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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the March 19, 2012, By-election Held in Toronto–Danforth and the November 26, 2012, By-elections Held in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria

1. The 2012 By-elections

1.1 Launch of the By-election

Issue of the writs

The by-elections held in 2012 were called to replace four members of Parliament:

The writ for the Toronto–Danforth by-election was dated February 6, 2012, and the date for the by-election was set as March 19, 2012. The writs for the Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria by-elections were dated October 21, 2012, and the date for the by-elections was set as November 26, 2012.

House of Commons seat distribution

The table below summarizes the seat distribution in the House of Commons when the writs were issued.

House of Commons seat distribution at the call of each by-election
Seat distribution Toronto–Danforth
(February 6, 2012)
Calgary Centre,
Durham and Victoria
(October 21, 2012)
Conservative Party of Canada 165 163
New Democratic Party 101 100
Liberal Party of Canada 35 35
Bloc Québécois 4 4
Green Party of Canada 1 1
Independent 1 2
Vacant 1 3

Local Elections Canada offices

Under the Canada Elections Act, returning officers must open offices without delay after the writs are issued. The Chief Electoral Officer mandated all four returning officers to prepare for the by-elections by researching suitable and accessible office space and polling sites and by identifying potential printing services as well as furniture and equipment suppliers.

Returning officers opened one local office in each electoral district. No satellite offices were opened.

The local office for Toronto–Danforth was opened to the public on February 7, 2012.

The local offices for the November 26, 2012, by-elections were opened on the following dates:

Polling sites

For the four by-elections, returning officers set up 52 advance polling stations, 858 stationary polls and 31 mobile polling stations on polling day. These were located at 36 advance polling sites, 173 ordinary stationary sites and 82 mobile sites. Tables 1 through 3 in the Appendix list the types of polling sites and types of polling stations used in the by-elections, as well as the types of polling sites used compared to those in the 41st general election. All polling sites met Elections Canada's accessibility criteria.

Election officers

Recruiting election officers

The number of election officer positions filled for the by-elections, including individuals on standby to replace election officers, if needed, were:

To fill the positions, returning officers turned to:

A total of 327 election officers aged 16 to 25 were hired across all four electoral districts, compared with 422 in the 41st general election.

Resources available to election officers

The following resources were available to election officers during regular business hours and on an on-call basis until 9:00 p.m. (local time) during the by-elections:

On-site conformity advisor initiative for November by-elections

In response to irregularities identified at the polls in the riding of Etobicoke Centre (Ontario) during the May 2011 general election, Elections Canada initiated an independent review of compliance with polling day procedures. The Chief Electoral Officer will report to Parliament in April 2013 on the findings of that review and the resulting Compliance Action Plan.

Elections Canada implemented measures during the by-elections in November 2012 to improve compliance with polling day procedures and to understand how improved monitoring could affect overall levels of compliance. The Chief Electoral officer directed the three returning officers involved in the November 2012 by-elections to improve the delivery of training to election officers, by placing a particular emphasis on compliance with the rules pertaining to voter registration and vouching at polling stations. In Durham and Victoria, returning officers were required to put in place mechanisms to monitor compliance with election day voting procedures and to take immediate corrective action as required. To allow for a comparative analysis, on-site compliance advisors were not hired in Calgary Centre.

Elections Canada identified and recruited experienced election officers from neighbouring electoral districts to participate in the project as on-site conformity advisors. They received a full day of intensive review of polling day procedures, and their knowledge was then validated through testing and by receiving a satisfactory grade. There were 63 advisors in Durham and 32 in Victoria.

These on-site conformity advisors, appointed as additional central poll supervisors, were posted at polling sites in the Durham and Victoria electoral districts during the advance and ordinary polls. The advisors were responsible for verifying that election officers executed their duties in compliance with procedures. If irregularities occurred during the course of the day, the advisors reported them to the central poll supervisor, who was then required to address the concerns and take immediate corrective action.

The results of the on-site conformity advisor initiative will be reflected in the April 2013 report to Parliament.

1.2 Working with Political Entities

Candidates and registered political parties

When the writ was issued for the Toronto–Danforth by-election, 18 political parties were registered. Prospective candidates had until 2:00 p.m. on February 27, 2012, to file their nomination papers. Eleven candidates were confirmed for the by-election, and eight registered parties endorsed candidates: the Canadian Action Party, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Libertarian Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Progressive Canadian Party and the United Party of Canada. There were three independent candidates.

