For the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the current year has been busy and eventful. In addition to the by-elections we conducted in March and June, we are continuing to work on a number of fronts to optimize the administration of federal elections.
Our top priority remains the Register of Electors, the creation of which would lead to substantial savings by eliminating the need for repeated enumeration at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Last April, we presented our thoughts on this subject, together with several development scenarios, to the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The positive reaction of this committee and the heartening progress of our discussions with potential data suppliers have encouraged us to pursue our efforts. According to the current proposal, the data required to establish a Register of Electors (full name, including middle name where applicable, date of birth, and address) would be collected during a final enumeration at the time of the next federal general election or referendum.
The readjustment of federal electoral boundaries and redistribution of seats in the House of Commons is another major project that requires our time and resources. The January 8, 1996, Representation Order provides that a new map of 301 electoral districts will come into effect on the date of the first dissolution of Parliament after January 8, 1997. We must, therefore, be ready to administer an election based either on the 295 existing ridings or the 301 ridings defined in the reports of the boundaries commissions, depending on the date the election is called. If a referendum or by-election is called, even after January 8, 1997, the vote will be held on the basis of the 295 existing electoral districts so long as the House has not been dissolved.
Using our Geographic Information System (GIS), we have already produced digitized maps showing the boundaries of each of the 301 ridings. Working together with the returning officers, we are now in the process of preparing digitized maps of all the polling divisions in the country. These projects are made possible by our address register, the only database of its kind in Canada, which contains all the addresses and street names in the country. By combining these data with the Register of Electors data, we will be able to produce quickly up-to-date versions of electoral lists and a range of maps and other documents that will make planning and conducting the vote easier.
Electoral boundaries readjustment entails publication of a series of documents describing the new boundaries of the electoral districts and polling divisions. Some of these documents are already available; others are to be published in the coming months. Included are maps and detailed descriptions of all electoral districts in the country, for each province and the Northwest Territories (Yukon consists of only one riding); a guide to electoral districts, which identifies municipalities and their corresponding electoral districts, for those municipalities which do not fall into more than one riding; street indicators for those municipalities which include more than one electoral district; and a report on the transposition of votes, which distributes the ballots cast in the 295 existing ridings during the last general election over the 301 new ridings, thus establishing which political parties may nominate electoral officials at the first general election to be held under the new Representation Order.
The readjustment of electoral boundaries has a profound impact on the training of returning officers. As a consequence of the new Representation Order, returning officers must be appointed for 270 electoral districts (of the 301 ridings on the new electoral map, 31 remain unchanged). Approximately one-half of these appointments have already been made by the Governor in Council. Because a large proportion of the new returning officers have no previous experience, and because our procedures have changed considerably in the past few years, training requirements are significant. Over the next few months, therefore, we shall be arranging a great many training sessions for returning officers.
Internationally, Elections Canada is providing considerable support for the elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina planned for September 14, 1996. Following a visit to the Organization on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in November 1995, Canada's Assistant Chief Electoral Officer was asked to head the international mission that went to Sarajevo in December and January to develop the election plans. Since then, 18 Canadian electoral officials have been sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina to provide electoral advice, and technical and management support that will continue until after the elections are held. At Elections Canada in Ottawa, a co-ordination office was established to administer absentee registration and voting by refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina who are currently living in Canada. These projects, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and by the Canadian International Development Agency, result from Canada's membership in the OSCE, which, under the Dayton agreement, is responsible for the overall supervision of the September elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Elections Canada web site, launched at the time of last fall's general election in the Northwest Territories, was widely used during the March 25, 1996, federal by-elections, and again at the time of the June 17 by-election in Hamilton East. At the site, Internet users in Canada and abroad can find information on Elections Canada's activities in general, and electoral events in particular. We are currently looking into various ways of improving site content and presentation, with a view to disseminating the most relevant information possible to our various target publics. During the coming year, all Elections Canada work stations will go on line with the Internet, after we take the necessary security measures to ensure that internal data bases are protected at all times.
Following its 75th anniversary, Elections Canada continues to adjust to the changing needs of the electorate, maximizing the benefit of the tools modern technology makes available. The agency's move to downtown Ottawa, planned for the fall, will be the culmination of a year of challenge and change that will leave us in a position to serve Canadian electors even better.