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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 39th General Election of January 23, 2006

2. Build-up to the 39th General Election


With a minority government in power after the general election of June 2004, the political landscape in 2005 was marked by the imminence of the 39th federal general election.

In this chapter, we look at the steps taken by Elections Canada to prepare electors, political entities and election field staff for the drop of the writs. We also recount events leading up to the election call and their impact on Elections Canada's operations.

2.1 Effect of the Minority Government

Knowledge that the next election could come at any time strongly influenced all of Elections Canada's operations between the 38th and 39th general elections. When a number of confidence votes took place in the House of Commons in the spring of 2005, Elections Canada prepared itself for an election call. Returning officers completed preliminary activities; staff were hired and trained; data for the lists of electors were refreshed; materials were procured, assembled and made ready to ship; and all our private sector partners were put on high alert.

Maintaining such a heightened state of election readiness significantly affects the agency's ability to further longer-term projects, such as developing a new multi-year strategic plan and renewing our information technology infrastructure. The agency is restricted to managing projects with shorter development cycles.

A minority government context also imposes the significant challenge of restocking election materials in the shortest possible time. Printing and assembling these materials, including manuals, voter information, paper for printing ballots and the like, typically takes about eight months, not counting any time that may be needed for reviewing, rewriting and editing documents. As well, returning officers and assistant returning officers must carry out continual planning assignments to ensure that office facilities and staff will be available.

Planning to Be Ready

Because our parliamentary system makes it impossible to predict the precise date of an election call, Elections Canada has developed a flexible planning framework to ensure timely delivery of all the necessary services under virtually any conditions. Through a series of customized planning and decision-making tools, the agency monitors its operational capacity with precision and carefully manages resource deployment to match the prevailing political climate.

Essentially, this is a risk management process, and the risks must be managed proactively. Deploying resources too early could significantly increase the costs of an election, but delays could cause gaps to ripple through the election calendar, when thousands of activities must dovetail closely. In a period such as the one between the 38th and 39th general elections, when an election seems imminent, the risks are reviewed constantly by the Chief Electoral Officer.

2.2 Preparing Field Staff

Field staff are the individuals who work in the 308 electoral districts across the country to organize and run a federal election or by-election. They are returning officers (ROs), who are appointed by Governor in Council, and the staff they hire, including assistant returning officers (AROs), additional assistant returning officers (AAROs), administrative staff in each office, community relations officers, revising agents, deputy returning officers and poll clerks at polling stations, central poll supervisors, registration officers, etc. Also included are 28 field liaison officers (FLOs), who act as Elections Canada's regional representatives to assist ROs.

In this section, we review Elections Canada's initiatives to prepare field staff for the 39th general election.

2.2.1 Field Liaison Officers

The Field Liaison Officer Program was first introduced to support field staff in 2003, in preparation for the 38th general election. Elections Canada built on its success to improve the program for the 39th general election.

Two new FLO positions were added to ensure that no FLO had to support more than 14 electoral districts. As well, two backup positions were added to assist other FLOs in their work or to replace any FLO who was unable to act. This brought the total number of FLO positions to 28 across Canada.

FLOs attended an orientation session in Ottawa in September 2005 to prepare for meetings with their regional teams. The FLOs then held regional briefings, one and a half days in duration, with the ROs, AROs and AAROs in their regions between September 26 and October 4, 2005. Field staff were briefed on procedures and materials that had been updated since the 2004 general election, and they discussed matters affecting their regions as they prepared for the 39th general election. These briefings were held in 13 cities across Canada and were attended by 28 FLOs, 295 of the 308 ROs, 284 of the 308 AROs and 108 of the 111 AAROs.

Participants found these meetings a useful way to ensure that they were fully briefed and ready to carry out their duties. The addition of key staff to the meetings this time around (only ROs had been invited to the first regional briefings held in March 2004) was also very beneficial, according to FLOs and participants, in building a solid foundation and strong teams ready to tackle the next election.

Throughout the fall of 2004 and in 2005, FLOs assisted Elections Canada in helping ROs and their key staff carry out pre-election assignments, and they provided coaching as necessary. Their weekly status reports on the progress made by ROs helped ensure everyone met their deadlines.

2.2.2 Returning Officers

Under the general direction of the Chief Electoral Officer, each RO is responsible for conducting the election of the member of Parliament for a given electoral district, serving electors, candidates and parties in that riding directly. ROs deliver the election in all 308 electoral districts.

Upon an election call, the returning office must be made fully operational in short order. This entails, in each electoral district, leasing one or more offices; hiring and training staff; organizing supplies received from Elections Canada; setting up and connecting telephones, computers and other equipment; leasing voting facilities and mailing voter information cards; and then revising the preliminary lists of electors. ROs also oversee the candidate nomination process, the training of hundreds of election officials, advance voting, special ballot voting and, of course, election day and wrap-up activities. Completing all of these tasks involves managing, on average, 500–600 employees in every riding.

Clearly, ROs must be very versatile. Their extensive duties call for the use of a wide range of modern management techniques, including financial planning, contract negotiation, public relations, office automation, and material, human and financial resources management. ROs must be both skilled and efficient to complete their tasks within the short periods of time allowed by the election calendar.

Appointment of New Returning Officers

ROs are appointed by the Governor in Council but are trained by Elections Canada. Hence, one of the challenges Elections Canada faces is lack of control over the timing of the appointments of these key field staff. A case in point was the critical situation we faced in the early months of 2005, when up to 24 RO positions were vacant, leaving the agency in a vulnerable situation. Contingency plans had to be made in the event that RO positions were not filled in time for the incumbents to be fully trained for a possible election call.

From July 2004 to November 2005, 59 new ROs were appointed. The length of time each position was vacant varied from 6 days to 176 days. Subsection 28(4) of the Canada Elections Act states that appointments will be made by the Governor in Council within 60 days of a vacancy. However, the late appointment of an RO does not affect the legal validity of that appointment.

At the issue of the writs for the 39th general election, two positions remained vacant. In both cases, the ARO acted in the RO's capacity throughout the election period and appointed an acting ARO to take her position.

Returning Officer Training

Most new ROs receive a one-day orientation session from their FLO before attending a six-day training session in Ottawa on the fundamentals of administering a federal election in an electoral district. The length of the training period is necessarily reduced for last-minute appointments. The training sessions use interactive techniques to help maximize retention. When there is a by-election, the RO, the ARO and the automation coordinator of that electoral district attend a training session that brings them up to date on the latest changes. The FLOs also hold periodic regional briefings to deliver updated information in preparation for an election.

A total of 48 of 59 new ROs appointed following the 38th general election participated in a one-on-one, daylong orientation session with their FLOs once this new program was instituted. FLOs also provided on-the-job training to seven other ROs who had been appointed too late to come to Ottawa for training before the election, and they prepared to offer them additional support as required. Additionally, for the first time, new AROs received training. As second-in-command, an ARO requires the same knowledge as an RO so as to be prepared to replace the RO if necessary. A total of 83 AROs were trained in Ottawa in 2005.

2.2.3 Pre-election Assignments: February to November 2005

To ensure full readiness for the coming election, Elections Canada undertook numerous preparatory activities during 2005.

All ROs across the country were required to participate in a series of planning assignments. These involved finding suitable office space for the returning office and any satellite office; identifying key office staff, local printers, furniture and equipment suppliers; and preparing plans for targeted revision (the door-to-door confirmation of the lists of electors) in parts of their electoral districts with highly mobile populations.

The Community Relations Officer Program

ROs could appoint community relations officers, where appropriate, to help identify and address the needs of individual communities and encourage their participation in the electoral process.

Generally, a riding was eligible for a community relations officer if any of the following were present in sufficient numbers:

  • Aboriginal community – A Métis settlement, at least one First Nations reserve, an Inuit hamlet or a friendship centre, or a riding population of which at least 5 percent were Aboriginal people.
  • Youth community – If at least 10 percent of the riding population was between 18 and 24 years of age.
  • Ethnocultural community – If at least 10 percent of the riding population had origins in China, India or the Philippines.
  • Homeless elector community – Any riding for which the RO submitted a written justification and received approval from the Chief Electoral Officer.

ROs were asked to prepare outreach action plans that targeted youth, Aboriginal and ethnocultural communities, and homeless electors and to include activities that would inform these groups and promote their participation during an election. ROs were instructed to hire community relations officers, as warranted, to establish the needs of target groups in the electoral district. ROs were also asked to identify polling divisions in which they wanted to put in place the Aboriginal Elder and Youth Program, an initiative that encourages the hiring of elders and youths at polling stations serving mainly Aboriginal electors. Communications materials were readied so that they could be shipped quickly after the election call, enabling ROs to make contacts in the community as soon as possible.

Each RO whose electoral district included two or more institutions where elderly or disabled persons resided was asked to ensure that residents in these facilities would have the opportunity to vote at a mobile poll.

In preparation for providing special ballot services to electors hospitalized during the election, ROs validated the information about acute care hospitals in Elections Canada's database; this would ensure that materials could be assembled and shipped promptly when needed and adequate resources allocated. The accuracy of information on numbers of beds, civic and mailing addresses, and contact persons was verified for 799 hospitals.

Verifying Telephone Service Availability for Proposed Returning Offices

The uncertain date for the upcoming election call presented a significant challenge to the preparations for opening returning offices in every riding. Not only must office space for 308 ROs be found in short order after an election call, but adequate telephone service and IT connectivity must be verified for all potential offices. These facilities are essential, not just for service to the public, but also for election management. ROs must be able to download data and instructions from Elections Canada, and send back daily reports on their activities, through the Event Management System.

As happened in previous elections, a number of factors combined to cause significant delays in getting telephone systems up and running. Some ROs had trouble locating, on very short notice, an office that could accommodate the current telecommunications infrastructure; the various telephone companies responsible for verifying phone line capacity for offices across the country were unable to complete this process before the election call; and in a number of cases, office space that had been verified became unavailable at the last minute.

Despite these challenges, 237 offices were functional within seven days of the election call, although problems with suppliers delayed the remainder for another three days to a week. While our telephone company agreements specify that phone systems must be operational within 48 hours of an address being provided, final installations for this election were not completed until December 12 – two weeks after the issue of the writs. Returning offices cannot be managed without telephones and computers, and Elections Canada is exploring options that will prevent or reduce similar problems and delays in future elections.

2.2.4 Systems and Information Technology

The use of information and communications technology has increased significantly and become more centralized in the last few general elections. Not only has Elections Canada had to "retrofit" our systems but, more importantly, we have had to plan for and invest in new, more efficient and more appropriate communications and information systems.

The period from July 2004 to November 2005 was used to correct deficiencies in functionality or performance in Elections Canada's software and hardware detected during the 2004 election. Some 150 improvements to the suite of systems used by returning office staff were completed by March 1, 2005, permitting the standard six months of extensive testing required to minimize the risk of software problems arising during an election.

In the fall of 2005, Elections Canada prepared various data sets for delivery to the field servers for use in the upcoming election. These included, for each of the 308 electoral districts, the preliminary lists of electors for that district, the full national lists of electors (to allow for electors moving between electoral districts), polling site locations and landlord contact information, election worker data from the previous election and election budgets.

Additionally, our suite of 34 electronic operational manuals (ECDocs), designed for use by election officers and office staff, was updated – and provided on CD-ROM, a convenience to which users responded favourably in 2004. The most recent version of ECDocs was made available on November 29 – the day the writs were issued – allowing updated copies to be printed locally as needed.

2.3 Electoral Geography

Central to a successful election is assigning electors to their electoral districts and polling divisions. The electoral district determines the candidates for whom electors can vote; the polling division determines the site where they vote. This work relies on two geographic databases, which are also the foundation for many of Elections Canada's publications and computerized systems.

The first is the National Geographic Database, which contains streets and geographical features, such as rivers. Developed and maintained jointly with Statistics Canada, this database was central to our preparations for the 39th general election, and it will also benefit Statistics Canada during the 2006 census.

The second is the Electoral Geography Database, which contains cartographic representations of Canada's 308 electoral districts, with 58,202 polling division boundaries and 3,379 advance polling districts. With its digitized boundary information, this database is essential for electoral mapping and the process of linking electors through their residential addresses to an electoral district and a polling division, also known as geocoding. Ongoing improvements to the currency and accuracy of street names, and urban and rural address ranges, significantly facilitated this process in our election preparations.

The two databases were also used to produce 69,752 original maps, plus various geographic documents, more than a half million copies of which were distributed to ROs and candidates during the election. All political parties received national map sets in electronic format on a single DVD, thereby greatly reducing paper copy requirements.

A new tool called GeoExplore gave access to both databases throughout the agency, to ROs and field liaison officers, and to political parties. This Web-based application allows users to locate civic addresses, streets, municipalities, postal codes, electoral districts, polling divisions and polling sites anywhere in the country. It also provides access to the latest maps and reports produced by our Electoral Geography Division.

Boundary Redistribution for Acadie–Bathurst and Miramichi

On February 24, 2005, Parliament passed Bill C-36, An Act to change the boundaries of the Acadie–Bathurst and Miramichi electoral districts. An electoral boundaries commission was established to readjust the boundaries between these two ridings. It ultimately moved 15 polling divisions from Miramichi to Acadie–Bathurst, affecting some 5,200 electors. On May 2, 2005, the Chief Electoral Officer published a notice in the Canada Gazette indicating that Elections Canada had completed the necessary preparations to accommodate these changes when they came into force at the start of the 39th general election.

Electoral District Name Changes

Name changes to 38 electoral districts came into force on September 1, 2004, with the passage of Bill C-20, An Act to change the names of certain electoral districts. In addition, Bill C-302, An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Kitchener–Wilmot–Wellesley–Woolwich, and Bill C-304, An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Battle River, received royal assent on February 24, 2005.

In each case, Elections Canada completed the necessary administrative work to accommodate the changes. In May 2005, given that 40 electoral district names had been changed since the Representation Order of 2003 came into effect, and due to the boundary change in New Brunswick, the Chief Electoral Officer reprinted and distributed provincial atlases, official federal electoral district maps of Canada and the provinces, street indexes and the Guide to Federal Electoral Districts: Excerpts – at a cost of some $200,000.

2.4 Voter Registration

Before Canadians can vote, they must be registered on the list of electors for the polling division in which they reside. Preliminary lists of electors for each electoral district in Canada are based on data from the National Register of Electors, which Elections Canada updates regularly with information from federal, provincial and municipal sources. An elector who has recently moved, turned 18 or acquired Canadian citizenship, however, might not be listed or may be listed at a former address. Electors finding themselves in such a situation can register during an election by contacting their local returning office. They can also register before voting at the advance polls or on election day.

Register and List Quality Initiatives
Improving Address Accuracy

In 2005, Elections Canada made it a priority to achieve more complete and geographically precise addresses for electors in rural areas.

Voters lists received from our electoral partners in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta enabled us to add detailed legal land descriptions (including section, township, range and meridian information) for more than 305,000 electors – a tenfold increase since the 2004 general election. Similarly, over 53,000 electors in rural Ontario were given detailed lot- and concession-type addresses in our database; we took them from driver's licence files received from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

In each case, geocoding, the means of assigning electors to the correct electoral district and polling division, has proved extremely accurate, and it has contributed significantly to improving the overall accuracy of the lists. These improvements were reflected in the annual lists of electors sent to members of the House of Commons and political parties on October 15, 2005.

Addresses are linked – or georeferenced – to the cartographic street network of the National Geographic Database, which provides precise geographic coordinates. Since 2000, improvements in how addresses and digital maps are validated and corrected have raised the georeferencing rate from 65 percent to over 91 percent of all addresses. This in turn allows electors at these addresses to be more accurately assigned to the correct electoral district and polling division.

Direct Mail

In the summer of 2005, Elections Canada removed duplicate entries from the Register, a task done periodically between elections. Duplicate entries in the Register can be created when a data source indicates a new elector at a certain address and we are unable to match to an elector already in the Register. Often these cases are caused by elector records with missing or incomplete dates of birth. Records identified as being a definite duplicate to another elector record are removed from the Register. When records are identified as being likely duplicates, but we lack certainty, they are not removed immediately; rather, we write to those electors to obtain confirmation of the correct address.

In November 2005, Elections Canada wrote to some 196,000 electors to confirm their information in the Register. Under subsection 52(2) of the Canada Elections Act, the Chief Electoral Officer may remove the record of any elector to whom he has written and who does not respond within 60 days. Some 45,000 of these letters came back undeliverable, indicating that a true duplicate pair existed and that the elector no longer lived at the address to which we had written. Such records were removed from the Register and subsequent lists of electors during the 39th general election. Analysis of the remaining 151,000 elector records will be resumed later in 2006 and any records for which no reply was received, and which were not updated during the 39th general election, will be removed from the Register.

Targeted Revision

Targeted revision is the process of going door to door early in the election period, in areas where a high percentage of voters may not have been included on preliminary lists or may be listed at a former address, and registering these electors. We identify target areas for revision through an analysis of the Register to compile a list of addresses to and from which residents have moved frequently in the past. Assignments completed by returning officers (ROs) help to identify additional areas to target, including new housing developments and institutions with a high turnover of residents. Address lists are assembled before the issue of the writs so that ROs can plan for the resources they will need to conduct targeted revision during the election.

