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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the September 17, 2007, By-elections Held in Outremont, Roberval–Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Hyacinthe–Bagot


Legislation Affecting the 2007 By-elections

In the past year, the Parliament of Canada adopted several significant legislative initiatives that amend the Canada Elections Act. Elections Canada has implemented Bills C-2 and C-31.

The Chief Electoral Officer appeared before Parliament 11 times between February 2007 and February 2008 to give technical advice and answer questions about several legislative initiatives. Some of his evidence is reported below; transcripts for all appearances can be found on the Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca under Media > Statements and Speeches.

Bill C-2 – The Federal Accountability Act

The Federal Accountability Act, which received royal assent on December 12, 2006, contains provisions amending the Canada Elections Act. Several of these have implications for Elections Canada's operations and the by-elections that took place in 2007.

Other changes as a result of the passage of the Federal Accountability Act include:

As indicated above, the Federal Accountability Act introduced merit-based appointment of returning officers by the Chief Electoral Officer. To carry out this new responsibility, Elections Canada assessed the past performance of returning officers and consulted with leaders of the political parties represented in the House of Commons. As a result of this process, the Chief Electoral Officer reappointed 190 returning officers.

To fill the remaining vacancies and find new returning officers, Elections Canada ran public competitions across Canada after Bill C-2 received royal assent. The competitions attracted more than 2,800 applicants; the selection committees interviewed about 600 of those. Competitions to fill vacant positions for returning officers are now cyclical, and are followed by the necessary training sessions.

The widespread recruiting coincided with Elections Canada's training cycle, which began at the end of January 2007 and continued into April 2007. Elections Canada adapted its training modules to accommodate both reappointed officers and new appointees – including assistant returning officers, who are appointed by returning officers.

Bill C-31 – New identification requirements

This bill, which received royal assent on June 22, 2007, touches on several areas of the electoral process, including operational improvements and new identification requirements for electors.

Operational improvements

Bill C-31 amends the Canada Elections Act to improve the accuracy of the National Register of Electors, facilitate voting and enhance communication with the electorate. These changes allow separate consent and citizenship questions to be included on the federal income tax form. A new provision also allows Elections Canada to obtain information from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on deceased tax filers who had previously authorized CRA to provide their information to Elections Canada, thereby facilitating their removal from the Register of Electors. CRA has implemented the changes to the tax form for the 2007 tax year.

Other provisions of Bill C-31 to improve operations include:

Several other provisions in Bill C-31 came into effect on March 1, 2008, and will therefore affect future operations and elections. The date for providing annual updated lists of electors to members of Parliament and registered political parties has been changed from October 15 to November 15 to facilitate the inclusion of summer moves, and a unique and stable identifier will be assigned to each elector on the lists of electors. Elections Canada is permitted to retain additional information about voters that has been received from provincial and territorial data sources. Each registered party or eligible party that requests it will receive an electronic copy of the preliminary lists of electors for an electoral district for which a writ has been issued. Each candidate in an electoral district who requests it will receive, 19 days before the election, an electronic copy of the updated preliminary lists of electors; these lists will reflect any last-minute updates to the Register and the results of any targeted revision activities up to that day. As before, Elections Canada will continue to provide revised lists of electors 11 days before the election and official lists of electors 3 days before the election.

On May 16 and 30, 2007, the Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and discussed with senators their concerns about how the provisions of Bill C-31 as it then read might affect individuals' privacy. Subsequently, the bill was amended to remove electors' dates of birth from all lists except those handled by poll officials on voting days. The Chief Electoral Officer's opinion was, however, that the other changes in the bill would improve the accuracy of the Register and assist parties in maintaining accurate lists as well.

New identification requirements for voters

Before Bill C-31 came into force, each elector who arrived at a polling station to vote was required to declare his or her name and address verbally, but not required to prove his or her identity in any other way, unless challenged by a deputy returning officer, poll clerk or candidate's representative.

New provisions now require electors to prove their identities and addresses before being given a ballot on polling day or during advance voting. The Act allows voters three ways to do this:

  1. by providing one original piece of identification, issued by any level of government in Canada or an agency of that government, that shows the elector's photo, name and address

  2. by providing two original pieces of identification from a list authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada; both must show the name of the elector, and one must also show the elector's address

  3. by being vouched for by an elector whose name appears on the list of electors in the same polling division and who has acceptable identification

In the third case, both the voucher and the vouched-for elector are required to make a sworn statement. An elector cannot vouch for more than one person, and the person who has been vouched for cannot vouch for any other elector. The Act does not make changes to the Special Voting Rules or to the rules prevailing for registration during the revision period, except when electors are registered at their residences.

In his May 16 and May 30 appearances before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the Chief Electoral Officer voiced some concerns about the proposed identification requirements. One concern related to the need for additional training of election workers to ensure seamless implementation of the new rules. Another concern was about the challenges faced by Elections Canada in ensuring electors could follow the new rules. This concern was rooted in a number of factors, including the fact that very few pieces of official identification carry the name, photograph and current address of the cardholder.

In answer to a question, Mr. Mayrand also observed that the proposed rules would allow an elector to vote without having to reveal his or her face.