The March 1996 By-Elections – Technological Innovation – Reaping the Rewards
On July 1, 1995, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. This milestone was an occasion to review the past and to recognize how the technological breakthroughs marking the approach to the second millennium have profoundly changed the administration of electoral events in Canada.
For the October 1995 general election in the Northwest Territories, we inaugurated an Internet site and opened our doors to the world wide web. This pilot project, conducted jointly with the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, successfully attained its goal of improving public access to electoral information. During the six by-elections held on March 25, 1996, we consolidated our Internet presence by posting information on the electoral process directed at electors, candidates and political parties, as well as the general public.
These federal by-elections, and the general election in the Northwest Territories, are only two of the many events that have filled the past 12 months. On January 8, 1996, proclamation of the new Electoral Representation Order concluded the redistribution of electoral districts and House of Commons seats, begun in 1993 by the eleven electoral boundaries commissions and carried out with our technical support. In December, we published the final reports of the commissions, describing the boundaries of the 301 electoral districts into which Canada is to be divided following the first dissolution of Parliament after January 8, 1997.
The Geographic Information System (GIS), introduced in 1993 to produce digitized electoral maps, and constantly improved since then by Elections Canada, has paid a number of dividends in the past 12 months. Using the GIS, we are producing digitized maps of all the ridings, including those created or changed by the recent redistribution exercise.
The GIS also plays an important role in another significant Elections Canada undertaking, the Register of Electors project, which completed an important step early in 1996. We tabled The Register of Electors Project: A Report on Research and Feasibility with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In addition to the significant economies it would bring to the voter registration process at the federal level, the Register of Electors has the potential to be shared with provincial and territorial electoral agencies, thus eliminating repeated enumeration of the same electors by different levels of government. Discussions with interested provinces hold great promise.
The Register of Electors could be implemented at the next general election, as the logical outcome of the technological advances that have revolutionized elector registration in recent years.
In February 1996, in accordance with paragraph 195(1)(d) of the Canada Elections Act, we tabled in Parliament an Annex to the report of the Chief Electoral Officer on the 35th general election, which includes recommended amendments that seek to improve the administration of the Act. Elections Canada, through its counsel and advice, has played an increasingly important role in electoral reform. Strengthening the Foundation: Annex to the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 35th General Election fully supports this mission. Its 122 recommendations call attention to provisions of the Act that should be modernized to reflect the technological, demographic, political and socio-economic changes in Canadian society and seek to ensure the transparency of electoral funding.
Elections Canada is an ardent supporter of democracy and elections throughout the world. We have provided technical and professional assistance through a variety of multilateral programs to help emerging democracies develop the institutional capacity to deliver democratic electoral events. Recently, our participation in international electoral missions has included elections held in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Ivory Coast, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Palestine, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.
In the fall of 1995, Elections Canada officially launched a major co-operative project with the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation. Because the two electoral agencies share a number of geographic characteristics, including multiple time zones and vast northern spaces, they face similar challenges in ensuring that all electors have equal access to the electoral process. Under the agreement signed between the two countries, Elections Canada staff will share their expertise in producing electoral lists, cartography and electoral legislation with their Russian counterparts.
Our agency is also closely involved with the annual Trilateral Conference that brings together representatives of the electoral agencies of Canada, the United States and Mexico. The conference acts as a forum for mutual concerns and enables us to share experiences, paving the way for joint projects. The first of these Trilateral Conferences was held in Mexico City, in April 1994. In May of 1995, Elections Canada hosted the second annual conference in Ottawa, and the third conference was held in Washington in May 1996. Several dozen delegates from the three countries heard presentations from electoral experts on various topics, ranging from electoral reform and the redistribution of seats to voter registration.
With respect to our relationship with Mexico, we are now working on a joint agreement for technical collaboration between the Federal Electoral Institute of the United States of Mexico (IFE) and the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. This agreement will be signed during the meeting between Canada and Mexico in mid-June, when President Ernesto Zedillo will visit Canada.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, Elections Canada has demonstrated flexibility in adjusting to change and keeping pace with technological innovation. Our strategic vision of planning and change has brought benefits not only to federal electoral administration, but also to our increasingly numerous partners.