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

3. Conducting the 39th General Election of January 2006


As the starting point of democracy, elections must be administered with strict deference to the basic values of fairness, transparency and participation. In this chapter, we look at Elections Canada's efforts to administer the 39th general election in a manner that would serve the needs of electors, candidates, parties and election officials according to these values of democratic tradition.

3.1 Managing the Election

While administrators face significant tests at every election, two challenges in particular characterized the 39th general election – both related to its timing. The first was the extended duration of the election calendar, which included the holiday season; the second, the fact that voting would take place, for the first time in 25 years, in the heart of a Canadian winter.

Both of these factors were anticipated in Elections Canada's planning scenarios. Extensive preparations were made by Elections Canada and returning officers (ROs) so that all necessary adjustments to the agency's management process could be efficiently applied upon the issue of the writs.

3.1.1 The Election Management Process

Delivering an election imposes a demanding schedule – the master plan for a general election outlines thousands of tasks to be accomplished within tight, specific time frames. It takes tested procedures and expert staff to meet the many deadlines set out in the calendar, much of which is specifically prescribed in the Canada Elections Act.

Nevertheless, during every general election, unexpected events occur. Elections Canada has a management process in place to assess such events and produce a fast response.

Event Management Framework

For the 39th general election, we once again used the Event Management Framework (EMF), a governance model proven in the 2004 election. Management information was supplied by three primary sources: the Event Management System (EMS), the field liaison officers (FLOs) and specialized task forces.

Central to managing an election is the EMS. This sophisticated executive information system monitors our performance of all key election activities, both at Elections Canada and in the field, providing a comprehensive daily report. Each morning throughout the election, the Executive Committee, chaired by the Chief Electoral Officer, met to review the EMS presentation.

The EMS draws data overnight from numerous Elections Canada systems, external systems and the returning offices. Results are compared with performance targets and forecasts, and exceptions are flagged for information and management action. Statistics are plotted against previous elections to facilitate decision making and planning. The EMS tracks all aspects of the election, including activity milestones, revision and targeted revision, the performance and statistics of communication systems (telephone and Web), public inquiries and the Elections Canada Support Network, among others. While the primary output of the EMS is the daily report to the Executive Committee, it also provides daily information to managers, ROs and FLOs.

In addition to the information provided by the EMS, the Executive Committee considered and acted upon various "alerts," which often arose from our analyses of emerging news stories, media trends or reports from FLOs. The Executive Committee also received briefings when necessary from task forces specializing in field applications, data integrity and voter information services. Drawn from experts across the agency, these teams were responsible for detecting problems, identifying solutions, analyzing for feasibility, impact and risk, and taking all the relevant information to the Executive Committee for consideration and decisions.

The Role of Field Liaison Officers

This network of experienced election practitioners, who live in or near the ridings they support, provided the Executive Committee with insight into the progress of the election at the local level, complementing the statistical data from the EMS.

A team of five advisors and three analysts worked at Elections Canada in Ottawa to support FLOs in their daily activities. FLOs reported on the status of activities in their regions to the analysts through four conference calls a day (one each with the Atlantic, Ontario, Quebec and West regions), six days a week. A total of 169 (compared with 164 in 2004) risks and problems were reported to the Executive Committee during the election at its daily briefings. All were resolved quickly.

Once again, the Field Liaison Officer Program proved to be an asset, providing the Executive Committee with useful qualitative assessments. FLOs were able to provide local support to all their ROs and follow up, as directed by the Executive Committee, where situations required their leadership, troubleshooting and coaching skills.

In addition, FLOs helped support regional and local media, in co-operation with regional media relations advisors contracted by Elections Canada. They responded to 327 media requests during the election.

3.1.2 Longer Election Calendar

The Canada Elections Act sets a minimum period of 36 days for an election, but does not specify a maximum length. With the election being called at the end of November and polling day falling on January 23, 2006, the 39th general election would cover 55 days, spanning holiday dates for most Canadians. This had a number of consequences.

Impact on Planning

The major events of an election – the opening of returning offices, distribution of the lists of electors, nomination of candidates, advance voting and so forth – are fixed, by law, to occur a specific number of days after the election call or before polling day, regardless of how long the election period is. A number of other administrative tasks, however, can be carried out at any appropriate point in the election calendar. With this election's 55-day calendar, Elections Canada had to plan the best time for each task – which could only be done once the writs were issued – taking into account the need to reach electors during the holidays and the related busy season for the mail system.