When the writs were issued for the by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria, 18 political parties were registered. Once candidate Michael Nicula was confirmed in the riding of Durham, the Online Party of Canada became a registered party. Prospective candidates had until 2:00 p.m. on November 5, 2012, to file their nomination papers.

In Calgary Centre, one potential candidate did not meet all statutory requirements, as his nomination paper did not have the required number of signatures to support the nomination. Six candidates were confirmed for the by-election. Five registered parties endorsed candidates: the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Libertarian Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party. There was one independent candidate.

In Durham, one potential candidate's official agent had not signed the required documents, and thus all statutory requirements were not met by the close of nominations. Six candidates were confirmed for the by-election, endorsed by the following registered parties: the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party and the Online Party of Canada.

In Victoria, six candidates were confirmed for the by-election, endorsed by the following registered parties: the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Libertarian Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party.

Communications and information sessions

Returning officers provided documentation to candidates, their official agents and auditors for the 2012 by-elections. Returning officers held meetings with confirmed candidates and their representatives after nominations closed. Several topics of interest were discussed, such as polling day rules, polling sites, accessibility, the revision process, the registration process, roles and responsibilities of candidates' representatives in the polling stations and polling day procedures. In Durham and Victoria, both returning officers provided further information to candidates and their representatives about the on-site conformity advisor initiative.

These meetings are always held in a group setting to ensure that the information is consistent and that everyone receives the information first-hand. Meeting summaries were produced afterward and distributed to all invitees, including those who were unable to attend.

The meetings were held on the following dates:

Election expenses limits

The Canada Elections Act sets separate limits on the election expenses of candidates and registered political parties. The election expenses limit for candidates is based on several factors, including the number of names appearing on the preliminary or revised lists of electors for an electoral district, whichever yields the higher expenses limit. The election expenses limit for political parties is based partly on the number of names on the lists of electors for all electoral districts in which the party has endorsed a candidate and partly on the number of candidates endorsed in an election.

For the Toronto–Danforth by-election, the election expenses limit for candidates was $86,821.95, and the election expenses limit for political parties was $66,643.48.

For the by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria, the election expenses limits for candidates ranged from $97,992.97 to $102,461.86, for an average of $100,861.15. The election expenses limit for political parties ranged from $87,605.43 to $256,352.86.

Third party election advertising

The Act requires any third party conducting election advertising during an election to identify itself in the advertisement and indicate that it has authorized the advertising. Third parties that incur election advertising expenses of $500 or more must register with Elections Canada. They must also produce an election advertising report within four months after polling day.

No third parties registered for the Toronto–Danforth by-election, while six third party advertisers registered with Elections Canada for the by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria. The Act sets limits on the amount that a third party may incur in election advertising expenses. In the 2012 by-elections, the limit amounted to $3,942 per electoral district. As of the publication of this report, the third party election advertising reports had not yet been submitted, as they are due within four months after polling day.

1.3 Communicating with Canadians

A key role for Elections Canada is ensuring that electors understand the electoral process – including how they can exercise their right to vote.

Campaigns targeted at the general population

As required by the Canada Elections Act, Elections Canada mailed 347,994 voter information cards (VICs) to all electors whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors. Elections Canada later mailed 14,179 revised VICs to electors who registered or updated their information during the election, or to advise electors of changes to the information provided on the original VIC, such as a change to a polling site. A VIC confirms an elector's registration and gives information about where and when to vote.

Elections Canada also distributed 222,124 bilingual brochures to households in the four electoral districts in the weeks leading up to the by-elections. This brochure prompted electors to contact Elections Canada if they did not receive their VIC or if they received one that contained errors. The brochure also included information on advance voting, polling day, other ways to vote and voter identification requirements.

Campaigns targeted at specific population groups

Elections Canada takes special measures to encourage the participation of groups likely to experience difficulty in exercising their right to vote or those not easily reached through mainstream advertising campaigns. Target groups may include youth, ethnocultural communities, homeless electors, Aboriginal electors and seniors living in residences and long-term care facilities.

In addition, returning officers may appoint community relations officers to communicate with electors in target groups and provide them with information on how, when and where to vote.

