Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada following the May 12, 2003, and the June 16, 2003, by-elections
I am pleased to present this report to Parliament and Canadians, in accordance with the Canada Elections Act, on the administration of the three federal by-elections held in 2003.
The reports on the administration of the elections, together with the annual Report on Plans and Priorities and Performance Report, form a whole that accounts to Parliament for the activities of my Office.
This report describes the new, simplified methods that we used during the three by-elections for the REVISE and ROPS (Returning Office Payment System) systems and that we intend to use in upcoming general elections. These systems serve, respectively, to update the list of electors and to pay various workers and landlords.
Elections Canada has the responsibility to provide public education and information on electoral matters, especially during electoral events. During the 2003 by-elections, we continued to refine our various communication products, such as the voter information card and the reminder card. Each innovation is a further step in ensuring that Canadians will be better informed about electoral events and will have faster and easier access to essential voting information.
Greater participation would not necessarily be due to our efforts alone, but it is clearly up to us to ensure that electors are informed about the electoral process and to simplify registration and voting. We have developed action plans with a focus on the electoral participation of youth and Aboriginal peoples and we are taking specific measures based on our consultations.
The 2000 general election revealed the need to modify our public enquiries system. I am pleased to announce that we are developing a system to which Canadians will have access by telephone and Internet 24 hours a day during an election. Most citizens will be able to get an immediate response to the question, "Where do I have to go to vote?" Questions that are more complex will immediately be transferred to an information officer or to the office of the caller's returning officer.
In addition, future elector information services will benefit from partnerships that we have established with three agencies: Elections Ontario, the Ontario Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and the Government Enquiry Centre. The agreements reached will ensure the availability of staff trained to respond to citizens' requests for information, and ensure levels of service that will guarantee that our requirements are met.
We successfully tested a new telephone system for the returning offices during the by-elections on June 16, 2003, in Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Témiscamingue. One feature of the system is a bilingual message that is automatically played outside of office hours.
On December 16, 2002, in Harper v. Canada (Attorney General), the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled the following parts of the Canada Elections Act unconstitutional, and thus invalid: section 323 banning election day advertising, and sections 350 to 357, 359, 360 and 362 governing third-party advertising during an election. Consequently, these provisions were not enforced during the 2003 by-elections.
Moreover, in its ruling in October 2002 in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer), the Supreme Court of Canada had invalidated the provision of the Canada Elections Act that made inmates serving a sentence of more than two years ineligible to vote (paragraph 4(c)). As I did for the by-elections held on December 9, 2002, I again adapted the Canada Elections Act to allow inmates to vote.
The Commissioner of Canada Elections, an independent official appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer, is responsible for ensuring that the Canada Elections Act is complied with and enforced. Of the 1,020 complaints this official received between the end of the 2000 general election and the end of 2003, 1,012 have been resolved and eight are before the courts or under investigation. Nine convictions have resulted from criminal proceedings. The Commissioner concluded 62 transactions with the interested parties to resolve complaints.
The 2003 Representation Order was proclaimed on August 25, 2003. It sets out the number of MPs representing each province in the House of Commons and divides each province into electoral districts. It also describes the boundaries, name and population of each electoral district. This ended our role in support of the 10 independent federal electoral boundaries commissions. We provided them with professional, financial, technical and administrative services, particularly in the areas of cartography, census data, publishing and advertising – including the "Federal Representation 2004" module on our Web site.
A number of activities were undertaken in preparation for conducting a general election under the 2003 Representation Order. We produced and distributed new electoral maps. We also transposed the results of the last election to establish the ranking of the parties in the new electoral districts by redistributing the votes cast in the former electoral districts. Under the Act, this ranking determines which parties and which candidates are entitled to propose election officers during an election.
We updated our Web site with the new data and publications available. The site now includes the official map of each electoral district. We also added a demographic profile of each electoral district prepared by Statistics Canada.
On the operational level, the essential activity following the redistribution was to train the returning officers appointed by the Governor in Council for every electoral district where the boundaries had been changed. In those electoral districts where the boundaries have not changed, the returning officers remain the same.
By the end of December 2003, Elections Canada had trained 97 new returning officers appointed under the 2003 Representation Order who had not been in office during the previous general election. Over the course of the year, Elections Canada also trained 49 returning officers under the 1996 Representation Order.