In preparation for the election, Elections Canada continued to work with ROs to create a detailed targeted revision strategy. ROs had two separate opportunities, in April and September 2005, to review and suggest changes to their data for the targeted revision CD-ROM tool. Elections Canada's central database was updated with the revised lists of addresses to target, then used to establish targeted revision forecasts. These in turn were used for Event Management System reporting, for the Statement of Quality documents used by ROs and shared with candidates, and finally for targeted revision budgets.

Initiatives to Register Target Groups

Included in voter registration initiatives are specific groups of electors whose voting rate has been historically lower than that of the general electorate. This section reviews Elections Canada's efforts to ensure registration among electors in these groups.


From January to March 2005, Elections Canada wrote to potential new electors aged 18 to 24, who were identified from Canada Revenue Agency and driver's licence records, reminding them of their right to vote and recommending that they take steps to ensure they were registered for voting in upcoming federal elections. The recipients of the mailing were some 186,000 young electors who were not in the Register. A registration kit was included in their mail packages. A similar mailing was done between June and August 2005 to another 135,000 youths who were not in the Register. Some 78,000 young people responded to these two mailings and requested to be added to the Register; an additional 72,000 were later confirmed to be eligible using provincial lists and were added in time to appear on the preliminary lists of electors. As was done at the 2004 election, youths who had not responded before the issue of the writs (171,000 in total) were sent a notice soon after the election started, encouraging them to register locally to vote.

Homeless Persons

As an assignment in 2005, ROs were asked to confirm the telephone numbers and addresses of shelters for the homeless in their electoral districts and to validate the information provided. This involved, among other things, confirming the number of beds and making arrangements for shelters to provide proof of address to help homeless electors register to vote. See section 3.3.1, Informing Electors, for further details.

Incarcerated Electors

Elections Canada also developed new strategies to strengthen the voting process in correctional institutions. A number of support network personnel were assigned to answer questions specifically from correctional facility liaison officers, who are appointed by the responsible provincial and federal ministers for each such facility in Canada. We asked corrections officials to provide us with updated lists of correctional centres and names of liaison officers. Facilities with more than 250 inmates were asked to appoint multiple liaison officers to ensure that each inmate had the opportunity to register and vote.

2.5 The Voter Information Service

For the 38th general election, Elections Canada added a new component to the Voter Information Service: an automated Voice Response System (VRS). It has the ability to greet people calling our national toll-free number, recognize what they are asking for and produce the answers from a comprehensive database.

A pre-election study of the VRS and practical experience gained during the 2004 election indicated the need for numerous usability improvements and a greater diversity of system commands.

We prepared to implement many of these improvements for the 39th general election. Main menus were reworked, and the system was configured to provide key hiring information for election workers and to allow job applicants to apply for positions through the Internet. In addition, reporting was improved to provide more detailed statistics on VRS usage.

2.6 Preparations for Political Financing

In preparing for the 39th general election, we applied annual adjustments to the electoral contributions and expenses limits, and we ensured that all political entities were informed through the publication of this information on Elections Canada's Web site.

The limits on political contributions are adjusted before April 1 of each year to factor in inflation figures published by Statistics Canada. Elections Canada published the contribution limits in the Canada Gazette on March 26, 2005.

On October 15 of each year, the Chief Electoral Officer calculates the maximum candidate election expenses limits as if an election were to be held. These limits are sent to each member of Parliament, to each party that endorsed a candidate in the last general election and to anyone else upon request.

Third-party spending limits are adjusted for inflation by April 1 of each year, based on inflation figures published by Statistics Canada. Third-party spending limits, published at, were in effect for any election called between April 1, 2005, and March 31, 2006.

Elections Canada maintains a number of tools and guidance materials to assist political entities in completing their financial transactions returns in compliance with the finance provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Based on comments and experience from the 38th general election and 2004 reporting, the Electronic Financial Return software application that we provide to registered political entities was updated, and a revised version was distributed on February 25, 2005.

All tools and guidance materials were distributed to registered political entities in electronic format (CD-ROM or DVD) and were also made available on-line at

2.7 The 39th General Election Is Launched

The minority government continued to hold throughout the fall of 2005, until November 28, when it failed to win a vote of confidence. On November 29, the 38th Parliament of Canada was dissolved by Governor General Michaëlle Jean.

On December 2, 2005, the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, appeared at a press conference to launch the 39th general election. He assured electors that Elections Canada would do everything possible to make it easy for Canadians to vote and highlighted the voting options available to electors away from home. After a brief review of the election calendar and mention of the voter information card, Elections Canada's Web site and the Voter Information Service, Mr. Kingsley ended with the pronouncement: "My fellow Canadians, Elections Canada is open for service!"