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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the September 11, 2000 By-elections held in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla


Elections Canada's activities since the previous report

Follow-up to the May 15, 2000, by-election in St. John's West

Candidates' election expenses

Under the Canada Elections Act, candidates are required to file election expenses returns within four months of election day. Elections Canada is now reviewing financial returns from the five candidates who ran for office in the May 2000 by-election in St. John's West, to ensure compliance with the Act and to determine the amount of reimbursement owed to those candidates who qualified.

Legislative issues

Amendments to electoral legislation

The new Canada Elections Act received royal assent on May 31, 2000. It took effect on September 1, 2000, following the publication by the Chief Electoral Officer of a notice in the Canada Gazette that, the necessary preparations having been made, the Act was now in force. The new Act is available electronically in PDF format on Elections Canada's Web site at www.elections.ca under Electoral Law & Policy.

The new Canada Elections Act did not apply to the by-elections in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla. These by-elections were held under the Canada Elections Act in effect when the writs were issued on August 5, 2000.

The last two reports have briefly listed the main provisions of the new Act as it moved through the legislative process. The following is a more detailed summary of the principal changes that are now in force.

Third party election advertising
Financing rules for registered political parties and candidates
Election advertising and election opinion surveys
Changes more directly affecting voters
Enforcement
Electoral administration

Recent court matters

During the period covered by this report, some aspects of electoral administration and electoral law were being tested in the courts.

On May 2, 2000, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada applied to the Federal Court – Trial Division for judicial review of the Chief Electoral Officer's decision to allow the Reform Party of Canada to change its name to the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance. On May 23, 2000, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada also filed a statement of claim in the Federal Court, under the Trademarks Act. No hearing has yet been held in either case.

On July 7, 2000, Stephen Harper filed an action in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, asking that ss. 323(1), 323(3) and 350–362 of the Canada Elections Act – dealing with third party requirements – be held unconstitutional. The hearing of this action began on October 2, 2000.

On August 16, 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued its decision in the case of Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General), concerning the requirements for registration of a political party. It upheld the constitutional validity of the rule that a party may become registered only after it nominates candidates in at least 50 ridings during a general election. However, it decided that restricting the identification of party affiliation on the ballot to registered parties was contrary to s. 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; in the Court's view, identification of party affiliation was particularly important where small political parties were concerned. The court suspended the effect of this judgment for six months so that Parliament may make the necessary modifications to the Canada Elections Act.

The National Register of Electors

Maintaining the Register

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 voters lists for federal general elections, referendums, and by-elections, such as those just held in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla.

The Register is continually updated with data from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provincial and territorial motor vehicle and vital statistics registrars, and electoral agencies in British Columbia and Quebec (which have permanent voters lists). Voters lists from provincial and territorial elections are also used to update the Register. Elections Canada has agreements in place or under negotiation to obtain access to these 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, 84 percent of income tax filers consented to the transfer of their information to update the Register, and 87 percent of new Canadians consented to be added to the Register.

In March, Elections Canada signed an agreement with the Canada Post Corporation to receive the names and addresses of people who have notified Canada Post of their changes of address. Elections Canada can only use this information for mailing purposes. This information, however, can be used to update the Register with the express consent of each individual. Elections Canada will mail designated individuals a request for their consent to update the Register with their new address information.

During its regular maintenance activities, the agency mails a request to individuals who turned 18 to confirm their citizenship, and to ask their consent to be added to the National Register of Electors. Elections Canada identifies these people by using information from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and motor vehicle registrars.

To date, only 25 percent of these 18-year-olds have consented to be added to the Register. In light of these disappointing results, we undertook a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of this outreach activity during the summer, and will complete it this fall. Elections Canada also plans a mailing to previous nonrespondents during the next general federal election.

Sharing Register data

Data-sharing partnerships help to ensure that the quality of the National Register of Electors is consistently high, both during and between elections. Using revised voters lists from other jurisdictions to augment the standard update sources can improve the Register's quality. Sharing the Register's data with other electoral agencies also reduces costs for all Canadian taxpayers.

Since the last report, an agreement was signed on May 26, 2000, with the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Nova Scotia, to use data from the Register to establish voters lists for the forthcoming elections in certain municipalities in October 2000. Under existing agreements, Register data was similarly shared with electoral agencies in Ontario and in Newfoundland and Labrador.

