Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 40th General Election of October 14, 2008
The 40th general election was the first since I was appointed Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on February 21, 2007. For this event I was able to rely on a professional, experienced and devoted team to advise and assist me in the administration of the Canada Elections Act.
Delivering a 37-day national election involves rapidly putting into place operational activities of an extraordinary scope and scale, while adhering to and communicating highly detailed rules. This represents a daunting challenge. We serve over 23 million electors and some 1,600 candidates; we must establish temporary offices in each of the 308 electoral districts; and we must recruit, train and equip more than 200,000 election workers, and deploy them in over 15,000 locations across the country on polling day.
According to the feedback we have received to date, I am pleased to report that the administration of the election met the high standards of service expected by Canadians. There were, of course, a number of incidents and issues that will need to be addressed, but they should be considered in the wider context.
Voter participation was a significant concern in this election. After encouraging results for the 39th general election, participation by Canadian electors has again decreased, reflecting a tendency found in many modern democracies. This phenomenon seems to result from a variety of contributing factors that need to be better understood and, in my view, will require the leadership of civil society if we are to succeed in reversing the troubling trend of the last 20 years.
This report identifies three areas of the electoral framework that may merit Parliament's attention because of difficulties encountered in the period since the last report or during the 40th general election: administrative processes, voter identification requirements and political financing rules.
To maintain our service to electors, it is increasingly apparent that we need some flexibility to better respond to their changing expectations. When it manages electoral events, Elections Canada needs to be able to organize, assign and tailor the work of its election officers to specific circumstances. This approach would allow us to recruit and train staff more effectively, and provide better service to electors.
The administration of the new voter identification procedures generally went well given that it was a first experience for most electors, but there is some anecdotal evidence suggesting confusion on the part of certain electors and election workers. In addition, a number of electors had difficulty or were unable to prove their address due largely to circumstances not fully within their control. Further examination of these issues is required to better understand the challenges faced by these electors.
Political financing rules have been amended repeatedly in the last few years. The provisions have become more complex and place greater burdens on political entities, without always achieving the intended purposes of the legislation. It may be timely to review the rules with a view to streamlining the regime and making it more coherent.
In the past five years, Elections Canada has implemented many legislative changes and delivered a series of electoral events in rapid succession. The experience has indicated a number of areas where improvements to the electoral framework will be needed on a timely basis. The high-level review of the election in this report will be supplemented later in the spring with a document reporting on the results of our evaluations. At the end of the year, I will submit a report presenting my recommendations; these will reflect the discussions and advice that we will have sought from parliamentarians and political entities.
However, I am considering returning to Parliament before submitting my recommendations so that I may share my approach to proceeding with some necessary administrative changes in the event of another general election in the near term.
I wish to express my thanks to the government agencies and private-sector organizations that provided timely and invaluable assistance and services, making it possible to deliver a smooth election. I would also like to acknowledge the ongoing co-operation and assistance of provincial and territorial chief electoral officers. Most important, I offer my sincere thanks to the 308 returning officers and the tens of thousands of workers who managed and delivered this election throughout Canada.
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada