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Highlights

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As well as fulfilling the Chief Electoral Officer's statutory obligation to report on the 36th general election, this document outlines the changes that have taken place in Canada's electoral system in the four years since the last general election.

Amendments to the Canada Elections Act linked reimbursement of a political party's election expenses with its ability to obtain the support of voters; created a National Register of Electors to replace enumeration at federal electoral events; shortened the electoral calendar to a minimum 36 days; introduced staggered voting hours corresponding to time zones across the country; and improved the process for revising voters lists. A redistribution of electoral boundaries created a new electoral map of 301 electoral districts, six more than were involved in the 1993 general election, and resulted in the appointment of new returning officers, who are primarily responsible for administering electoral events in their ridings.

Less than four months after the passage of the new legislation in December 1996, it was implemented by Elections Canada in a final enumeration in April 1997, followed by a general election on June 2, 1997. The new legislation and electoral boundaries necessitated major revisions to technical and operational systems, public information materials, training programs for election officials, and briefing materials for candidates and political parties.

That both the enumeration and the election were carried out successfully reflects, in part, our continuing efforts to modernize our tools and procedures. Information technology, automated business systems, integrated planning and ongoing evaluation all played a part in the delivery of efficient and high-quality services within aggressive time frames.

Innovations for the enumeration and election included a computerized election management data capture and retrieval system, computer-generated mapping services, an expanded site on the Internet, direct computer links with returning officers in each riding, and an electronic form for candidates' financial returns.

The National Register of Electors

After some four years of planning and development, Canada's new National Register of Electors was established on April 26, 1997, and was to be based on the preceding final federal enumeration (of April 10 to 16). The legislative amendment that enabled the creation of the Register also permitted the Chief Electoral Officer to use provincial voters lists if they had been compiled through an enumeration in the preceding 12 months. Recent lists compiled by Alberta and Prince Edward Island met this criterion; accordingly, Elections Canada purchased them in lieu of conducting an enumeration in those provinces.

Computer systems and procedures now being designed for the National Register of Electors will be in place by the end of 1997. Three basic principles are paramount: the privacy of electors must be safeguarded; electors must have the freedom to choose whether to participate, and to what extent; and the information must be used for electoral purposes only. The Register will be updated with information supplied by provincial, territorial and federal data sources between electoral events, and by electors themselves during federal electoral events. Elections Canada has now signed agreements with the majority of data suppliers, including Revenue Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and most provincial and territorial sources for driver's licence and vital statistics data. Outstanding agreements are expected to be signed by the fall of 1997.

Generating preliminary voters lists for future federal electoral events through the Register rather than through enumeration is expected to save some $30 million per general election. Additional savings to taxpayers could result from sharing the Register data with other electoral jurisdictions; the first agreement to explore the feasibility of this option is already in place, with the Government of New Brunswick.

Innovations in the Electoral System and Procedures

By eliminating the need for enumeration, it was possible to shorten the electoral calendar to a minimum 36 days, reducing election administration costs by $8.1 million. In addition, changes in key dates allow candidates and parties to receive their spending limits and copies of voters lists earlier; and electors get four extra days in which to ensure that they are registered to vote. Voters list revision procedures now allow more flexibility for electors who wish to register or to change their information. Minor corrections to the list can be made by phone or fax; and voters may now register at the advance polls as well as on polling day. The deadlines for delivery of special ballots have been extended.

The Elections Canada Web site was expanded to include media releases, the election calendar, riding maps, lists of candidates, and a registration form for the special ballot. Preliminary results were available on election night as well. The site also has an e-mail link to the Elections Canada Enquiries Unit. In general, Elections Canada is seeking ways to introduce interactive components in its information processes and promote feedback from the public. A controlled transition is under way from print to electronic communication, wherever this is appropriate.

During both the enumeration and the election, returning officers had the option of paying for certain expenses by corporate credit card. Use of the cards reduced the administrative burden on Elections Canada and facilitated purchases at the riding level. To further improve our management processes, we have upgraded our information technology systems, phone systems and office automation technology.

The Final Federal Enumeration and the 36th General Election

In preparation for the enumeration, forms and manuals were revised, and the ECAPLE (Elections Canada Automated Production of Lists of Electors) system was upgraded and adjusted to include 301 electoral districts. Returning officers received assistance in dealing with technical and procedural problems through the Elections Canada Support Network; they could reach three levels of advisors by phone, e-mail or fax.

A total of 16 576 350 electors were enumerated between April 10 and April 16, 1997, in eight provinces and two territories. To this number were added 1 857 273 electors from the lists established for the recent provincial elections in Alberta and Prince Edward Island, which had been purchased by Elections Canada. An additional 234 016 electors were added to the data base subsequently when they returned mail-in registration forms. The preliminary lists of electors for the 36th general election consisted of 18 753 094 names, including 13 322 incarcerated electors, 10 648 Canadians residing outside Canada, and 61 485 Canadian Forces electors.

Your Vote is Your Say Poster
The design of this poster, first produced for the March 1996 by-elections, has become the keynote of Elections Canada's voter information program for young people.

The writs for the 36th general election were issued April 27, 1997 and the last writ was returned to the Chief Electoral Officer June 23, 1997. Early in the election period, the Chief Electoral officer was called upon to decide whether to invoke section 13 of the Canada Elections Act to postpone the vote in areas of Manitoba affected by the flooding of the Red River Valley. After a personal visit to the area and discussions with elected representatives, government officials, members of the Canadian Forces helping with flood control efforts, returning officers and potential candidates, the Chief Electoral Officer ruled that Manitobans would be able to vote along with other Canadians on June 2. Special provisions were made as necessary under subsection 9(1) of the Act to accommodate flood circumstances. During the election, court rulings upheld the right of all inmates to vote, regardless of the length of their sentences, and continued the ban on publication of opinion poll results during the three days preceding election day.

Information campaigns addressed the needs of the general public, Aboriginal electors, ethnocultural groups, young voters, and electors with special needs. Elections Canada briefed candidates and their official agents on their responsibilities in recording and reporting their contributions and expenses, and the Support Network was available to answer their questions, as well as those of returning officers. The Elections Canada Web site contributed to informing the public at every stage of the election calendar.

A total of 1,672 candidates ran for office, and 10 political parties received or retained registered status. Preliminary statistics show that 13,171,628 Canadians cast ballots in this election. Of those, 702,977 voted at the advance polls and 138,618 by special ballot, including 20,666 members of the Canadian Forces, and 9,161 incarcerated electors.