The campaigns for the 2012 by-elections varied from one electoral district to another but targeted the following groups to respond to local needs:

Information channels used by electors

During election periods, electors can obtain information directly from local Elections Canada offices about registration, voting procedures, polling sites and other common topics. Local offices responded to the following numbers of calls during the election periods:

Electors can also obtain information from Elections Canada's national toll-free number. Bilingual staff at the Public Enquiries Unit responded to the following numbers of calls for the specific ridings during the election periods:

In addition, electors consulted the Elections Canada website for information on the by-elections. On polling night, results were posted on the website as they became available. The site received 11,449 visits on the night of the Toronto–Danforth by-election and 37,710 visits on the night of the Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria by-elections – a by-election record.

Advertising and media relations

The key messages for Elections Canada's advertising campaign for the 2012 by-elections focused primarily on drawing electors' attention to the voting dates and different voting options. The campaign included two half-page print ads and two 30-second radio ads during the course of the electoral calendars.

To serve ethnocultural communities, print and radio advertisements were also produced in Mandarin, Cantonese and Greek for the electoral district of Toronto–Danforth. Print advertisements were produced in Traditional Chinese and Punjabi for the electoral district of Calgary Centre.

Elections Canada received 59 calls from the media, made 14 proactive calls to the media about recruiting election officers, granted nine broadcast interviews and produced 16 news releases. Questions from the media primarily concerned basic voter information, voter turnout at the advance polls and extra measures being implemented to ensure compliance at the polls. Media relations staff also liaised with media to arrange on-site filming at some polling sites.

Online complaints received by the Chief Electoral Officer

Electors are able to submit complaints through the Elections Canada website (separate from accessibility feedback forms and complaints about offences under the Act; they address the latter to the Commissioner of Canada Elections).

Elections Canada received 28 complaints during the by-elections:

Electors wrote to Elections Canada on a range of issues, such as not receiving a VIC, misleading campaign signs, automated and early-morning telephone calls and slow service at polling sites. No single issue dominated the complaints.

1.4 Conducting the By-elections


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. Table 4 in the Appendix describes the adaptations of the Act pursuant to subsection 17(1) that were made during the 2012 by-elections.

In addition, section 179 of the Special Voting Rules as Adapted for the Purposes of a By-election permits the Chief Electoral Officer to issue instructions for the purpose of adapting any provision of the Special Voting Rules (SVR) set out in Part 11 (sections 177 to 282) of the Act in order to execute the intent of the SVR in respect of a particular circumstance. Table 5 in the Appendix describes the adaptations by instruction used during the 2012 by-elections.

Registration of electors

Lists of electors

Elections Canada maintains the National Register of Electors, a database of Canadians who are eligible to vote in federal elections. The Register is updated regularly with data provided under agreements with the Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada Post's National Change of Address files, provincial electoral bodies and provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars. The Register is also updated following revisions made during federal elections.

When the by-elections were called, Elections Canada extracted information from the Register to produce preliminary lists of electors in the electoral districts. Elections Canada provided the preliminary lists to the returning officers, who, in turn, gave them to all candidates and those political parties that requested them.

During the by-election period in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria, electors were able for the first time to review their registration information using Elections Canada's online registration service (E-Registration), introduced in April 2012. (E-Registration was not yet up and running during the by-election in Toronto–Danforth.) Electors could check whether they were registered to vote and confirm their registration information online. Users were directed to their local Elections Canada office to update their registration information or register for the first time. E-Registration was not widely promoted since this was the first phase of the application, and functionality was limited. During the by-election period, just over 300 confirmation transactions were logged across the three electoral districts.

During the election period, revising agents also conducted targeted revision activities in areas expected to have low voter registration rates, including new residential developments and high-mobility areas such as student neighbourhoods, seniors' residences and long-term care facilities.

Electors were also able to register at advance and ordinary polls. On election day in the four electoral districts, 6,458 electors registered at the polls. Registrations on election day were as follows:

Table 6 in the Appendix provides details about voter registration during the four by-elections. Once revision activities and election day registrations were taken into account, the number of electors on the final lists increased by 499 in Toronto–Danforth, 1,573 in Durham and 2,859 in Victoria. The number was highest in Calgary Centre, with an increase of 3,919 electors.Footnote 1

Quality of the preliminary lists of electors

The quality of information on the preliminary lists of electors can be measured by three main indicators: coverage, currency and accuracy. "Coverage" represents the proportion of electors on the lists relative to the estimated total electoral population. "Currency" represents the estimated number of electors on the lists at the correct residential address relative to the estimated total electoral population. "Accuracy" measures the proportion of registered electors listed at the correct address. The national quality targets are 92 percent for coverage and 80 percent for currency.

