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

Introduction

This report is divided into two main chapters, which reflect the two main components of the Act. The first chapter of the report addresses the electoral process and the second chapter addresses the regulatory regime for political financing and advertising.

Chapter 1

The voting process is largely governed by Parts 3 to 15 of the Act and includes many elements beyond the simple placing of a ballot in a box. The Act sets out rules for hiring hundreds of thousands of Canadians, often for a single day, to perform the series of complex tasks required to administer an election. It prescribes rules for delineating polling divisions, establishing polling places, and registering and informing electors as to where and when they may vote. Strict requirements outline how to administer the vote on polling day, on the four advance polling days and through special balloting. The Act sets out specific controls that must be carefully followed by election officers throughout the process to ensure, among other things, that only qualified electors cast ballots and that they do so only once. Finally, the Act prescribes a detailed process for counting the ballots and verifying the winner of the election in each electoral district.

Many of the recommendations presented in Chapter 1 of this report seek to increase the flexibility of the administration of the voting process in order to improve operational efficiency, while still maintaining integrity. Notable among them are recommendations to permit the Chief Electoral Officer to make voting more accessible, convenient and efficient by simplifying processes and allowing greater use of technology. The aim is to have a more nimble and responsive approach to the design and operation of polling stations that takes into consideration varying demographic needs.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of the report deals with the political financing and election advertising regime contained in Parts 16, 17 and 18 of the Act, where the focus is on political entities rather than electors and election workers. Part 18 contains the key provisions regulating the financing of political parties, candidates, electoral district associations (EDAs), and leadership and nomination contestants, comprising approximately 40 percent of the entire Act. Election advertising by third parties is regulated under Part  17, while Part 16 covers communications more generally (broadcasting, signage, opinion polls, etc.).

Together, these three Parts of the Act are intended to achieve a number of goals, such as making financial transactions related to political activities transparent, levelling the financial playing field among competitors and improving the accessibility of the political process through public funding. The provisions in Parts 16, 17 and 18 create a complex regulatory scheme that includes spending limits, contribution limits and obligations to report on financial transactions, among other provisions.

While the voting process has remained largely unchanged over decades, the political financing and advertising regulatory regime is relatively recent. A series of amendments between 2000 and 2014, which added new political entities and new substantive components, have significantly altered the basic framework created in the early 1970s.

The recommendations under Chapter 2 are intended to better achieve the underlying goals of the political financing and election advertising regime. In Part , this has to do with improving and streamlining compliance through the introduction of administrative monetary penalties. The Act at present relies almost exclusively on criminal offences to ensure compliance. Such an approach, while perhaps appropriate for dealing with matters such as bribery and voter fraud, seems particularly ill-suited to the regulatory regime found in Parts 16, 17 and 18. While administrative monetary penalties could be considered for introduction elsewhere in the Act, this report suggests they be considered first in the political financing area. Chapter 2 also contains a number of other more specific recommendations to provisions contained in these Parts, each of which is designed to better accomplish the underlying goals of the regime.

It is important to note that not all recommendations contained in this report are treated in chapters 1 and 2. The chapters are followed by three tables of amendments: the first table sets out the specific recommendations that are discussed in the narrative, while the second and third tables consist of other substantive recommendations as well as more minor and technical ones.

Consultation

The recommendations in this report reflect the experience of Elections Canada in administering an election across a vast and diverse country, not only during the 42nd general election but also in the years leading up to it. The recommendations come from both the experience of Elections Canada staff and the complaints and comments received from electors, election workers, candidates, parties and others.

To verify the problems being addressed and that the proposed solutions met the concerns of those affected, Elections Canada carried out a series of consultations with returning officers (ROs), political parties, disability advocates, the Assembly of First Nations, youth groups and others. Their comments and views were considered in the development of this report.

The Broadcasting Arbitrator and members of the broadcasting industry were also consulted in the development of recommendations on paid and free broadcasting time during an election period, as was the Canadian Armed Forces with respect to recommendations on voting by Canadian Forces electors.

Finally, both the Commissioner of Canada Elections (Commissioner) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) were consulted in the development of this report, since each of these entities also has specific responsibilities under the Act. The Chief Electoral Officer is pleased to support several recommendations they have suggested for the better administration of the Act.