca) decennial census, which provides the percentage of the population that reported the "first official language spoken" as being either English or French, and their location.
For EDs where more than 5% of the population reported the "first official language spoken" as being either English or French, Elections Canada will provide you with information on locations where the capacity to communicate with and provide services of equal quality in both official languages at all times will be required.
You and the recruitment officers must identify official language needs as part of your recruitment action plans and activities.
3.2.2 Recruiting Qualified Bilingual Staff and Poll Workers
To facilitate the recruitment of bilingual staff and poll workers, you must communicate with, and seek advice and support from, official language minority organizations in your ED. Generally, these official language minority organizations consist of francophones residing outside Quebec or anglophones residing in Quebec.
To support the recruitment of bilingual staff and poll workers, Elections Canada will provide you with information on official language minority organizations at the provincial or territorial level, where possible.
Note: If necessary, Elections Canada will also assist in conducting phone interviews to assess whether applicants meet bilingual requirements.
Contact Elections Canada as soon as possible if you are having difficulty recruiting qualified bilingual staff and poll workers.
3.3 Bilingual Services in the Electoral District
3.3.1 Telephone Service
Answering a call
Use the language of the province or territory's official-language majority first, and that of its official-language minority second.
Anyone answering the telephones in the RO office should use the following bilingual greeting:
- in Quebec: "Élections Canada, bonjour-hello!"
- in other provinces or territories: "Elections Canada, hello-bonjour!"
If the caller responds in the language that the staff member does not speak, they should answer in the same language as the caller, as follows:
- "Un moment s'il vous plaît" (if the caller speaks French)
- "One moment, please" (if the caller speaks English)
While the caller is on hold, the staff member should find the designated bilingual person to assist on the call or seek assistance from other bilingual staff on hand. A list of bilingual staff should be maintained and readily available.
Transferring a call
Inform the caller that you are transferring them to someone who is bilingual. Inform your colleague of the client's language.
Note: To help staff members communicate with callers, a brief list of frequently used expressions in both official languages can be found on the Field Personnel Intranet. EC 10126 Usual Expressions on the Telephone
The after-hours message is recorded in both official languages in all EDs.
3.3.2 Receptionist Services in RO and AARO Offices
Receptionist services in the RO office and AARO office should be bilingual at all times.
If, as an exception, the receptionist is not bilingual, they should find the designated bilingual person to assist them or seek assistance from other bilingual staff on hand. A list of bilingual staff should be maintained and readily available.
Referring a client
Inform the client that you are going to ask someone else to see them. If the staff member is busy helping other people:
- ask the client to wait for a few minutes if their schedule permits
- ask the client to call the staff member at their convenience (provide them with the contact name and phone number)
- call Elections Canada's Dedicated Linguistic Services Line (see 3.4.2, Dedicated Linguistic Services Line), or
- have a bilingual Elections Canada representative call the client later (obtain their contact name and phone number)
Note: To help staff members communicate with electors, a brief list of frequently used expressions in both official languages can be found on the Field Personnel Intranet.
3.3.3 Targeted Revision
You must ensure that at least one from each pair of revising agents conducting targeted revision can communicate in both official languages. Bilingual revising agents should be assigned on a priority basis to polling divisions where there is a greater demand for services in the minority official language (see 3.2.1, Identifying the Language Needs of an Electoral District).
When communicating with the public, in general, use the language of the province's official-language majority first, and that of its official-language minority second. Continue the conversation in the official language chosen by the elector and use the corresponding documentation.
3.3.4 Polling Sites
At polling sites, when the number of available bilingual workers is low, you must appoint bilingual workers in priority as central poll supervisors (CPSs), information officers (IOs) and registration officers. These positions are mobile and can be of help to multiple polling stations as well as to the registration desk. Likewise, at polling stations, bilingual deputy returning officers (DROs) and poll clerks must be assigned on a priority basis.
If Staff or Poll Workers Cannot Communicate in an Elector's Language of Choice
If staff members or poll workers are not able to communicate with and provide services to an elector in the official language of the elector's choice, the staff worker or poll worker must find the designated bilingual person to assist the elector or seek assistance from other bilingual staff on hand. A list of bilingual staff should be maintained and readily available.
Note: If it is not possible to provide in-person bilingual service at the polling site, the CPS has a mobile phone that can be used to communicate with a bilingual person from the RO office, an interpreter at a different site or the Dedicated Linguistic Services Line.
3.3.5 Bilingual Services Tent Cards
Use Bilingual Services Tent Cards (EC 50151) to indicate that service is available in both official languages. Tent cards must be in clear public view at all times.
Note: In the province of Quebec, use EC 50151-1. Everywhere else in Canada, use EC 50151.
3.3.6 Bilingual Documents
You must ensure that all staff and all poll workers are trained to properly use both official languages in correspondence and documentation. For example,
- notifications that contain both official languages should be completed in the language of the elector's choice
- letters must be answered in the official language used by the letter's originator
- names of political parties on the ballot paper must be bilingual (if the registered name of the political party is bilingual)
- voter information cards must be bilingual
Official notices required by the Canada Elections Act must be prepared in a bilingual format.
Notice of Advance Polls (EC 10140), Notice of Mobile Poll (EC 10160) and the second part (polling station list) of Notice of Grant of a Poll (EC 10170) are automatically generated from the ROPS/ SITES application in English and French. The first part of Notice of Grant of a Poll (EC 10170) and Notice of Election (EC 10020) are electronic forms that are completed in both languages.
All public signs and posters must be displayed in both English and French, starting with the official language of the majority of a province or territory. Outside Quebec, the English text must appear to the left or above the French text. In Quebec, the French text must appear to the left or above the English text.
Separate unilingual or double-sided documents must also be displayed in both official languages, either side by side or in a top-down orientation, with French first in Quebec and English first elsewhere in Canada.
Temporary signs must be written correctly in both official languages and must follow the directive for the first official language of the province or territory. Contact the Electoral Coordination Help Desk if you have any concerns or difficulties with the proper writing of temporary signs in both official languages.
3.4 Elections Canada Linguistic Support Tools
3.4.1 Bilingual Support Services
Elections Canada offers support services to the RO office for providing bilingual services, such as
- interpretation services: use Elections Canada's Dedicated Linguistic Services Line:
- written translation services: send the text in an email to the Electoral Coordination Help Desk
3.4.2 Dedicated Linguistic Services Line
If an elector wants to communicate in the minority official language, follow this procedure:
- Depending on the language of the elector, ask them to wait one moment by saying,
"un moment s'il vous plaît."
"One moment, please."
- Call Elections Canada's Dedicated Linguistic Services Line at 1-800-463-6868, requesting interpretation services.
- When the interpreter comes on the line, add the caller to the conference call so that the three of you are on the line. The interpreter will translate the elector's questions and your answers.
Note: To access bilingual service using Elections Canada's Dedicated Linguistic Services Line, your phone must have the conference call option activated.
3.4.3 Bilingual Cards
If it is not possible to provide in-person bilingual service, and as a very last resort, the following bilingual cards may be used as a support tool to assist a client:
- Bilingual Greeting Card (EC 50145). This card instructs the elector to provide an identification document, which will assist the IO or CPS in identifying the polling station to which the elector should be directed.
- Bilingual Services Card (EC 50140). This card explains the procedure to cast a ballot, in both official languages. The DRO can hand it to the elector.
- Bilingual Service Card (EC 40109). This card explains that the revising agents do not speak English (in Quebec) or French (in the rest of the country), and refers the elector to a toll-free number where someone will confirm that they are on the voter's list for the federal election.