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


Community relations officers

Within Canadian society, certain groups have participated in federal elections at lower rates than other electors. They include Aboriginal Canadians, ethnocultural communities, youth, homeless electors and electors with special needs. In the 38th general election, Elections Canada did more than ever before to help them exercise their rights and take part in the democratic process. Where needed, returning officers were authorized to appoint community relations officers to help to identify and address the needs of their communities, and to encourage participation in the electoral process. For the 38th general election, returning officers appointed 329 community relations officers.

Returning officers were authorized to appoint community relations officers as follows:

The Community Relations Officer Program built on the successes of the Liaison Officer Program of the 37th general election and the Elders Program established during the 35th general election, in 1993.

Table 4 :
Community Relations Officer Program – 38th general election, 2004
Type of officer Number of officers hired Number of eligible electoral districts Number of electoral districts that hired officers Percent of eligible electoral districts that hired officers
Aboriginal 164 137 124 90.5
Ethnocultural 59 50 48 96
Youth 100 95 92 96.8
Homeless 6 5 5 100

The effort was to do more than simply present basic information about the electoral process and how to vote. Messages were designed to attract specific groups, and we used a wide range of formats and languages to make sure that the messages reached the intended audiences.

Aboriginal communities

A priority for Elections Canada is making the federal electoral process more welcoming and accessible to Aboriginal electors.

The community relations officer's duties included helping with targeted revision, arranging polling stations within the Aboriginal community, ensuring that Aboriginal poll officials were recruited and trained for these polling stations, and informing the returning officer about issues of concern to the local Aboriginal community.

Returning officers were encouraged to seek the approvals of band councils, where necessary, to place polls in Aboriginal communities and friendship centres. In the 38th general election, returning officers used nine friendship centres for a total of 39 ordinary and advance polls. More than 600 polls were established on First Nations reserves and in Inuit and Métis communities, and 1,008 deputy returning officers and 1,068 poll clerks were Aboriginal persons.

Elections Canada recognizes the special roles of Elders and youth in Aboriginal communities. Since the 35th general election, Elections Canada's Elders Program has offered information and interpretation services for electors at polling stations on First Nations reserves, and has provided general assistance to voters who may not be familiar with the federal electoral process. The program was subsequently expanded to include youth, and renamed the Aboriginal Elder and Youth Program.

Returning officers (or Aboriginal community relations officers appointed by them) were responsible for the program in polling stations that served mainly Aboriginal electors. More Aboriginal communities participated in the program in 2004 than in previous elections. There were 173 Elders and 182 youth present at 262 polling stations in 48 electoral districts.

Figure 2
Participation in Aboriginal Elder and Youth Program – 38th general election, 2004

Participation in Aboriginal Elder and Youth Program – 38th general election, 2004
Click on the graph above to view a larger version.

Youth

Encouraging youth participation was a key
priority for Elections Canada in the 2004 election.The second-largest group of community relations officers worked with young electors. They identified neighbourhoods with high concentrations of students for special registration drives, assisted returning officers in locating polls to be easily accessible to youth, and provided information about registration and voting to the community and to youth leaders.

In February 2004, we wrote to some 1.1 million young Canadians who had turned 18 since the 37th general election, to remind them of their right to vote and ensure that they were registered to vote in upcoming federal elections. This group included 300,000 young electors who were not in the Register; they received a registration kit. Of these, some 50,000 young people consented to be added to the Register. During the election, Elections Canada also wrote to the remaining 250,000 youth who had not responded to previous registration initiatives, encouraging them to register to vote by contacting their local returning office.

Homeless electors

To be eligible to vote in an electoral district, electors must be ordinarily resident in that district.

For someone who has no permanent residence, the Canada Elections Act provides that the elector's quarters at registration time – a shelter, hostel or other place that provides food, lodging or social services – may be considered the ordinary residence of that person.

A total of six community relations officers were appointed to work with homeless persons in five electoral districts.

About a week before election day, the assistant returning officer (or, if one was appointed, the community relations officer for homeless electors) requested the administrators of shelters to inform homeless persons using their facilities that, if they wished to vote on election day, they could enter their names on a list. A poster distributed to shelters carried the same information, as well as the location of the appropriate polling places.

The day before election day, returning office staff picked up the lists that were to be used as proof of address for electors staying at the shelters. Any homeless elector whose name did not appear on a shelter list could still vote by submitting, as proof of address, a letter signed by the person in charge of the shelter stating that the elector was using the services of that facility.

Other initiatives

Voting by special ballot is an option available to all Canadians. Often it is used by people who find it difficult or inconvenient to vote in person at a polling station.

At the polling station, an elector could be accompanied behind the voting screen by a friend or relative if the elector needed help in marking his or her ballot. The elector could also ask the deputy returning officer for assistance.

A voting template was available to assist visually impaired persons. A toll-free phone number was available for people who were deaf or hard of hearing.