Secondary menu

Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
on the 38th General Election Held on June 28, 2004


Responding to a changing legal environment

Elections Canada must continuously adapt to an evolving legal framework. During the period covered by this report, both the implementation of Bill C-24 on political financing and the redistribution of electoral districts have had a profound impact on our operations. Following are legislative amendments and court decisions that have affected the conduct of federal elections since the 37th general election.

More transparent political financing

In June 2003, Parliament passed Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing). The amendments significantly tightened the rules for political contributions and the financial activities of parties and candidates. Among other provisions, the new legislation introduced limits on political contributions and a ban on contributions from unions and corporations to registered parties and their leadership contestants.

The amendments also extended these provisions to cover electoral district associations and nomination and leadership contestants. Disclosure and registration requirements for political entities were similarly extended, and financial reports for registered political parties and registered associations must now include statements of assets and liabilities, as well as all sources of revenue and contributions, including non-monetary contributions.

C-24 also established a publicly funded system of quarterly allowances for registered political parties, based on the number of votes they obtained in the previous general election.

Most of the provisions of C-24 came into force on January1,2004 – within six months of the 38th general election. The changes had far-reaching effects on products and services of Elections Canada, as well as on its information technology systems.

To communicate the new rules for political financing to political entities and the public, Elections Canada carried out a number of information initiatives for various audiences.

The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act

After every decennial census, the electoral boundaries are adjusted to reflect the principle of effective representation. The criteria and timetable for each redistribution are set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The publication of the 2001 census data in March 2002 triggered the creation of 10 independent commissions – one for each province – to consider and report on any changes required to the boundaries of the electoral districts. (As the three northern territories each form one electoral district, there is no need for their boundaries to be readjusted.) While representation by population is the primary consideration for redrawing electoral boundaries, the commissions also considered other factors, such as the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province, communities of interest or identity, and geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions. The commissions' proposals, once published, were subject to public hearings from August to December 2002, revised in some instances, and forwarded as reports through the Chief Electoral Officer to the Speaker of the House of Commons, from December 2002 to March2003.

Members of the House of Commons had an opportunity to raise objections to the commissions' reports before the Subcommittee on Electoral Boundaries Readjustment of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. All parliamentary objections were considered and addressed by the commissions in their final reports. Once this had been done, the Chief Electoral Officer issued a draft representation order setting out the names, boundaries and numbers of electors for Canada's 308 new electoral districts.

The representation order of August25,2003, increased the total number of seats in the House of Commons from 301 to 308. Ontario received three more seats; Alberta and British Columbia received two seats each. In all other provinces, the number of seats remained the same.

Implementing the new electoral boundaries set out in the 2003 Representation Order

An issue of the Canada GazetteAccording to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the new representation order wasto come into force at the first dissolution of Parliament occurring on or after August25,2004 – one year after its proclamation.

On March11,2004, royal assent was given for Bill C-5, which made the 2003 Representation Order effective on the first dissolution of Parliament after March31,2004.

The Governor in Council appointed returning officers for the 269 electoral districts that were either new or had changed boundaries. Among the 39 electoral districts where the boundaries had not changed, 5 districts were vacant and appointments were made for those. The returning officers in charge of the 34 others remained the same, although seven resigned afterwards. Training for returning officers took place from September 2003 to May 2004, in sessions ranging from three to eight days. On September25,2003, the Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and provided an update at that time.

Court rejects new boundaries for New Brunswick electoral district

On May11,2004, the Federal Court did not agree with the way in which the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick had drawn the boundaries of the electoral district of Acadie–Bathurst. The Court suspended its decision for one year, leaving the 2003Representation Order unchanged for the 38th general election. The decision was not appealed. [Raîche v. Canada (Attorney General) [2004] F.C. 679]

The Court gave its decision within three weeks of the calling of a general election.

Registered party status

In June 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada in Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General) ruled that provisions in the Act requiring a registered party to nominate at least 50 candidates in a general election infringed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. [Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General) [2003] 1 S.C.R. 912]

Parliament responded with Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, which came into force on May15,2004. As a result, a political party that runs at least one candidate in a general election or by-election and complies with the requirements of the Act may be registered. The amendments of Bill C-3 are temporary and subject to a provision that they will cease to have effect two years after they came into force.

At the time of the ruling, nine political parties were already registered and three more were eligible. In the 38th general election, all registered parties maintained their status and the three eligible parties were registered.

The names of 38 electoral districts were changed on September1,2004, following the coming into force of Bill C-20, An Act to change the names of certain electoral districts.

Voting rights for incarcerated electors

In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) held that the provision barring inmates serving a sentence of two years or more from voting was unconstitutional. Since this ruling, Canadians in provincial correctional institutions and federal penitentiaries may now vote by special ballot in federal general elections or by-elections regardless of the length of their sentences. [Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) [2002] 3 S.C.R. 519]

Third-party and advertising restrictions

On May18,2004, the Supreme Court of Canada in Harper v. Canada (Attorney General) overturned the decision from the Court of Appeal of Alberta that invalidated a number of provisions in the Canada Elections Act regulating the intervention of third parties in the electoral process and the prohibition on election advertising on the day of the election. As a result, the provisions dealing with third parties and advertising on election day remain unchanged and in force. [Harper v. Canada (Attorney General) [2004] S.C.C. 33] In this case, Elections Canada did not have to make changes to the way it operated, but it had to be prepared to introduce changes on short notice in case the Supreme Court upheld the decision under appeal.

A chronological account of the third-party regime of the Canada Elections Act and the involvement of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer can be found on the Elections Canada Web site in the section titled "Political Parties, Candidates and Others."

Transmission of election results before all polls close

On October23,2003, in R. v. Bryan, the BritishColumbia Supreme Court held that the provision prohibiting the public transmission of the result of the vote in an electoral district before all of the polling stations are closed in that district was unconstitutional and of no force and effect in British Columbia. Leave to appeal that decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal was granted on March11,2004, but the appeal had not been heard by the time the writs were issued for the 38th general election. [R.v. Bryan, 233 D.L.R. (4th) 745]

On June10,2004, the 18th day before election day, the Chief Electoral Officer, in consultation with the Commissioner of Canada Elections, announced that, to achieve uniform application of the Act everywhere in the country, the decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court would be applied across Canada for the 38th general election, pending a decision from the BritishColumbia Court of Appeal. Therefore, no prohibition on the public transmission of vote results was in place during the 2004 general election.

Answer to question 2

In 1970 the Canada Elections Act was amended, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. This was the largest expansion of the electorate since 1918, when women had been enfranchised. Approximately 2 million young people gained the right to vote. Their first chance to exercise the right came in the general election of 1972.

At the 2004 general election, Elections Canada conducted a study using a random sample of polling divisions selected from electoral districts in every province and territory. The findings show that the turnout rate was 38.7 percent for first-time electors in this election.

In total, some 1.4 million Canadian citizens aged 18 to 21 are now eligible to vote. This represents slightly more than 6 percent of the entire electorate.