On September 22, 2000, Elections Canada signed a sharing agreement with the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Alberta. The National Register of Electors will receive electoral data resulting from Alberta's recent confirmation process; in return, Alberta may request extracts from the National Register to create voters lists and update the Alberta Register of Electors System. The agreement also provides for technical assistance from Elections Canada in updating the Alberta Register, including software, documentation and technical and methodological support. The agreement is in effect until December 31, 2003.

Each agreement includes mandatory security measures. Voter data is personal information that is protected by the Canada Elections Act and the Privacy Act. Under the Canada Elections Act, the information may only be used for electoral purposes.

Information technology: Maintaining election readiness

Reporting election results: Redesigned software

The Event Results System, first used in the 1993 general election, has been redesigned to take advantage of technological advances. This computer software helps returning officers to tabulate and send poll-by-poll election results electronically to the media and Elections Canada's Web site; it allows Elections Canada to gather and verify the poll-by-poll results received from the 301 electoral districts, and to gather, merge and verify the voting results under the Special Voting Rules.

The new system automates several manual processes, and improves electronic data transmission from Elections Canada to the electoral districts. For example, information that was previously sent by fax (such as the Special Voting Rules results) is transmitted electronically to returning officers from Ottawa on election night. The redesigned software also permits more rapid certification of the official results for publication. Successfully introduced in the September 11 by-elections, the system transmitted the results to the agency's Web site and the local media quickly and accurately.

Registration in the electoral districts: New software is operational

The computerized REVISE system for handling revision is now fully operational. The system has improved the preparation of voters lists from data in the National Register of Electors, and will accommodate changes resulting from the recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act. Used for the second time in the Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla by-elections for updating the voters lists, the system once more met Elections Canada's expectations.

New computer network and equipment used by returning officers

The by-elections in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla served as proving grounds for several technological projects undertaken by Elections Canada in the last year. Chief among them was the implementation of an integrated local area network linking all computers in the office of the returning officer, and also capable of linking to the Elections Canada network in Ottawa. For the first time, IBM, the agency's field-equipment contractor, provided information technology services under its newly awarded contract.

The network proved to be very robust and effective; the equipment performed well and, as expected, worked with very few problems despite the complexity of introducing new systems under field conditions.

Returning Office Payment System successfully tested

During the by-election in Kings–Hants, the new Returning Office Payment System was successfully tested as a pilot project. The system helps returning officers to track staff budgets, produce financial reports, prepare payment information for poll officials, the returning officer's staff and landlords, and send all the information to Ottawa so that Elections Canada can process the payments.

Electoral geography: New maps

The agency has produced new polling division documents and maps for all electoral districts. These maps are newly formatted and updated to reflect the results of a mapping survey conducted among returning officers and political parties in spring 1999. The new maps were used for the by-elections in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla.

National packages of geographic documents and maps have now been sent to the headquarters of all registered political parties. Members of Parliament received the same package for their electoral districts. The documentation includes descriptions of all polling divisions within each electoral district, poll keys that list streets alphabetically by name (listing also the number of the polling division and advance poll within which they are located), lists of the advance polling districts, and various map formats by electoral district, polling division and municipality.

Revised street indexes and the Guide to Federal Electoral Districts have recently been sent to all members of Parliament. The indexes help voters who use the Special Voting Rules determine the electoral district in which they are qualified to vote at a general election; they also provide information for anyone else wishing to determine the electoral district in which certain addresses are located. The guide is used to determine the electoral districts of almost 30 000 specific localities, and includes cities that contain more than one electoral district.

Elections Canada continues to update the National Geographic Database – a highly successful co-operative venture with Statistics Canada. The database is a national road network containing streets, address ranges, administrative boundaries and topographical features such as lakes and rivers.

A concerted effort is underway to increase the number of address ranges within the road network, especially those in newly built areas. The aim is to allow voters' addresses to be georeferenced, an operation by which each voter's address is assigned an x-y coordinate, which is then used to locate it in an electoral district and polling division. This enables the Register to be shared with jurisdictions that have different boundaries. Following the redistribution of electoral boundaries after the next census, it will also make the job of transposing the voters lists much easier.