The redistribution also required a revision of polling division boundaries to conform with the new electoral boundaries. This task was facilitated by the fact that fewer than 5% of the 58,000 polling divisions were directly affected by the new electoral boundaries. The National Register of Electors had to be updated to ensure that each of the almost 22 million electors was assigned to the correct electoral district and polling division. After the returning officers verified the changes made, these were integrated into the Register and electoral cartography databases, where they will be used to produce the lists of electors and geographic products required during future elections.
In future, the returning officers will benefit from a network of field liaison officers. This network, which was created in 2003, consists of 24 former returning officers who will provide a greater regional presence, work with the returning officers to provide functional leadership, improve the quality of service and resolve problems. The field liaison officers will also deal with the local media in their sectors. Each field liaison officer will be responsible for supporting an average of 13 returning officers.
To provide direction for these various activities, Elections Canada on several occasions consulted its liaison officers and returning officers and the political parties and National Register of Electors advisory committees.
On the international scene, Elections Canada and the Organization of American States organized a working session, in September 2003 in Ottawa, on the theme "Comparative Analysis of Political Party and Campaign Financing in the OAS Member States." The agency also participated in various international conferences on electoral administration and welcomed delegates from nine countries to its offices. In addition, it continued to offer support and technical advice on electoral matters to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
I appeared six times before House and Senate committees, on topics such as bills C-24 (political financing) and C-49 (the date on which the 2003 Representation Order takes effect), the programs offered by Elections Canada to make the electoral system more accessible to Aboriginal people and potential improvements to the process for readjusting electoral boundaries.
On December 7, 2003, the Registry of Political Parties was modified at the request of two registered parties: the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Since these two parties had merged, their registrations were replaced by the party produced by their merger, the Conservative Party of Canada. The new registered party assumes the obligations of the merging parties, particularly with respect to the obligation to account for their previous financial operations and campaign finances.
I am pleased to note that the sharing of information and resources by federal, provincial and municipal election agencies has become increasingly frequent, since pooling our efforts helps make voting more accessible to everyone. This co-operation remains a key element of the National Register of Electors program, particularly at a time when more provinces are working, alone or in conjunction with Elections Canada, to create their own permanent registers. These partnerships are beneficial both to Elections Canada and to its partners. I am particularly pleased that an agreement was signed on December 24, 2003, with Elections Alberta and the Alberta Motor Vehicle Registry to communicate data to Elections Canada. This adds another source for updating data on that province's electors. We received the first data on December 30, 2003.
In Ontario, a joint elector registration and verification exercise conducted in March 2003 made it possible to improve data quality, reduce duplication of effort to a minimum, realize savings and, above all, provide better service to the electorate. The co-operation with Elections Ontario continued during the recent provincial election, primarily in the form of technical support and with regard to data. Elections Prince Edward Island used Register data to speed up the preparation of the lists of electors for its September 2003 election. The data validated or corrected by electors during a confirmation exercise will be used to update the National Register of Electors, while harmonizing the provincial data with the 911 address system.
We conducted a joint study with Elections BC of the quality of our respective registers. The conclusions will allow us to refine our quality measurement methods; they also allowed us to identify improvements that could allow each agency to make better use of the other's data. One essential conclusion of the study is that merging the provincial and federal registers would make it possible to produce a better list of electors for the province.
During the past year, we also provided Register data to Elections Nova Scotia, which combined it with its own data to create the preliminary list of electors for its provincial election of August 5, 2003. The process made it possible to integrate 93% of the electors in the Register into the list. Elections Newfoundland and Labrador used Register data for its recent provincial election. The data updated as a result of revision activities and election day registrations will be used to update the Register. In fact, we received lists of electors from every province and territory to help us update the Register, with the exception of British Columbia and Alberta, where no election is expected before next year. We regularly receive the lists of electors extracted from the provincial registers of British Columbia and Quebec.
At the municipal level, the partnership between Elections Canada, Elections Ontario and Ontario's Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) continues to grow. Elections Canada and Elections Ontario sent MPAC Register data augmented by the targeted registration of March 2003 to help it prepare the lists of electors for the Ontario municipal elections of November 10, 2003. Elections Canada benefits from the close links between MPAC and municipalities to continually improve the quality of the addresses in the Register.
In addition, the federal and provincial chief electoral officers signed an agreement to share technology. This agreement opens the way to pooling methods, technical solutions and information assets. It offers immense possibilities for reducing public spending, while increasing administrative efficiency and improving services to electors. Each electoral administration is currently preparing an inventory of its computer systems and other technological applications. It will then be possible to identify the opportunities for co-operation and to formulate a strategy for pooling our future investments and their benefits.
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada