Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the May 15, 2000 By-election held in St. John's West
Elections Canada's activities since the previous report
Follow-up to the November 15, 1999, by-elections in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal, Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar and York West
Candidates' election expenses
Under the Canada Elections Act, candidates are required to file an election expenses return within four months of election day. Elections Canada is now reviewing financial returns from the 25 candidates who ran for office in the November 1999 by-elections in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal, Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar and York West, to ensure compliance with the Act and to determine the amount of reimbursement owed to candidates who qualified.
Amendments to electoral legislation
The last report discussed the background to Bill C-2, An Act respecting the election of members to the House of Commons, repealing other Acts relating to elections and making consequential amendments to other Acts.
The Bill received royal assent on May 31, 2000. The new Canada Elections Act will come into force on December 1, 2000, unless the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette before that date stating that the necessary preparations for bringing the new Act into operation have been made, and that the new Act is now in force. In that case, the new Act would come into force on the date on which the notice was published. Until then, the current Canada Elections Act will continue to apply.
The new Act takes into account several recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing in 1992, by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada in reports to Parliament in 1996 and 1997, and by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in a report tabled in 1998. It also addresses decisions by the Alberta Court of Appeal (Somerville, 1996), the Supreme Court of Canada (Thomson Newspapers, 1998 and Libman, 1997), and the Ontario Court (General Division) (Figueroa, 1999). The new measures build on significant earlier amendments to the Canada Elections Act in 1992, 1993 and 1996.
The key changes are as follows.
- The Canada Elections Act is reorganized and clarified to make it easier to apply.
- Outdated statutes such as the Dominion Controverted Elections Act, the Corrupt Practices Inquiries Act and the Disfranchising Act are repealed.
- Election advertising by third parties is regulated. Third parties are groups or persons other than candidates, registered parties or electoral district associations of registered parties.
- The publication or broadcasting of election advertising and new election opinion surveys is prohibited on election day, until the closing of all polling stations in the electoral district. The first media outlet to release the results of an election opinion survey, and any other outlet broadcasting or publishing them during the next 24 hours, must provide information about the survey methodology.
- Disclosure of financial information by registered parties is subject to more rigorous reporting requirements.
- The Commissioner of Canada Elections is empowered to enter into compliance agreements and to seek injunctions during an election campaign to require compliance with the Act.
- The new Act provides for other administrative changes to improve the accessibility of our electoral system.
For complete information about the new Canada Elections Act, see the Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca.
Recent court decisions
In the case of Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General), the constitutionality of certain provisions relating to registered political parties is at issue. The Ontario Court (General Division) held in March 1999 that political parties would need to nominate only two candidates to become registered, rather than the 50 indicated in the current Act; that parties fulfilling the requirement to field two candidates would be entitled to have their names shown on the ballot; that the assets of a party that failed to endorse 50 candidates would not be automatically liquidated; and that a candidate no longer had to obtain at least 15 percent of the vote to be eligible for a refund of the entire $1 000 nomination deposit.
The federal Attorney General appealed this ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal, limiting the appeal to two issues: the number of candidates required for registration and the party name on the ballot. The court heard the appeal on March 2 and 3, 2000, and has reserved judgment.
The Chief Electoral Officer intervened in this appeal as a friend of the Court. He specifically asked the Court of Appeal to indicate how its judgment would apply to many other provisions of the Canada Elections Act that deal with registered parties.
The new Canada Elections Act, once it comes into force, no longer makes reimbursement of the candidates' deposits dependent on receiving a percentage of the vote, and parties' assets will no longer be automatically liquidated.
Maintaining the National Register of Electors
Between general elections, the National Register of Electors is kept as up-to-date and accurate as possible, so that it is ready at any time to generate reliable preliminary lists of electors for federal general elections, referendums and by-elections, such as that called in St. John's West.
The Register is continually updated with data from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and provincial and territorial motor vehicle and vital statistics registrars, and from electoral agencies in British Columbia and Quebec, where there are permanent lists of electors. Electoral lists from provincial and territorial elections are also used to update the Register. Agreements are in place or in negotiation for access to those lists from every province and territory.
The Canada Elections Act stipulates that active consent is required from individuals for the transfer of their information from federal sources to maintain the National Register of Electors. For the 1999 tax year, 85 percent of tax filers (as of May 2000) have consented to the transfer of their information to update the Register. Similarly, 86 percent of new Canadians have consented to be added to the Register.
During its regular Register maintenance activities in March and April 2000, Elections Canada once again conducted a mailing to individuals who turned 18 to confirm their citizenship and to ask their consent to be added to the National Register of Electors. They were identified using Canada Customs and Revenue Agency or driver's licence information.
This second outreach initiative targeted 392 000 18-year-olds. The group consisted of 248 000 individuals who turned 18 between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 1999, and 144 000 individuals in Ontario, Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, who were not part of the initial mailing in spring 1999 because of recent or impending provincial or territorial elections. The mailing did not include individuals residing in Quebec, since the Directeur général des élections du Québec automatically adds new 18-year-olds to the information it provides to Elections Canada to update the Register. The preliminary response rate to date, a disappointingly low 24 percent, is consistent with the 1999 results.
As part of the outreach initiative, a pilot mailing of 27 000 reminder postcards took place in April 2000. They were posted to 18-year-olds in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax who had already been sent the 5 request for consent and confirmation of citizenship, encouraging them to complete the form and return it to Elections Canada. In summer 2000, Elections Canada will undertake a qualitative and quantitative review of the initiatives to date, including the reminder postcard mailing.
Sharing National Register of Electors data
Data-sharing partnerships are a priority for Elections Canada. They help to ensure that the National Register of Electors is of consistently high quality, both during and between elections. Revised lists of electors from other jurisdictions can be used to augment the standard Register update sources, further enhancing Register quality.
Since the last report, three new partnerships have been formalized. A five-year sharing agreement was signed with the Chief Electoral Officer of Newfoundland and Labrador, under which Elections Canada provided National Register data to establish and maintain the provincial register. An agreement was signed with the Ontario Property Assessment Corporation, the agency responsible for establishing preliminary lists of electors for the Ontario municipal elections to be held in November 2000. The corporation conducted a study matching the National Register of Electors to the Property Assessment database and, based on the success of the study, signed the formal agreement on December 8, 1999. Under the terms of the agreement, the corporation received an extract from the Register to compare with its database; the match rate was over 50 percent and the corporation was able to avoid the cost of a mail-out enumeration of over two million households in Ontario. Through an open-ended agreement signed with the city of Winnipeg, the city will use National Register data for all future municipal elections. Under all of these agreements, Elections Canada will receive revised electoral data in return, to update the National Register.
Each agreement includes mandatory security measures. Electoral data is personal information that is protected by the Canada Elections Act and the Privacy Act. Under the Canada Elections Act, the information may be used for electoral purposes only.
The second meeting of the Advisory Committee to the National Register of Electors was held on April 19, 2000. The committee provides an opportunity for data suppliers and users to exchange information on new data-sharing projects. Topics discussed at the meeting included data-transfer security and address-management issues.
The Year 2000 transition
Elections Canada's planning for the Year 2000 computer problem began in 1997, and it paid off on the night of December 31, 1999 – January 1, 2000. Overall, the transition process went smoothly: only a few minor incidents were reported, and were dealt with immediately.
A transition plan dealt with the periods before, during and after the midnight rollover period, covering the essential resources, monitoring and a schedule of events for which special actions were required. Staff was on call and on site throughout the period. Activities for the transition were co-ordinated by the Year 2000 Transition Co-ordinator, working with a special Crisis Response Team, the Executive Committee, the Year 2000 Project Director and other senior staff.
Registration in electoral districts: New software is put to the test
Elections Canada is currently replacing the Elections Canada Automated Production of Lists of Electors (ECAPLE) system with the REVISE system. The new system improves the preparation of electoral lists using data from the National Register of Electors, and will be able to handle changes resulting from the recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act.
Used for the first time in the St. John's West by-election for revising the lists of electors, the system met Elections Canada's expectations; it is now being adopted and tested for the more demanding requirements of a general election.
New computer network and equipment for returning officers and headquarters
The REVISE registration system uses a computer network consisting of individual local area networks for each returning office. IBM was the successful bidder for a four-year contract to provide the new computer hardware, software, service and support needed by the returning officers and Elections Canada to run federal electoral events, including some 3 500 personal computers, 602 printers and 301 servers.
The agency has begun a review of registration procedures to identify potential improvements. Included in the review are the procedures for registering new electors, for electors correcting their personal information on the electoral lists, for targeting new housing developments and highmobility areas to encourage new electors to register, and for sending information to electors about the registration process. Improvements found to be advisable will be made in time for the next general election.
Since the last report, we have asked returning officers to consult the local associations of political parties that presented candidates in 1997. This consultation had two purposes: to set up polling divisions and polling sites, and to discuss targeted revision. We had first written to all political parties asking for the name of a contact for each electoral district, and a meeting took place when a party provided a contact. We required agreement from the parties on locations in the electoral district where door-to-door visits would be conducted to confirm voter registration, and to register any electors not yet listed. These locations include new residential areas and other areas where the population is thought to be very mobile. Since areas where people move often are not strictly defined, we wanted the parties to agree on the target neighbourhoods identified by the returning officer.
The Tariff of Fees now provides for the creation of the new position of liaison officer. An electoral district with an Aboriginal population (on or off reserve) of at least 10 percent of electors, or an ethnocultural population of at least 10 percent, will have a liaison officer to ensure that the needs of these groups are met. We expect that 129 electoral districts will be affected. We will also ask the officers to deal with associations for the homeless, to make it easier for homeless electors to vote.
Appearance of the Chief Electoral Officer before House of Commons and Senate committees
On March 31, 2000, the Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to inform the members about new electoral maps planned for the next election. The maps will include features identified in a user survey of returning officers and political parties. They will show up-to-date road names and features, municipal names and boundaries, and electoral administrative boundaries. They will also show lots and concessions in Ontario, and townships and ranges in the Prairie provinces. Elections Canada will increase the number of maps produced, for greater detail and legibility. The database used to produce the maps was developed in partnership with Statistics Canada.
The Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on April 12, 2000, during the committee's consideration of Bill C-2, the new Canada Elections Act. During his appearance before the committee, he emphasized what he considers to be the most important aspect of the Bill: extending spending limits and financial disclosure requirements to third parties – that is, groups and individuals who advertise during an election campaign, but who are not candidates, electoral district associations or registered political parties. He also took the opportunity to express his support for measures in the Bill aimed at furthering the principles of transparency and the right of the public to know who is influencing the electoral debate.
The full text of the statement made by the Chief Electoral Officer at his appearance before the committee, and all his other public statements, are available on the Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca.
Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties
Since the previous report, the Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties has met twice. The December 3, 1999, meeting gave the registered political parties an overview of new technologies at Elections Canada, such as improvements to the agency's Web site, the new elector field registration system, the election payments system, the candidates' electronic return and the election management system.
At the March 3, 2000, meeting, discussions focused on event readiness planning, new electoral geography products to be used at the next general event, and the organization of the returning office, especially the returning officers' qualifications and the newly created position of liaison officer. A liaison officer is available to all electoral districts where there is a significant Aboriginal or ethnocultural population, to help make voting as accessible as possible by aiding communications between those communities and the office of the returning officer.
Political party's name change
On March 27, 2000, the Reform Party of Canada presented the Chief Electoral Officer with a three-part request: to change the party's registered name from "Reform Party of Canada" to "Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance", to change the short form of the name from "Reform" to "Canadian Alliance", and to change the party's logo. He received and studied submissions from the Reform Party of Canada, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, the Canadian Action Party and the Rest of Canada Party, and several letters and e-mails from the public.
On April 2, the Chief Electoral Officer announced his decision that the full name, the short form and the proposed logo do not so nearly resemble those of another party in the Elections Canada registry as to be likely to be confused with that other party, and that he accepted the proposed change in the name, short form and logo of the Reform Party of Canada, in accordance with the Canada Elections Act. The Reform Party of Canada is now registered as the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, retroactive to March 27, 2000, when the Chief Electoral Officer received the application. In French, the new full name is l'Alliance réformiste conservatrice canadienne, and the short form is Alliance Canadienne. The Elections Canada Web site has a section showing the names and logos of all registered federal political parties.
On May 2, 2000, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada filed an application asking the Federal Court to review the Chief Electoral Officer's decision. As of June 2000, the court has not yet set a date for hearing the application.
The most recent allocation of political broadcasting time was issued on December 22, 1999. Under the Canada Elections Act, another allocation will have to be made during 2000. The rules for allocating broadcasting time do not apply to by-elections. For the 1999 allocation, see the Elections Canada Web site.
Compendium of Election Administration in Canada
Elections Canada released the 1999 Compendium of Election Administration in Canada on its Web site. A comparative analysis of federal, provincial and territorial electoral legislation, the Compendium deals with such aspects of election administration as redistribution, registering electors, voting, nominating and registering candidates, political parties, local associations and third parties, and election financing. The Compendium is prepared annually for the Conference of Canadian Election Officials, and was last updated for the Conference that took place in June 1999. It is available on-line in PDF and HTML formats.
The ACE Project
Elections Canada has completed its undertaking to co-ordinate the French translation of the first-ever electronic encyclopedia of elections, a major compilation of analytical and comparative texts and good-practice examples for organizing, supporting and studying free and fair elections. The Administration and Cost of Elections (ACE) Project, is an initiative of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the International Foundation for Election Systems, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The agency has posted the French version 0.1 on the World Wide Web at www.aceproject.org.
Elections Canada received a delegate from Slovakia in November 1999. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about the eligibility of voters, advance polling, the organization and appointments of riding and poll officials, registration of contributors, the appeals systems and recounts, by-elections, postponements, campaigning restrictions, duties of the Chief Electoral Officer and his officials and appointees, and transparency and good governance.
In December 1999, Elections Canada received a delegate from the Ralph Bunche Institute on the United Nations, who was seeking information on international activities that might help Japan conduct a program of international electoral assistance.
In January 2000, Mr. Mikhail Khvostov, Ambassador of Belarus in Canada, and Second Secretary and Vice-Consul Pavel Shidlovsky met Ron Gould, Assistant Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, International Services, to discuss the electoral needs of Belarus.
Elections Canada received a delegation from the Public Office Commission of Ireland in February 2000, to look at Canadian election financing, electoral law and electoral reform.
In March 2000, Elections Canada received a delegation from Mexico to discuss the forthcoming July 2000 federal elections in Mexico. The delegation consisted of Messrs. José Woldenberg Karakowsky, President Councillor; Manuel Carrillo, Chief of Staff, International Affairs; Victor Avilés, Head of the Press Office; and Ms. Lourdes Gonzalez, Director of International Links and Political Affairs.
Elections Canada also received a delegation of three journalists from Ethiopia in February.
In April we received Professor Karel Vasak, advisor to the Tricontinental Institute of Parliamentary Democracy and Human Rights, and former legal advisor to the Secretary General of UNESCO. The purpose of his visit was to discuss preparatory work concerning electoral activities under the auspices of La Francophonie.
In April and May 2000, Elections Canada provided Canadian support by sending three consultants to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the Palestinian Electoral Project.
In February, April and May 2000, Mr. Kingsley met with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary General of La Francophonie, in Paris. During his visits he took part in seminars preparing for the forthcoming Symposium international sur le bilan des pratiques de la démocratie, des droits et des libertés dans l'espace francophone.
At the request of the Canadian International Development Agency, Elections Canada provided six Canadian experts to the International Organization for Migration to work on the Out-of-Area Registration project in Kosovo.