The many interdependent tasks that make up an election are mapped out in aides-mémoire identifying key activities that must occur, at Elections Canada and in the 308 ridings, on each day of the normal 36-day election period. These calendars of events, also embedded in the EMS, are used to track and report performance. The RO's, automation coordinator's and financial officer's aides-mémoire are checklists they use to plan and deliver the election in their ridings. Consequently, it was critical to adjust and distribute revised aides-mémoire to reflect the 55-day calendar immediately after the election call.

The extended election period also necessitated revision of the RO budgets to reflect the increased resources required to serve electors and candidates for a longer period of time. Elections Canada staff reviewed the expanded requirements for each position in the RO office and augmented the budgets as appropriate.

Modified Tariff of Fees

Under subsection 542(1) of the Canada Elections Act, the Governor in Council may make a tariff, on the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendation, to set the allowable fees, costs, allowances and expenses to be paid to ROs and other persons employed in an election.

Before the election, the Governor in Council approved adjustments recommended by the Chief Electoral Officer to the tariff of fees for all election officers and workers to compensate for inflation since the previous adjustments of March 2004.

In accordance with paragraph 4(b) of the Federal Elections Fees Tariff, the Chief Electoral Officer authorized the payment of an additional sum during the election to compensate certain election officers and workers affected by the longer election calendar. He also authorized a rate increase for certain election officers and workers in the three Northern territories.

3.1.3 Conducting a Winter Election

The general election of January 23, 2006, was Canada's first in some 25 years to be held in the winter months; this presented Elections Canada with challenges we rarely face. To ensure that Canadians could exercise their democratic right regardless of weather conditions, the agency revised existing plans and implemented new ones.


Throughout the winter election period, Elections Canada closely monitored weather alerts from Environment Canada to ensure that we could provide uninterrupted service. ROs and FLOs also negotiated with school boards and office owners to make sure that buildings would remain accessible to electors in stormy weather.

Given that the uncertainty of weather conditions would increase the likelihood that more voters would turn up at advance polls, the Chief Electoral Officer used his power to adapt the Canada Elections Act to increase the number of election officers staffing those polls.

Extra efforts were made to reach out to the potential 200,000 snowbirds temporarily outside the country and ensure that they could vote by mail-in ballot. (See section 3.3.1, Informing Electors.)

The holiday season presented certain opportunities, such as the typical increase in movie theatre patronage. Elections Canada took advantage of this by advertising in cinemas across the country throughout the campaign, optimizing the visibility of our messages at relatively low cost.

Preparing for Major Incidents

The timing of the election spurred Elections Canada to establish a Major Incidents Task Force. While it focused largely on dealing with weather-related problems, the task force also prepared to respond to any major incident that might affect the electoral process. To monitor events across the country, we obtained the assistance of organizations such as Environment Canada, Canada Post Corporation, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.

On election day, the Major Incidents Task Force monitored and coordinated our response to the power outage in the electoral district of Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River (Saskatchewan). (See section 3.6.3, Voting on Election Day, for details.) The task force initiative was found to be useful, and it will be repeated for the 40th general election.

In the Event of a Disaster

As part of its major incident readiness activities, Elections Canada posted a notice on its Web site explaining the operation of section 59 of the Canada Elections Act. This provision addresses situations in which, by reason of flood, fire or other disaster, it is impracticable to carry on an election. The Web site also had a collection of video interviews with the Chief Electoral Officer, discussing the challenges of a winter election.

Cancelling an election in any electoral district is only a very last resort, when continuing the proceedings is clearly impossible. If the Chief Electoral Officer concludes that voting cannot take place, he signs a certificate to this effect and sends it to the Governor in Council (the Governor General acting on the advice of Cabinet). If this body concurs, it withdraws the writ for the electoral district or districts in question. A news release advises the public of the decision; parties and ROs are notified as well.

Within the next three months, the Chief Electoral Officer must issue a new writ for the affected district or districts, with a new election day no later than three months following the issue of the new writ. Such a situation constitutes a new election in the affected districts; it must therefore last a minimum of 36 days, with new spending limits allocated for candidates and parties.

