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An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century: Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 42nd General Election

Message from the Chief Electoral Officer

I am pleased to present Elections Canada's third and final report following the 42nd general election. This report is made under section 535 of the Canada Elections Act (the Act), which provides that after a general election, the Chief Electoral Officer shall set out any recommendations on amendments that are, in his view, desirable for the better administration of the Act.

This report follows two earlier reports: the initial report on the election, tabled in February 2016, which provided a factual narrative of the conduct of the election; and a retrospective report, published earlier this month, which discussed the results of Elections Canada's post-election assessments and examined the experience and feedback of electoral participants.

Canada is fortunate to have a strong electoral democracy that yields results that Canadians trust. Our statutory framework has stood up relatively well over the years, but it is increasingly showing signs of strain. While it is important to remember the past, we should embrace change and make sure that our legislative framework keeps pace with a rapidly evolving society. As shown in our retrospective report on the 42nd general election, we need legislative change to effectively and efficiently administer elections in the future.

Over the years, amendments to the Act have added new requirements and new rules, with little regard to the overall burden placed on electors, candidates, parties, volunteers and election workers. In the last decade, changes have been made without taking into account the rapidly shifting technological context; we now need to evaluate whether there are better ways to achieve the same results as in the past.

The challenge for the legislator is to amend the Act in a way that takes advantage of new opportunities and meets the evolving expectations of Canadians, but in a way that recognizes the strengths of the current system. Ideally, amendments should permit greater flexibility for the administration of future elections, so that voting processes and systems can more easily be adapted to varying conditions, while maintaining key democratic safeguards. Amendments should also strive to provide a process that is inclusive and fair for all.

My recommendations to improve and modernize the legislative framework come at a time when electoral reform is on the public agenda. The House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform is considering a variety of proposals relating to voting system reform, as well as mandatory voting and electronic voting. It is of course the role of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement whatever changes to legislation are adopted by Parliament. I am hopeful that the recommendations I offer here will be considered in the context of other possible legislative proposals. I believe that they are needed no matter what the outcome of the ongoing reform process will be.

I make no comment in this report on the issues before the Special Committee, nor do I comment on other matters that, while the subject of some debate at the last election, I believe are better left to parliamentarians. This includes the issue of pre-writ spending by political parties and third parties as well as the regulation of government advertising in the months leading up to a general election. As always, Elections Canada will be pleased to offer whatever support parliamentarians may request of us in their deliberations on such matters.

I urge parliamentarians as much as possible to collaborate and seek a broad consensus when it comes to changes to the Act; our democratic system will be best strengthened when amendments reflect the views of a large number of political participants. I note that New Zealand requires a special majority of parliamentarians in order to enact legislative amendments to key aspects of their electoral framework. I believe this is something that parliamentarians should consider.

As legislators consider the proposals presented to them, I encourage them to work closely with the next Chief Electoral Officer and to make use of the expertise available at Elections Canada.

It has been an extraordinary honour and privilege for me to serve as Chief Electoral Officer for these past almost 10 years. I look forward to watching future improvements to our electoral system from the perspective of an interested Canadian.

Marc Mayrand
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada