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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 40th General Election of October 14, 2008

2. Conducting the 40th General Election

This section is an account of Elections Canada's activities to deliver the 40th general election, from the launch to the return of the writs.

2.1 Launch of the Election

On September 7, 2008, the Governor General dissolved Parliament at the request of the Prime Minister, and writs were issued for elections in all 308 federal electoral districts across Canada. The date for the 40th general election was set as October 14, 2008. On the same day, the Chief Electoral Officer announced the withdrawal of the writs for by-elections in the electoral districts of Guelph, Saint-Lambert, Westmount–Ville-Marie and Don Valley West.

Opening of local Elections Canada offices

Under the Canada Elections Act, returning officers must open offices without delay after the issue of the writs. When the Prime Minister announced his intention of requesting the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, the Chief Electoral Officer ordered returning officers to put their plans in motion and set up their offices; the objective was to be ready to provide services to electors and potential candidates, wherever possible, immediately after the issue of the writs.

Because of the distances involved, returning officers in 77 of the geographically largest electoral districts may establish up to four satellite offices, managed by additional assistant returning officers. For the 2008 election, 119 such offices were established.

Electoral staff were on duty in the offices shortly after the issue of the writs. Elections Canada provided preliminary lists of electors to returning officers. Canada Post delivered computer systems to local Elections Canada offices by September 12. In some cases, however, there were delays in installing telephone systems or delivering furniture. For details about the challenges involved in setting up local Elections Canada offices, see Section 3.1, Administrative Processes.

Recruiting field staff

During the 40th general election, 236,380 specific positions were filled by election workers; this compared with 213,290 positions filled in the 39th general election. Among the reasons for this increase were growing turnout at advance polls; contingency plans for managing new legislative provisions at the polls, such as voter identification; and a larger number of polling stations, partly in response to the larger number of names on the preliminary lists of electors. Because of the new voter identification requirements, Elections Canada deployed additional election officers at all polling sites to assist electors as they arrived. For a list of the positions occupied by electoral staff for the 40th general election, see Table 1.

Only 33 percent of the deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers who worked at the election day polls came from lists provided by candidates. To fill the remaining positions, returning officers turned to the 47,458 applications submitted by means of the Elections Canada Web site and also used other methods such as posters in stores, advertisements in local newspapers and word of mouth. As in previous elections, the Chief Electoral Officer authorized returning officers to appoint additional poll officials to accommodate absences and last-minute resignations, and authorized 110 returning officers to hire 16-and 17-year-olds to fill some positions, in accordance with paragraph 22(5)(a) of the Canada Elections Act.

The recruitment of field staff presented some challenges (see Section 3.1, Administrative Processes).

Resources available to field staff

Several Elections Canada resources supported the field staff:

Polling sites

For the 40th general election, returning officers set up 63,436 polls at 15,205 polling locations on election day, in addition to the 1,478 mobile polls set up to serve 4,332 individual institutions where disabled or elderly electors resided. As well, 4,041 advance polls were established in 3,071 polling locations.

2.2 Working with Political Entities

Communications and training

Throughout the election, parties and candidates received from Elections Canada extensive information on financing. This dealt with topics such as the proper way to treat candidates' personal expenses, good political financing practices, fundraising, loans and obligations of official agents.

Meetings between returning officers and candidates and their representatives took place between September 23 and 26. During the meetings, returning officers provided information about new procedures, the sites they had chosen for polling stations and the quality of the lists of electors.

As in previous elections, Elections Canada set up a dedicated toll-free telephone support network, or helpdesk, to respond to questions from candidates and parties. The helpdesk provided assistance on various aspects of the electoral process throughout the election. Some of the most common questions concerned the role of the official agent, completion and verification of nomination papers, signage, the voting process, and advertising. The helpdesk also received complaints about various topics: procedural matters; inability to gain access to shopping malls, college and university residences, and condominium premises; barriers to voting; late opening of polling stations; rejection of some identification documents by poll workers; and other matters.

Twenty-five training sessions for official agents were held in 12 major centres across the country between October 28 and November 29. In all, there were 272 participants. The sessions focused on financial reporting, obligations of official agents and candidates, important deadlines, and how to complete the electoral campaign return.


Nominations closed at 2:00 p.m., local time, on September 22. Only one candidate withdrew a nomination: in Toronto Centre, the Conservative Party candidate withdrew after completion of the confirmation process but before the statutory deadline. The party subsequently nominated another candidate in this electoral district.

In Saanich–Gulf Islands, the New Democratic Party candidate wished to withdraw from the race but the statutory deadline had passed. His name therefore remained on the ballot and the party could not nominate a new candidate.

In Kildonan–St. Paul, the Liberal Party withdrew support for its candidate after her nomination had been confirmed by the returning officer. The candidate continued to run as an independent. However, because her nomination paper indicated that she had been endorsed by the Liberal Party and her candidacy had been confirmed as a candidate for that party, the Canada Elections Act required that she be identified as "Liberal" on the ballot and the party was not able to endorse another candidate in that district.

The total number of confirmed candidates was 1,601, compared with 1,634 in the 39th general election. There were 445 women candidates or 27.8 percent of the total, compared with 380 (23.3 percent) in the 39th general election. Of the 304 sitting members of the House of Commons at the dissolution of Parliament, 271 sought re-election and 33 did not. Of those who sought re-election, 240 were returned to office; another 68 candidates were elected for the first time to the House.

Candidates' election expense limits varied from one electoral district to another since the limits are based on the number of electors listed in each district. The average limit was $88,097.12.

Political parties

At the issue of the writs, 16 political parties were registered. Another 3 were eligible and became registered during the election. These 19 parties ran candidates, compared with 15 in the 39th general election.

The Canada Elections Act sets separate limits on the election expenses of candidates and registered political parties. The election expenses limit for a political party is based on the number of names on the lists of electors for all electoral districts in which the party has endorsed a candidate. An initial limit is calculated using the preliminary lists of electors, and a final election expenses limit is determined at a later date using the preliminary or revised lists of electors, whichever contain more names. In the 40th general election, the final election expenses limits were the same as the preliminary limits for all parties because the preliminary lists of electors contained more names than the revised lists for electoral districts where the parties endorsed candidates. If the revised lists had contained more names, the final election expenses limits would have changed to reflect this.

For the number of each party's confirmed candidates, as well as final party expense limits, see Table 2.

Beginning on September 8, Elections Canada distributed electronic copies of the preliminary lists of electors to the 13 parties that requested them.

2.3 Regulation of Election Advertising

Election advertising activity took place throughout the election period with the exception of election day, when it is prohibited under section 323 of the Canada Elections Act.

Third-party election advertising

Under section 352 of the Act, any third party conducting election advertising during an election must be identified in each advertisement. Third parties must register with Elections Canada once they have incurred election advertising expenses of $500. Furthermore, they must produce a financial report within four months after polling day, itemizing their election advertising expenses as well as all contributions and loans received for election advertising purposes in the period beginning six months before the issue of the writs and ending on polling day. Section 350 of the Act sets limits on the amount a third party may incur in election advertising expenses. In the 40th general election, the limits amounted to $183,300 for a national campaign and $3,666 per electoral district. During the election, 62 third parties registered with Elections Canada; this compared with 80 third parties that registered during the 2006 general election.

Advertising on the Internet, and especially through social media, is also mentioned in Section 3.3, Political Financing and Third Parties.

Vote swapping

It has always been possible for two people in separate electoral districts to agree to vote for each other's preferred candidate with the aim of influencing the overall election results. These agreements would be private and secret in nature. It is therefore impossible to say whether they have ever influenced an electoral event or even whether they have been honoured.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, have become a popular medium for political discussion during and between electoral events. They also offer the opportunity for larger-scale vote swapping, especially between groups of individuals in electoral districts with tight races.

During the 40th general election, Elections Canada considered a Facebook group page that promoted vote swapping. We determined that it did not violate the Canada Elections Act. We informed media outlets that encouraging electors to vote in a particular way is permissible under the Act, as is inviting electors to participate in organized strategic voting plans. We also cautioned that electors could be misled by such plans. If the person influencing their vote acts under a false identity, that would be an offence under the Act. It is also an offence if money or any other material benefit is exchanged as part of a voting arrangement.

Future discussions on these matters should take into account other issues related to compliance and enforcement of the Canada Elections Act over the Internet. Is enforcement necessary or even desirable, and does Elections Canada have the mandate and resources to enforce the Act on the Web? Elections Canada looks forward to discussing these issues with political parties and members of Parliament.

Broadcasting time for political parties

The Broadcasting Arbitrator allocates paid and free broadcasting time to parties in accordance with the Canada Elections Act, issues guidelines concerning the obligations of broadcasters during a general election, and arbitrates disputes between political parties and broadcasters concerning the application of the Act.

During a general election, the Canada Elections Act requires every broadcaster in Canada to make at least 390 minutes of broadcasting time available for purchase by registered and eligible parties. The time must be provided during prime time, at the lowest rate that would be charged to any other purchaser for equivalent time.

Under section 343 of the Act, on October 26, 2007, the Broadcasting Arbitrator made an allocation of the broadcasting time available. This allocation, together with the additional statutory allocation of six minutes for the three newly eligible parties, was in effect for the 40th general election. The decisions of the Broadcasting Arbitrator allocating paid time under the Act are posted on the Elections Canada Web site.

Under the Act, all network operators that provided free broadcasting time in the previous general election must provide as much free broadcasting time to registered and eligible parties during the election that follows. Free broadcasting time must be provided to parties in the same proportion as the allocation of paid broadcasting time.

See Table 3 for details on the paid and free broadcasting time that network operators were required to provide to parties in the 40th general election.

2.4 Adaptations and Instructions

The Chief Electoral Officer may adapt the Canada Elections Act under subsection 17(1) to address an emergency, an unusual or unforeseen circumstance, or an error. In the 40th general election, for the first time the Chief Electoral Officer issued instructions to adapt the Special Voting Rules pursuant to section 179, to execute the intent of the Act. Table 4 lists adaptations to the Act made during the 40th general election. Table 5 lists instructions issued by the Chief Electoral Officer pursuant to section 179.

2.5 Communications and Outreach

A key factor in ensuring that electors understand the electoral process – including how they can exercise their right to vote – is having the capacity to meet the communications and information needs of all electors. This involves the development of information campaigns that are tailored to the needs of specific population groups.

For the 40th general election, our main concern was to provide information about the new identification provisions (see Section 3.2, Voter Identification at the Polls).

Initiatives to inform electors about new voter identification requirements

We distributed a pamphlet to all Canadian households reminding them of the new identification rules, informing them of their options for how to prove their identity and residence and giving the list of identification documents authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer.

We directed revising agents to assume an educational role with administrators of long-term care facilities.

We expanded our Aboriginal radio campaign in 13 northern electoral districts.

On the Elections Canada Web site, we posted information about the new requirements in several Aboriginal and heritage languages.

We conducted an advertising program with a national magazine and Web site ( aimed at managers and administrators of seniors' homes.

We developed communications materials for use in seniors' residences and long-term care facilities.

We sent additional field resources to electoral districts that were most likely to face identification challenges – for example, Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River.

We collaborated with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), including distribution of a public service announcement broadcast on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and radio and print advertisements. The AFN also conducted a call initiative to First Nations communities to build awareness of the new identification requirements.

Elections Canada also sent three standard e-bulletins to 1,000 youth, student, Aboriginal, ethnocultural and special needs associations for their distribution. The e-bulletins highlighted the new requirements.

Advertising and media relations

Elections Canada maintained a constant presence in a mix of media throughout the election period. The campaign involved overlapping phases: electors were advised of the election date, the requirement to prove identity and residence, how to register if they did not receive a voter information card, and when to vote in advance. Finally, they received a reminder that they could register and vote on election day. The theme of the campaign was "Vote. Shape your world." The main message in all media was "When you vote you must prove your identity and address."

Ads were carried on 144 television and 629 radio stations, and in 145 daily newspapers, 1,114 community newspapers, 22 cultural publications and 97 student papers. Ads also ran on 1,977 movie screens, while banner ads appeared on 280 Internet sites. Based on industry standards, the campaign potentially reached 99.9 percent of electors.

To support direct contact with national and regional media, Elections Canada established a Canada-wide network of 16 national and regional communications professionals. From the issue of the writs to the end of judicial recounts, this team answered 2,676 calls from members of the media and initiated 667 calls to provide information on the electoral process. In an effort to respond to the media's need for focused and timely information, news releases were streamlined and the number issued during the event was reduced from 30 in 2006 to 18 in 2008.

Campaigns targeted at specific population groups

Special efforts were made to inform and engage groups and communities that were likely to experience difficulty in exercising their right to vote, or that could not easily be reached through Elections Canada's general advertising campaign.

Community relations officers

Community relations officers play an important role in the specialized campaigns by setting up information kiosks, distributing communications material and identifying potential barriers to voting. For the 40th general election, they made extra efforts to provide information about the new identification requirements to electors in designated communities, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, university campuses and student residences. Elsewhere they reached out to First Nations communities.

Community relations officers adapted their activities to the communities they worked with. Following are highlights of their work:

Information campaigns

To reach diverse communities, Elections Canada makes several of its election-related advertisements and publications available not only in English and French but also in 27 heritage languages and 8 Aboriginal languages, including Inuktitut, as well as in multiple formats such as Braille. We provided information kits and order forms for information about the electoral process to national and local special needs associations and ethnocultural associations.

Information was delivered through alternative vehicles such as broadcast reading services, American Sign Language and the Langue des signes québécoise, and through ethnocultural and Aboriginal community newspapers and radio stations. Overall, there was a 38 percent increase over the 39th general election in radio ads for Aboriginal communities across Canada. In the 13 electoral districts in the North, 2,680 spots were aired over a 42-day period in the 39th general election, compared with 2,731 spots aired within just 14 days in the 40th general election.

More than 406,000 potential new electors aged 18 to 24 received a notice from Elections Canada, encouraging them to register locally to vote. We also made a new brochure available to inform shelter administrators about homeless electors' right to vote and how they could exercise their right.

Student Vote

For the past three general elections, Elections Canada has partnered with Student Vote to engage young Canadians in the electoral process.

Operating since 2003 at both federal and provincial levels, Student Vote is a non-partisan, not-for-profit educational organization that conducts “parallel elections” for students who have not yet reached voting age. At these events, students in participating elementary and high schools cast practice ballots for one of the official candidates running in their own electoral district. They also participate in the conduct of the parallel election, serving as deputy returning officers and poll clerks. Student Vote results are reported on national television and on the organization's Web site ( after the close of polls on election night. Regional newspapers publish the results on the following day.

These exercises provide young Canadians with opportunities to participate in the electoral process and develop habits of democratic citizenship. In all, 3,015 schools and approximately 500,000 students participated in the Student Vote election held in parallel with the 40th general election.

Information channels for electors

In addition to contacting their local Elections Canada office or additional assistant local office, electors could obtain information directly from Elections Canada about registration, voting procedures, poll locations and other common topics.

Electors could obtain information by phone by dialing Elections Canada's national toll-free number (1-800-463-6868). Calls to that number were directed to an automated voice response system (VRS) operating 24 hours a day throughout the election period. The VRS self-serve option provides information without the assistance of a call agent. The system answered all of the 363,501 phone calls it received. More than 95,000 callers used the self-serve menu to obtain information; another 64,865 callers were automatically routed to their local Elections Canada offices. Call centre agents answered the remaining 203,589 calls. To handle the call volume, Elections Canada renewed an agreement with the federal government's Canada Inquiries Centre. In addition, the Canada Revenue Agency supplied 50 call centre agents on polling day. A total of 292 agents were available on that day.

Staff in local Elections Canada offices and satellite offices handled 940,973 calls during the election period.

Similar information was available on the Elections Canada Web site through the Voter Information Service and the 40th General Election section. The site also provided detailed information about voting procedures, history, publications and news related to the conduct of the election. During the election the site carried a number of new features, including an interactive module on "Voting by Mail While Inside or Outside Canada" visited by 190,000 people, and a new page for electors with special needs. Over the 37-day election period, the site received approximately 3 million visits, compared with 3.3 million during the 55 days of the 39th general election.

2.6 Registration of Electors

When an election call is imminent, information is extracted from the National Register of Electors to produce the preliminary lists of electors. For the 40th general election, the preliminary lists included 23,455,027 electors. After address updates, deletions, and new registrations during the election period and at the advance and ordinary polls, the number of electors on the final lists was 23,677,639. After the 39th general election, the final lists contained 23,054,615 electors. For more details about voter registration, see Table 6.

The figure for the final lists of electors represented an increase of 1 percent over the number of electors on the preliminary lists for the 40th general election, and an increase of 3 percent over the number of electors on the final lists for the 39th general election. On election day, some 731,000 electors registered at the polls, representing 6.1 percent of voters, versus 795,000 and 6.2 percent for the 39th general election.

Revisal desks

In 31 electoral districts, returning officers approved the setting up of revisal desks to target specific populations for voter registration. Desks were set up at post-secondary institutions in 20 electoral districts; shopping centres were also common locations. In most cases the initiative was well received.

The desks addressed people's increased reluctance to open their door to strangers, and revising agents' increased reluctance to visit strangers in their homes. Where such reluctance was a factor, the revisal desks provided another way for revising agents and potential electors to establish contact and complete the registration process.

In special cases the desks replaced regular targeted revision. This happened, for example, in one electoral district that reported a lack of response to door-to-door revision, as well as in a few electoral districts that reported safety concerns.

Some returning officers set up revisal desks without informing Elections Canada. Revising agents operating at post-secondary institutions had to be reminded not to register students residing outside the electoral district in which the institution was located (see box “University of Lethbridge”).

In our post-election evaluations, we will analyze the effectiveness of the revisal desks to determine whether they should be used more widely.


University of Lethbridge

On October 7, 2008, a local Elections Canada office informed the media that University of Lethbridge students could vote on campus regardless of where they lived. This information was contrary to section 6 of the Canada Elections Act, which specifies that electors must vote in the polling division where they ordinarily reside. The local Elections Canada office staff had registered the student electors to vote on campus and the students had subsequently received voter information cards directing them to vote there.

When Elections Canada in Ottawa became aware of this development, we identified some 700 electors registered to vote on campus who were not eligible to vote at this location. We therefore advised the local Elections Canada office to correct the error by hand-delivering revised voter information cards. We also deployed staff to follow up and assist with any problems that might arise on polling day. Further, we contacted media channels to clarify the rules. A recent change to the Canada Elections Act allows electors who receive erroneous information about their polling location to vote with a transfer certificate if they present themselves at the wrong location even after receiving a revised voter information card giving them the correct location for voting. At the end of polling day, 15 electors had voted on campus with transfer certificates because of the miscommunication.

The University of Lethbridge Student Union was proactive in helping student electors identify and get to their proper polling locations.

2.7 Voting

Electors could choose to vote by one of three methods:

Special ballot

For electors seeking alternatives to voting at advance polls or on election day in their electoral district, the Special Voting Rules (Part 11 of the Canada Elections Act) afford the opportunity to vote by mail or at a local Elections Canada office. Special ballot application forms and guides are widely available in Canada and throughout the world. In the 40th general election, for the first time electors could download the application form from the Elections Canada Web site after answering some basic questions to determine their eligibility. A total of 88,722 special ballot application forms were downloaded from the site.

For the election, 138 special ballot officers were appointed to count some 75,500 special ballots received by Elections Canada in Ottawa. We contacted national electors (electors living in Canada but away from their electoral districts during the election period) whose applications for registration were still incomplete on October 7, along with the 3,865 individuals whose applications arrived after the prescribed deadline, and encouraged them to vote in person on election day. In all, 253,069 valid votes were cast by special ballot in the 40th general election (excluding 4,903 rejected ballots), compared with 438,390 in the 39th general election.2 Because of distance and the short electoral calendar, some eligible electors could not return special ballots within the prescribed period. Of the 50,205 national and international applications received, 3,647 required follow-up because of missing or unreadable proof of identification or other missing required information. Some 1,033 of the electors concerned were unable to provide the required information in time.

International voting

Elections Canada maintains a register of international electors – that is, Canadian citizens who are temporarily living outside the country. These persons are entitled to vote if they left Canada less than five years before applying to register and vote by special ballot. There were 11,561 international electors on the lists for the 40th general election. Of them, 7,961 voted but 257 of the ballots had to be rejected. In the end, the ballots of 7,704 international electors were counted.

Canadian Forces voting

Members of the Canadian Forces can vote in a general election by special ballot wherever they are stationed. For a minimum period of three days between September 29 and October 4, 2008, polling stations were set up on Forces bases around the world to give all members the opportunity to vote. There were 62,401 Canadian Forces electors on the lists for the 40th general election. Of them, 23,034 voted but 437 of the ballots had to be rejected. In the end, the ballots of 22,597 Canadian Forces electors were counted.

Some 4,050 of these electors were unable to vote during the prescribed period because of their assigned military duties. To allow them to vote, the Chief Electoral Officer adapted the Act, extending the Special Voting Rules period.

Some civilian personnel supporting the Forces in Afghanistan and other locations around the world were disappointed at not being able to vote at the Forces polling stations. According to the legislation, these individuals had to complete an application requesting a special ballot from Elections Canada in Ottawa. Once they completed their ballot, they had to return it to Ottawa by the prescribed deadline.

Voting in correctional facilities

Under the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) on October 31, 2002, all incarcerated electors are eligible to vote by special ballot regardless of the length of their sentences. At present, however, the Canada Elections Act provides a voting process only for inmates of provincial institutions. The Chief Electoral Officer therefore adapted sections 246 and 247 of the Act to extend the voting process to federal institutions.

Incarcerated electors vote on the 10th day before polling day; this was October 3 in the 40th general election. During the election, adaptations to extend the voting period were necessary to accommodate incidents such as lockdowns or failure to give some electors an opportunity to vote.

In correctional institutions in Canada, 13,531 incarcerated electors voted but 875 ballots had to be rejected. In the end, the ballots of 12,656 incarcerated electors were counted.

Reaching out to the Canadian electorate

To make voting by special ballot more accessible, we intensified efforts and deployed new outreach initiatives targeting specific electors:

For the first time, we also broadcast e-mail messages to electors, providing key information such as the availability of the list of candidates on our Web site.

Voting in advance

On October 3, 4 and 6, in 3,071 locations across Canada, 4,041 polling stations were open. A total of 1,520,838 electors cast valid votes at advance polls, representing 6.5 percent of those registered on the revised lists of electors. This compared with 1,561,039 electors (or 6.8 percent of those registered on the revised lists) who cast valid votes at advance polls in the 39th general election.

To ensure adequate service for an expected increase in advance poll voters in some electoral districts and inform electors of the new identification requirements, the Chief Electoral Officer adapted the Act, allowing returning officers to hire registration officers, information officers and central poll supervisors to manage the flow of electors at advance polling sites. These additional resources have become a necessity because of the increasing volume of electors who take advantage of advance polls as well as the voter identification requirements.

Missing advance poll voting materials

On October 12, Elections Canada recovered voting materials, including three ballot boxes that had been unaccounted for after advance polling in the electoral district of Québec. The materials had been stored at the home of one of the three deputy returning officers responsible for them.

The Canada Elections Act requires that deputy returning officers ensure the safekeeping of the ballot box between the last day of the advance polls and until the count on polling night a week later. Some returning officers in small electoral districts ask that deputy returning officers bring ballot boxes to the local Elections Canada office for safekeeping, but this additional security measure is not always possible, especially in rural or remote areas. The practice of storing voting materials at the home of a deputy returning officer dates back to the earliest elections in Canada. The deputy returning officer is under oath to ensure the security of the voting materials, and is required to provide the returning officer with contact information to ensure the proper return of the material when requested.

A media report that a seal had been broken on one of the ballot boxes prompted the returning officer to order that all advance polling ballot boxes be returned for examination. When some deputy returning officers could not be reached, the returning officer alerted Elections Canada and the municipal police. The three missing boxes were eventually returned to the returning officer. Representatives of all candidates were then able to examine the boxes and found that none of them had been subjected to tampering.

To date, the law that requires deputy returning officers to store voting materials has operated without incidents of this kind. However, this case gave rise to the perception of interference with the electoral process. During advance polls, boxes are opened and sealed twice daily, and previously applied seals cannot be removed. Instead, new seals are affixed over the old, possibly giving the appearance of tampering. Elections Canada is planning a review of the processes involved in the near future. The review will take into account the distances involved for deputy returning officers in rural and remote areas, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of centralizing the storage of ballot boxes in urban areas.



The 40th general election happened to fall on the first day of Sukkot, a Jewish religious holiday. B'nai Brith Canada, a Jewish representative organization, gave assurances that the Jewish community would not feel slighted. Nevertheless, the coincidence of dates could have prevented some electors from voting.

Elections Canada worked with the Canadian Jewish Congress to provide information about the opportunities for voting before October 14. Together, the Congress and Elections Canada reached out to the Jewish population. On October 3, the Conservative Party notified a returning officer of the expected heavy turnout for advance polls in certain locations. On October 5, the Canadian Jewish Congress informed Elections Canada that advance voting turnout had been heavy as expected in the electoral district of Thornhill and that there had been some long lineups. The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee also wrote to several returning officers in the Toronto, Montréal and Edmonton areas, informing them that it would invite Jewish electors to vote at the advance polls held on Monday, October 6.

With the help of the initiative shown by an interested community, Elections Canada was able to provide additional poll workers at advance polling sites in the electoral districts concerned, as already authorized under an adaptation of the Canada Elections Act for advance polls. Returning officers reported high turnouts during advance polling in Thornhill, York Centre, Eglinton–Lawrence and Mount Royal – well above the average reported for advance polling across the country.

Voting on election day

Casting a ballot at a polling station on election day remained the choice of the vast majority of electors during the 40th general election: a total of 12,142,341 electors chose this option, representing 87.2 percent of electors who voted.

Returning officers reproduced official lists of electors, which reflected the updates made since revision had started. The names of the electors who had already applied to vote by special ballot or who had voted at advance polls were crossed off to prevent these electors from voting twice. Across Canada, the official lists contained the names and addresses of 23,401,064 electors.

Delays and disruptions at polls

Of the 64,914 polling stations on election day, 133 polls in 15 electoral districts either opened late or closed briefly because of delays or interruptions, affecting service to approximately 41,855 electors. Many of these polls opened within an hour of the appointed time, and interruptions were minimal. The longest interruption was caused by a power outage in Timmins–James Bay; this delayed the opening of polling stations for up to four and a half hours. In York Centre, 20 polling stations did not open on time because of the absence of multiple polling workers. Standby polling workers and Elections Ontario staff were deployed to open them. By 1:40 p.m. all 20 polls were reported open.

Presence of media in polling stations and at judicial recounts

In the 40th general election, for the first time the Chief Electoral Officer authorized the presence of the national media to take photographs while the leaders of registered parties presented themselves to vote. This process should be re-examined because the strict conditions on media presence were not always respected, and because other media outlets and candidates issued complaints about preferential treatment.

Also for the first time, media outlets were granted permission to attend and report on the judicial recount process, in Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca and Kitchener–Waterloo. In both cases, the judge imposed strict conditions on the attending journalists, including a ban on recording devices. To prevent undue interference, the judge also prohibited publication of the proceedings until the recount came to an end.

2.8 Voting Results

Including advance polls, special ballots and ordinary polling day, the total number of voters in the 40th general election was 13,929,093, or 58.8 percent of registered electors. This represented a 5.9 percent decrease from the turnout in the 39th general election: 14,908,703 voters then cast ballots, for an overall participation rate of 64.7 percent.

Counting of ballots began shortly after the last polls closed for the 40th general election on October 14. At 10:00 p.m., Eastern Time, we began to report the preliminary results on the Elections Canada Web site and to the media.

Before ordinary polling day, Elections Canada had issued a news release on October 6 reminding media outlets that section 329 of the Canada Elections Act prohibited the premature transmission of results. There were some reports that media outlets had issued preliminary results before the close of all polls in certain electoral districts. These are among the issues that have been brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Special ballots counted in Ottawa from national, international, Canadian Forces and incarcerated electors were also tabulated and the results were faxed to each returning officer on election night. They were then added to the results of voting by local electors. In all, 253,069 valid votes were cast by special ballot in the 2008 election, compared with 438,390 in 2006.

To protect the secrecy of the vote, Elections Canada does not release any preliminary poll-by-poll results on election night. Instead, we summarize the results for five polls at a time in each electoral district. Candidates' representatives receive a copy of the Statement of the Vote for Representatives and/or Candidates on election night at each poll they attend. If a candidate or media representative has requested the poll-by-poll results, the information may be provided only after the completion of validation. Under section 291 of the Act, upon request candidates are entitled to receive copies of each Statement of the Vote.

Validation of results

In the 40th general election, 167 electoral districts completed validation on October 15, 2008, and another 84 completed this step on October 16. The remaining electoral districts held their validation of results shortly thereafter. There were postponements (or "adjournments") ranging from one to three days in 11 electoral districts where ballot boxes had not all arrived in time for the original date planned for the validation. By October 24, all 308 electoral districts had completed validation and the results had been posted on the Elections Canada Web site.

Return of the writs

For the 40th general election, the date set for the return of the writs was November 4, 2008. Writs must be held by the returning officers for six days after the validation of the results to allow time for candidates and electors to request a recount. Should such a request occur before a winner is declared, the returning officer must await the recount judge's decision before declaring a candidate elected, completing the writ and returning it. As a result of the judicial recount process, the last writ for the 40th general election was returned on November 7, following the judicial recount in Brampton West.

A total of 308 candidates were elected to the House of Commons in this election. Of these, 271 were members in the 39th Parliament. Sixty-nine of the elected candidates were women, setting a new record.


Judicial recounts were ordered in six electoral districts.

An application for judicial recount was refused in Ottawa Centre.

Table 7 presents judicial recount results.

Official results

Given the demand for poll-by-poll results during and shortly after the election, the Chief Electoral Officer published interim poll-by-poll results on the Elections Canada Web site on December 4, 2008. The interim results reflected the validation conducted by returning officers and the judicial recounts performed in five electoral districts. They did not include the number of electors on the lists because these had not yet been finalized.

After this report has been submitted to Parliament, the official voting results for the 40th general election will be posted on the Elections Canada Web site at and distributed to each member of the House of Commons and Senate, and to the leaders of each registered political party. Like all Elections Canada reports, the report of official voting results is distributed to provide precise and complete information to the public about the administration of the 40th general election, thereby ensuring the transparency of the Canadian electoral process.

Table 8 gives details of the number of seats in the House of Commons, by political affiliation, before and after the election.

Electoral participation

Elections Canada's mission includes ensuring that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote. During the 40th general election Canadians had more opportunities to vote in various ways, in more accessible venues and more locations than ever before. Even so, more than 40 percent of electors chose not to vote.

A variety of organizations are involved with promoting a more active civil society. Many express the view that electoral participation is a key indicator of the vitality of the democratic process and are concerned about decreased levels of participation.

A debate exists as to whether this means that electors need to be engaged in different ways. To date, the emphasis has been on bringing the elector to the ballot box, through communications and information campaigns. Given Canadians' changing expectations and attitudes to technology and service, it may be time to consider ways of making voting more accessible and relevant to the evolving expectations of electors in general, and especially younger voters.

2.9 Closing Out the Election

The process of closing out a federal election begins immediately after polling day with the preparation and distribution of payment to tens of thousands of election workers, the entry of data for electors who registered on polling day, the shutting down of local Elections Canada offices and satellite offices, and the administering of the process of campaign reporting and election expense reimbursement.

Return of election materials

The secure return of election materials – such as the poll book and the official list of electors – is important to support the integrity of the vote and protect elector information. It is even more important now that the date of birth is printed on the official lists of electors. Accordingly, Elections Canada implemented two key changes:

We implemented these changes for the September 2007 by-elections and refined them further for the March 2008 by-elections.

Elections Canada used the same measures for the 40th general election. We will conduct a quality control check on a sample of polls to determine how successful the measures were.

Shutting down of offices

As of November 15, 2008, all 308 local Elections Canada offices and 119 additional assistant local offices had reported their offices closed, after forwarding all payment data and polling day registrant data to Elections Canada in Ottawa.

Payments to election workers

By January 15, 2009, Elections Canada had processed payments for all 236,380 positions occupied by election workers. Delivery was efficient, with 96 percent of the payments processed within nine days of the closing of the accounts, compared with the 93 percent of payments processed within the same period after the 39th general election. Payments were issued every two weeks during the election period to local Elections Canada office staff across the country. Some 69 percent of all workers opted for direct deposit to their bank accounts. This percentage was unchanged from the 39th general election. Direct deposit helped speed up the payment process.

Reimbursement of election expenses and audit subsidy payments

The Canada Elections Act provides for candidates to receive reimbursement for some expenses, including paid election and candidate personal expenses. The right to a reimbursement depends on the candidates' share of the vote, and they must first satisfy the Act's reporting requirements. The Act also provides for an audit subsidy to be paid directly to a candidate's auditor and the return of the candidate's nomination deposit, provided that reporting deadlines are met.

For the 40th general election, 931 candidates were elected or received at least 10 percent of the vote in their electoral district. They were therefore eligible for a reimbursement of 60 percent of their paid election expenses and a reimbursement of paid candidate personal expenses, up to a maximum of 60 percent of their election expenses limit. Elections Canada issued preliminary reimbursements to these candidates by November 18, 2008. The amount totalled $12,275,174.80.

Final reimbursements and audit subsidy payments are made after receipt of the candidates' electoral campaign returns, and after the Chief Electoral Officer is satisfied that a candidate and his or her official agent have complied with specific sections of the Act.

Registered parties that received 2 percent of valid votes cast nationwide or 5 percent of the valid votes cast in ridings in which they endorsed candidates also receive election expenses reimbursements equal to 50 percent of their paid election expenses. These payments are made after receipt of a party's return in respect of general election expenses, and after the Chief Electoral Officer is satisfied that the registered party and its chief agent have complied with specific sections of the Act.

Candidate electoral campaign returns are due within four months from election day (by February 13, 2009). Registered party returns in respect of general election expenses are due within six months from election day (by April 14, 2009, as April 13 is a holiday). Elections Canada will publish both the complete and summarized returns on its Web site, as they are received.

Discussions with political parties

Shortly after election day, the Chief Electoral Officer conducted bilateral discussions with representatives of the Advisory Committee of Political Parties to gather their preliminary feedback on the conduct and administration of the election – particularly the new voter identification requirements – and to hear their views on Elections Canada's service to electors and candidates during the election.


From September 17 to December 31, 2008, Elections Canada opened approximately 1,352 complaint files about the operation of the 40th general election. (These are separate from complaints about offences under the Canada Elections Act, which are addressed to the Commissioner of Canada Elections.) The three most common topics for complaints thus far are:

  • polling stations – 222 complaints
  • proof of identification – 219 complaints
  • conduct of officials – 159 complaints

We have responded to almost all the complaints received, and will continue to analyze and respond to complaints as they arise. Our analysis will provide input for future evaluations and eventually for the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations to Parliament. Complaint analysis can also help us refine our documentation and training tools.

2.10 Electoral Law Enforcement

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is the independent officer who handles complaints about offences under the Canada Elections Act.

By January 2009, the Commissioner's Office had received approximately 500 complaints or referrals related to the 40th general election. Because complaints and referrals can continue to arrive long after the election, this section provides only a preliminary picture.

The Commissioner's Office resolved some files immediately by contacting the relevant person or entity. Some of the complaints resolved in this way concerned:

The Office of the Commissioner closed some files without formal enforcement action if the matter did not constitute an offence under the Canada Elections Act, evidence was insufficient or the complaint was premature (for example, dealing with a financial reporting issue).

Overall, most of the complaints concerned one of the following categories:

Two types of complaint received by the Office warrant special mention:

2.11 Cost of the Election

A general election is a complex and costly undertaking. The 40th general election is estimated to have cost slightly under $290 million. Activities in the 308 electoral districts accounted for 47.1 percent of that amount. Next came expenses at Elections Canada in Ottawa (32.4 percent), followed by reimbursements of eligible election expenses to candidates and political parties (20.1 percent). Last were evaluations conducted to learn from the experience of this event so that Elections Canada can continue to improve its performance. This category accounted for 0.5 percent of the total cost of the election.

Estimated cost of the 40th general election
Activity Cost
($ millions)
Conduct of elections in the electoral districts, including expenses related to election workers and officers, printing the lists of electors, and leasing local Elections Canada offices and polling sites
Preparations for and conduct of the election at Elections Canada in Ottawa and support to the returning officers, including election materials, training returning officers and other key employees, updating the National Register of Electors, advertising and awareness campaigns, the Support Network, and information technology
Evaluations, including surveys conducted by Elections Canada, the Canada Elections Study (conducted by university researchers) and post-mortem sessions with returning officers
Reimbursement of election expenses to candidates and political parties
– projected cost
Total estimated cost


2As the 39th general election was held in the winter, many Canadians spending the winter in warmer climates (i.e. snowbirds) voted by special ballot.