3.2 Field Staff in Action

Field staff are the hands-on facilitators of an election. It is their front-line efforts in each riding that most concretely define the electoral experience for both electors and candidates. This section recounts the steps taken, under the guidance of Elections Canada, to open returning offices, establish polling sites and hire additional staff to manage the 39th general election at the electoral district level. We also examine certain problems that arose as a first step toward improving field procedures in future elections.

3.2.1 Opening Returning Offices

Section 6 of the Canada Elections Act presumes that ROs will not open their offices until after the drop of the writ. However, an operational returning office must meet demanding technological requirements and provide level access. If ROs are to open their offices promptly, they must locate appropriate facilities, and have them certified by telephone companies to ensure they meet our requirements, well before the election call. (Please see section 2.2.3, Pre-election Assignments, for more detail.)

ROs in 74 ridings must also establish offices for between one and four additional assistant returning officers (AAROs). These additional satellite offices are set up in key population centres within geographically large ridings that have several concentrations of electors. While the requirements for AARO offices are less stringent than for RO offices – requiring just 4 telephone lines rather than the average of 25 lines that are normal for RO offices – they tend to be located in more remote areas and are consequently a challenge for shipping and installation. For the 2006 election, 111 AARO offices were needed in addition to the 308 RO offices.

These facts, combined with pending confidence motions in the House, prompted the Chief Electoral Officer to instruct ROs to prepare to take possession of their offices and be ready to sign leases for December 1, 2005, upon notification from Elections Canada. This date was subsequently advanced to November 21.

By the end of the day on November 29, 2005, following the issue of the writs, all 308 ROs were able to send confirmation of readiness to Elections Canada and open their offices to the public. Some did not yet have computer and telephone installations, but staff were on hand to assist electors who came to the office to obtain registration or special ballot voting services.

Nonetheless, locating, certifying and leasing 308 RO offices and 111 AARO offices for a two- to three-month period immediately following the election call presented a significant logistical and operational challenge for Elections Canada and our private sector partners. It was especially difficult in some urban centres where office vacancy rates were near zero. Elections Canada is exploring different approaches to address this challenge prior to the next election.

Computer and Telephone Systems

Computer delivery and installation was completed by December 7. Our equipment, which has served us through three elections since its purchase in 1998, will require attention as we upgrade our information technology infrastructure. Hardware replacement planning has begun, along with an initiative to upgrade all field applications to work on a new platform by June 2007.

Elections Canada's main systems became active, from the public's perspective, on November 29, 2005, when the Voter Information Service's Web and telephony components went live, allowing electors to get critical information about the election.

Returning Office Hours of Operation

In accordance with the Canada Elections Act, the Chief Electoral Officer specifies when ROs and staff must be present in the returning office, based on scheduled activities. During an election period, ROs must be in their offices Monday through Friday, and be able to return to the office quickly on Saturdays, to conduct planning, deal with financial matters and serve the public, political parties and candidates. In the RO's absence, the assistant returning officer (ARO) must be present. Each returning office must be open for a minimum number of hours each day – typically 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturdays and noon through 4:00 p.m., Sundays, with a few extended hours for specific statutory obligations.

Electors can register for the special ballot at the office of the returning officer (in person, by fax or by mail) until 6:00 p.m. on the sixth day before election day, with completed ballots due by 6:00 p.m. on election day. Hence, the Canada Elections Act does not allow returning offices to be closed on any day during an election, including statutory holidays. For this reason, during the 39th general election, returning offices were open to the public on the statutory holidays of December 25 and 26, 2005, and January 1, 2006, with Sunday hours in effect. Throughout these holiday shifts, the RO or ARO remained available by telephone when not in the office.

Many electors chose to vote at the returning office before departing on vacation, when it was more convenient for them, and electors across Canada made extensive use of returning office services during the holidays. On December 25, returning offices processed 9,275 registrations and address changes, an additional 779 on December 26 and 10,758 on January 1, 2006. As well, returning offices answered phone inquiries from electors who called returning offices directly. On December 25, ROs fielded 763 telephone inquiries. The ROs dealt with 1,495 calls on December 26 and with 2,569 more calls on January 1, 2006.

The Elections Canada Support Network

The Elections Canada Support Network (ECSN) in Ottawa assists ROs and their staff with the day-to-day administration of an election. Network agents were available during field office hours across time zones throughout the election. Field staff could contact the ECSN by telephone, e-mail or fax – or by forwarding a request through a computerized call-tracking system. Approximately 120 advisors provided three levels of expertise, up to 17 hours a day, seven days a week. ECSN staff received training in customer service, telephone systems and HelpVisiion (the ECSN's call-tracking application), as well as an overview of Elections Canada's policies and procedures. Advisors also received comprehensive, content-specific training for their particular Help desk. For example, those working at the Revision Systems Help desk learned the software applications used for revision at Elections Canada and in the field.

To augment these resources, Elections Canada had established partnerships in 2000 with provincial electoral offices, which could provide experienced, knowledgeable staff. Once again in 2005, we recruited staff, many of whom had prior experience working at the ECSN, from the provincial electoral offices. Additional, temporary front-line advisors were recruited from a pool of former federal ROs or AROs across Canada, or from the National Capital Region using a competitive process, through the Public Service Commission, to fill the remaining vacancies at the ECSN.

The ECSN dealt with 77,364 phone calls and e-mails during the election, compared with 82,158 in 2004, a decrease of some 4,000, despite the fact that the electoral period was 19 days longer in 2006. Of the 2006 total, 74,917 were answered immediately, yielding a response rate of 97 percent – 12 percent above the general service standard of 85 percent, and a 4 percent improvement over 2004. The support network answered an average of 1,294 queries a day, representing a 37 percent reduction from the 2,067 calls averaged daily during the June 2004 election – likely resulting from a combination of improved field staff training, the close proximity of the previous election and the extended electoral calendar. The greatest number of calls came on the 49th day before election day, December 5, which was the first Monday following the election call; on that day, a total of 2,758 calls were received, with a response rate of 81 percent within the first 18 seconds.

Figure 3.1 Call Traffic Analysis – 39th General Election, 2006

Figure 3.1 Call Traffic Analysis – 39th General Election, 2006

Extracted from Event Management System

Establishing Polling Sites

During their pre-election assignments, ROs had access to Elections Canada's national inventory of polling facilities. They identified suitable locations for polling sites in their ridings and entered them into computers provided for home use by Elections Canada. Once the writs were issued, the data became available on-line. Returning office staff contacted landlords to verify the availability of each polling location. They then confirmed the chosen sites in the computer application and assigned polling stations to each of the sites. Leases were then signed. Once polling sites had been confirmed, the data became available through the Elections Canada Voter Information Service on the Web, and was used to produce the artwork of the voter information card for each polling station.

For the 39th general election, ROs set up 60,795 polls at 14,917 polling locations on election day, in addition to the 1,311 mobile polls set up to serve 3,719 individual institutions where disabled or elderly electors resided. As well, 3,371 advance polls were established in 2,767 poll locations. Each poll served an average of 352 electors.

Table 3.1 Polls and Poll Locations
Type of Poll 38th General Election, 2004 39th General Election, 2006
Poll Locations Polls Poll Locations Polls


Table 3.2 Polling Stations – Facility Types
Facility Type Ordinary Polls Advance Polls
2004 2006 2004 2006
Apartment building
Band office
Church hall
Commercial site
Community centre
Educational facility
Federal building
Fire hall
Municipal or township hall
Post office
Private home
Recreation centre
Royal Canadian Legion
Seniors residence


Challenges Associated with Setting Up Polling Stations in Schools

Schools have traditionally been used as polling stations. They are centrally located and well known within residential communities, have suitable facilities and are often the only public buildings available. However, gaining access to schools during the academic year has grown more difficult in recent years. As shown in Table 3.2, the percentage of ordinary polls in educational facilities dropped from 40.1 percent in the 38th general election to 27.9 percent in the 39th. The most common reasons include concerns for student security and the fact that space is already used at maximum capacity during the school year.

For these reasons, the Chief Electoral Officer, as in 2004, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Toronto District and Toronto Catholic District school boards, giving 23 ROs access to nearly 400 schools for polling stations in the Greater Toronto Area. Once again, however, a number of difficulties arose in other regions while attempting to secure polling stations in schools.

Commission scolaire de Montréal – Before the election, the school board informed the ROs and Elections Canada that it would refuse to make rooms available in schools on election day, because students had already missed many school days due to an ongoing labour dispute. The field liaison officer for the area was able to negotiate security arrangements so that polls could open while students were in school.

Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île – Some 30 schools in northeast Montréal indicated that they would not make their facilities available on election day, despite having signed leases. The school board's executive director was ultimately successful in convincing most of his principals to comply; only a small number of polling stations had to be moved. Again, the field liaison officer was able to negotiate security arrangements so that polls could open while students were in school.

Province of Manitoba – The election fell on a provincial exam day, and this led to concerns about limited access to polling stations. However, ROs reported no major problems, as the school boards were very co-operative in identifying suitable accommodations for polling stations, as needed.

Poll Initiatives at Colleges and Universities

Elections Canada mandated all ROs to examine the possibility of establishing polling stations on or near university and college campuses, where feasible. As a result, ROs reported that some 350 polling stations had been set up either on or within one kilometre of a campus.

Poll Initiatives in Aboriginal Communities

ROs were encouraged to seek the approval of local First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders – such as chiefs and band councils – where appropriate, to place polls in Aboriginal communities and friendship centres. Of the 117 friendship centres in Canada, 21 were used for a total of 98 ordinary and advance polls (7 hosted 9 advance polls, and 18 hosted 89 ordinary polls). First Nations reserves, Inuit communities and Métis settlements accounted for a total of some 600 polls. In 85 electoral districts, there was at least one poll in an Aboriginal community.

Misinformation About Polling Days and Locations

During the election, we received reports of an e-mail in circulation, bearing the Elections Canada logo and the Chief Electoral Officer's name and title, telling electors that they could vote over a two-day period. A news release was issued and posted on our Web site, advising the public that this was an illegal message; it had not come from Elections Canada, and anyone having information about its source should contact the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Unrelated reports indicated that several candidates' materials also published incorrect information about voting procedures and locations. In the same news release, we reminded electors that Monday, January 23, 2006, was the only polling day and that Elections Canada was the official source of all voting information. The release pointed out that the polling station address and voting hours were shown on each elector's voter information card, mailed to him or her in late December, and that this information could also be obtained from the local returning office or through Elections Canada's Web site or toll-free telephone service.

The Chief Electoral Officer notes that the practice by candidates of including procedural and logistical details about voting on their distribution materials lends itself to confusion for electors and bears addressing.

Mobile Polls

Mobile polls serve institutions for seniors or persons with physical disabilities. The poll moves from one institution to another on election day, so that electors in each location can vote conveniently. This service was particularly important during the January 2006 election, given the possibility of bad weather on election day and the heightened potential for frail electors to slip and fall on their way to an ordinary polling site. ROs were directed to identify as many retirement homes as possible that could be served by mobile polls, if they had not already done so during their planning assignments, to allow more senior electors to vote in their places of residence.

Due largely to this initiative, the number of institutions served by mobile polls increased from 3,172 in 2004 to 3,719 in 2006. A total of 1,311 mobile polls were established in these facilities in 284 electoral districts. In all, 120,207 of the 210,158 registered electors in the institutions voted at mobile polls.

Table 3.3 Number of Mobile Polling Stations and Electors Served
Province or Territory 38th General Election, 2004 39th General Election, 2006
No. of Mobile Polling Stations No. of Electors Served Total Votes No. of Mobile Polling Stations No. of Electors Served Total Votes
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
British Columbia
Northwest Territories

During the election, concerns about potential influence were raised when several political parties and candidates began soliciting special ballot applications in large numbers at seniors residences. This caused considerable confusion among seniors, since electors who apply to vote by special ballot are restricted from voting by any other means, even if a mobile poll visits the institution at which they reside. Elections Canada sent a letter to all political parties, advising them that mobile polls would be established where required.

ROs were apprised of the implications of running an election at a time of year when the flu index and common viral infections are typically higher. They were asked to keep abreast of any epidemics in institutions that could invoke a quarantine and so block access to the building by poll officials. In such an event, ROs had to be ready to modify procedures on election day – for example, by engaging on-site nursing staff to function as deputy returning officers and poll clerks, or by ensuring that poll officials had received a flu shot and donned the necessary protective clothing before entering the institution. Four facilities actually required such adjustments on election day – three in Ontario and one in Quebec.

Level Access

The Canada Elections Act requires ROs to ensure level access not only at their own offices, but also at all polling places. While more than 99 percent of the polling sites for the January 2006 general election already had level access, an additional 131 ramps were needed and installed across Canada – 14 permanent and 117 temporary – at a cost of some $160,000 to Elections Canada.

Under exceptional circumstances, the Chief Electoral Officer may approve the location of a polling station in premises without level access. During the 39th general election, only 43 (0.2 percent) of the 14,917 ordinary and 2,767 advance polling sites used did not provide level access, compared with 45 (also 0.2 percent) in the 2004 election. Voter information cards indicated whether an elector's polling site was accessible. An elector with a physical disability whose polling station did not provide level access could, until January 20, 2006, obtain a transfer certificate to vote at another polling station that did provide such access.

Information on polling sites is shared with provincial and municipal electoral organizations to expedite the process, reduce duplication of effort and, most important, maximize the possibility that electors will vote at the same location in all elections. Data on accessibility are collected in the software application that maintains Elections Canada's national inventory of electoral facilities. This inventory helps us identify accessibility problem areas so that corrective measures can be taken in advance. It also facilitates reusing sites that Elections Canada has previously paid to make accessible.

3.2.2 Recruiting Field Staff

ROs hire an average of 500–600 people each to conduct operations during an election. These personnel fall into two groups: office staff and election officers, with qualifications outlined in the Canada Elections Act. Recruiting and training staff has become one of the biggest challenges facing ROs in recent years. The Act provides a standard process for the recruitment of staff. Experience in recent years, however, has shown that these sources are not always able to fill all available positions. This leaves the ROs to fill positions from other sources and by other means.

During the election, 180,925 election workers (filling 205,932 positions) were recruited and trained to serve electors in returning offices and at polling stations, compared with approximately 170,000 in 2004 (filling 193,736 positions). The planned staff increase was caused by a number of factors:

The specific field and local staff positions that were filled, and the number of workers needed in each case, are listed in Appendix VI of this report.

The holiday season timing of the election presented significant challenges for recruiting election staff, and Elections Canada developed a number of initiatives to assist ROs in this process.

Field liaison officers (FLOs) were briefed to help ROs advertise for election officers by various means, including classified and print ads, posters and public service announcements. FLOs and regional media advisors helped support the staffing process by developing advertising content with ROs and approving ad placement. To ensure that they would have enough staff to deal with calls at peak periods, ROs received statistics on reception and revision phone calls answered at the returning office in the previous election.

Additionally, anyone could submit an employment application to Elections Canada on-line, through a new feature on our Web site. The site also provided contact information for individuals wishing to seek employment with political parties. Employment forms completed on-line were forwarded to ROs for their consideration. A total of 28,822 applications for employment were received.

The Canada Elections Act specifies that, to be eligible for an election officer position, an individual must be a Canadian citizen 18 years of age or older. If there are insufficient applicants, however, subsection 22(5) of the Act allows the hiring of 16- and 17-year-olds, and this practice was authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer during the election. Hiring younger people might also encourage their participation in future, both as electors and as our next generation of poll officials. During the 39th general election, 248 16- and 17-year-olds were hired to fill 289 positions.

An RO's office staff are generally hired for the entire election period, and sometimes for several days afterwards. Some election officers also work for long periods of time. For example, more than 11,000 revising agents worked up to several weeks, mostly in returning offices, while additional assistant returning officers worked in their own offices under the remote supervision of the RO. The majority of election officers, however, such as poll officials, are generally hired only for the advance voting days and election day – in this case, January 13, 14, 16 and 23, 2006. All staff and election officers are required to take an oath of office confirming, among other things, that they will act impartially throughout their employment period.

ROs appointed 345 community relations officers for Aboriginal and ethnocultural communities, youth and homeless electors, based on the needs of the electoral district. (See section 3.3.1, Informing Electors, for further detail.)