Our largest election-readiness training program

As part of Elections Canada's plans to be ready for a general election under the new Act by September 1, 2000, the biggest training program ever held at the agency took place this summer in Ottawa. The project brought together 301 returning officers, 301 assistant returning officers and 301 automation coordinators, with 25 trainers and presenters from nine different divisions at Elections Canada.

The election officers received nearly 25 000 hours of training between July 31 and August 26 on recent developments in electoral administration, including:

Evaluation reports completed by the participants indicated a high level of satisfaction with the training.

Relations with Parliament and registered political parties

Appearance of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

On May 18, 2000, the Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to present Elections Canada's main estimates. He provided an overview of some of Elections Canada's recent achievements. These include conducting five by-elections in the 1999-2000 fiscal year; signing a memorandum of understanding with the Chief Statistician of Canada to merge geographic databases, giving Elections Canada the most detailed and current digital national road network in Canada; and making sure that the National Register of Electors continues to function and progress as planned. The Register is still projected to cut voter registration costs by some $30 million for the next and subsequent elections.

The occasion also presented an opportunity to highlight some of the agency's plans and priorities for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, including the implementation of the new Canada Elections Act; Elections Canada's program to inform the public and all stakeholders about the Act's new provisions; training sessions for returning officers and key members of their staff; and the development of outreach programs to give all voters the information necessary to understand and participate in the electoral process.

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 under Media (Statements and Speeches).

Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties

The Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties met on June 8, 2000, to receive updates on the National Register of Electors and on the revision and registration process, and hear an overview of the communication program the agency is preparing for the next general election.

On the following day, Elections Canada held a special briefing session on the new Canada Elections Act. The briefing was open both to registered political parties and to parties eligible for registration. The presentations summarized the changes to operational and campaigning provisions, and to provisions dealing with the registration of political parties, election financing for parties and candidates, enforcement,communications, and third parties. Following the June 9 briefing, the Chief Electoral Officer extended membership on the committee to parties that are eligible for registration.

New publications

The third edition of Elections Canada's biannual journal, Electoral Insight, was published in June, with the theme of technology in the electoral process. The journal is directed to readers interested in electoral issues, including parliamentarians, officials of international and Canadian electoral-management organizations, election officers and academics.

The third phase of the Web module Explore A History of the Vote in Canada was launched during a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, on August 9, 2000. The ceremony marked the 80th anniversary of the office of Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. The Web module examines the development of the Canadian electoral system since the colonial era. The first two phases of the Web module – Journeys and Timeline, launched last year – survey the general history of the vote from the 18th century to the present. This third phase, Chronicle, examines the contemporary period in detail, beginning with the creation of the office of Chief Electoral Officer. It includes SElections, Elections Canada's new electronic trivia game, an enjoyable and challenging way to learn about the history of the vote in Canada. The module was created in co-operation with the Canadian Museum of Civilization. It is accessible on the museum's Web site and from the information booth in the museum's Social Progress Gallery.

Elections Canada's new Web site, launched in September, now makes it easy for any viewer to set up his or her own personal screen to view election results as they come in. The customized screen can show past and live results by political party, by electoral district, by province, or in any combination the viewer wants.

International activities

In June 2000, Elections Canada received a delegation from Kosovo. The four journalists from the Kosovo Radio and Television System were seeking information on Elections Canada's Web site, broadcasting, the public Enquiries Unit, media relations, civic education programs, information tools for reporters and information technology.

Also in June, Elections Canada received a delegation from Croatia, representing the Croatia-Canada Women Parliamentarians Network. The purpose of this study tour was to share information on different ways of organizing elections, the role of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, public education and the influence of political parties.

At the request of the United Nations, the Assistant Director of International Services accepted a one-month assignment with the United Nations, in Mexico, to help coordinate and support the Special Guests Program of the Instituto Federal Electoral for the elections that took place on July 2, 2000. Under the program, special guests systematically visited polling stations to obtain information on how the polling day activities were carried out.

At the request of the non-profit Carter Center of Atlanta, Georgia, the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer for International Services joined a delegation responsible for monitoring and observing the Venezuelan national elections on July 30, 2000.

In early September, the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer for International Services also participated in a training workshop for members of the Kosovo Election Commission at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm, Sweden.