ROs are directly responsible for selecting and appointing all information officers and central poll supervisors. Deputy returning officers (DROs), poll clerks and registration officers, on the other hand, are selected and appointed by ROs from lists provided by the candidates representing the parties that finished first and second locally in the previous election; revising agents are selected from lists provided by the first- and second-place parties themselves, in accordance with section 33 of the Act. If insufficient nominations are submitted by candidates or parties within the deadlines given in the Act, ROs may solicit names from any other source.

Election officers cannot participate in partisan political activities after they commence the duties for which they have been appointed. Thus, advance poll DROs and poll clerks may not participate in partisan political activities from the first day of advance voting until they have completed the count on the evening of election day. Ordinary poll DROs and poll clerks, central poll supervisors, information officers and registration officers are restricted in their activities only on election day. The integrity of the electoral process can be assured only if these rules are closely followed.

ROs face a collective challenge when recruiting and training poll officials because, particularly in metropolitan regions, last-minute resignations are common. In remote areas, distances may render communication difficult. Indisputably, the challenge at the eleventh hour is to ensure the simultaneous opening of all polling stations in all electoral districts. This is possible only if there are enough trained poll officials on hand. The Chief Electoral Officer, therefore, instructed ROs to appoint additional poll officials as the situation warranted. As a result, 71,220 DROs were trained to work at advance, mobile and ordinary polls as well as under the Special Voting Rules (SVR). Of these workers, 3,155 were on standby to serve at ordinary polls and 602 at advance polls, as needed. If a DRO becomes unavailable, the poll clerk becomes the DRO and a new poll clerk is hired. A total of 67,886 poll clerks were trained to work at advance, mobile and ordinary polls as well as under the SVR. An additional 373 poll clerks were hired to work at advance polls only. Of the 10,388 central poll supervisors trained to work at advance and ordinary polls, 275 were on standby. Of the 14,914 election officers who were trained as registration officers, 349 were on standby. Many ROs elected to cross-train individuals so that they could work in any of these positions; this allowed greater flexibility on election day.

In recent years, Elections Canada has had difficulty recruiting election workers – particularly in areas where the unemployment rate is very low, like Fort McMurray, Alberta, where the tar sands provide high-paying jobs. We will review our strategies to find adequate numbers of suitable election workers, particularly in parts of the country where the economic situation demands specialized human resources planning.

Training Election Officers

To assist ROs in training election officers, a variety of training materials – including instruction manuals, videos and lesson plans – are provided by Elections Canada. ROs also hire one or more training officers, who are responsible for training the hundreds of officials required for the advance and ordinary polls.

This activity is time-consuming and labour-intensive. In larger electoral districts, training must take place in various locations throughout the ridings. In more urban electoral districts, the number of workers needed is extremely high. The other challenge is maintaining the workforce. Experience has shown that in some areas of the country, a significant number of workers resign before polling day, but after training. In some ridings, up to 800 people need to be trained to retain a staff of approximately 500–600. The average electoral district provides some 160 hours of training over a 14-day period for poll officials alone – quite an undertaking in such a short period of time.

As much as possible, materials are pre-assembled by Elections Canada and shipped to ROs. Staff must then add last-minute items, such as ballots, which are printed locally, before training sessions take place. Training occurs within the last two weeks of the election period, in one or more locations in the riding. Sessions last from one to three hours and are followed by the swearing-in of poll officials and materials distribution. Once at home, DROs and poll clerks are required to inspect the materials in their ballot boxes to ensure that nothing is missing. This is particularly important in large electoral districts, where distance may prevent the distribution of additional material to the polls on voting days. These procedures require extensive planning and preparation to avoid difficulties once the polls open.

Video Conference Training

For the first time, two electoral districts made use of Web-based video conferencing to train poll officials in remote areas. This initiative came about because of concerns about potential weather disruptions for the hundreds of trainees who normally have to travel to and from the training location. The reduction in travel expenses also resulted in cost savings, without any adverse impact on the quality of the training.

Elections Canada will review the current poll official training format. The preliminary steps include formal observation and feedback from the FLOs, as well as participant evaluation forms from 31 selected electoral districts (i.e. approximately 10 percent). A report of findings will help determine how training programs can be further improved.