Many factors affect the quality of the lists, such as demographic growth and the mobility of the population, the availability or completeness of data sources used to update the lists and lower turnout in previous elections.

The quality of the preliminary lists in the four electoral districts was:


Electors could choose to vote using one of three methods:

Voting under the Special Voting Rules

Electors seeking alternatives to voting at the advance or ordinary polls in their electoral district have the opportunity under the SVR 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. Electors can also download an application form from the Elections Canada website after answering some basic questions to determine their eligibility.

Table 7 in the Appendix lists statistics for the ballots issued under the SVR, by elector group and electoral district, for the 2012 by-elections. These groups are defined in the table and described in the sections below.

Electors living in Canada

Registration to vote by special ballot was available to electors living in Canada from February 11 to March 13, 2012, for Toronto–Danforth and from October 21 to November 20, 2012, for Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria.

Electors voting in their electoral districts (local electors) were responsible for returning their completed ballot to the local Elections Canada office in their electoral district before the polls closed in that electoral district on election day in order for their ballot to be counted. Electors temporarily away from their electoral district (national electors) were responsible for returning their completed ballot to Elections Canada in Ottawa no later than 6:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on election day in order for their ballot to be counted.

Elections Canada made arrangements with the administrators of acute care facilities in all four electoral districts to ensure that eligible electors who were unexpectedly hospitalized could register and vote by special ballot by the prescribed deadlines.

Registration and voting in acute care facilities took place on March 11, 12 and 13, 2012, for Toronto–Danforth and on November 18, 19 and 20, 2012, for Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria.

International electors

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 under the SVR if they left Canada less than five years before applying to register and vote by special ballot. At the beginning of the by-elections, a special ballot voting kit was mailed to international electors registered in the by-election ridings.

Canadians living abroad could also obtain information about voting by special ballot by contacting any diplomatic mission or consular post of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) or by visiting the Elections Canada website. During the 2012 by-elections, DFAIT assisted Elections Canada in returning application forms and special ballots of Canadian electors living or travelling outside Canada by the prescribed deadlines.

Canadian Forces electors

Canadian Forces electors, whether based in Canada or abroad, were informed of their voting rights by the Department of National Defence. Commanding officers displayed notices featuring a map of each electoral district where a by-election was being held as well as important deadlines.

Electors in correctional institutions

Elections Canada made arrangements with all Canadian correctional institutions to ensure that eligible electors who had a place of ordinary residence in Toronto–Danforth, Calgary Centre, Durham or Victoria had an opportunity to register and vote by special ballot. Notices were posted in each correctional institution informing electors of the by-elections as well as important deadlines. Eligible electors were given the necessary materials and instructions to register and vote.

Voting in advance

Returning officers are required to set up advance polling stations to collect the votes of electors who cannot or do not wish to go to their ordinary polling stations on election day. Except for one additional advance polling station in Calgary Centre, returning officers set up the same number of advance polls for the by-elections as they had for the 41st general election.

Advance polling days for the Toronto–Danforth by-election were held on March 9, 10 and 12, 2012, from noon to 8:00 p.m. (local time). Advance polling days for the November by-elections were held on November 16, 17 and 19, 2012, from noon to 8:00 p.m. (local time).

A total of 18,171 electors voted in advance during the four by-elections, or 13.6 percent of all voters. This compares to the 14 percent of all voters who cast votes at the advance polls in the 41st general election.

Voting on election day

All polls except for one opened on time. In Victoria, one poll opened 30 minutes late because some materials were missing. The central poll supervisor notified the returning officer immediately, and the materials were rushed to the poll without delay.

Casting a ballot at a polling station on election day remained the choice of the vast majority of electors during the four by-elections: 112,948 electors chose this option, or 84.6 percent of all voters. This compares to the 83.8 percent of all voters who cast votes on election day in the 41st general election.

Voter turnout

Voter turnout for the by-elections was as follows:

Table 8 in the Appendix shows the number of ballots cast in the by-elections and the overall voter turnout. Although voter turnout was lower than in the general election of May 2011, results are comparable to past by-elections.

Report on accessibility

Elections Canada makes a Polling Site Accessibility Feedback Form available at all polling sites and local Elections Canada offices as well as on its website. This enables electors to file complaints about accessibility immediately at the site when they vote or by telephone, fax, regular mail or e-mail.

For the 2012 by-elections, all polling sites in the four electoral districts met Elections Canada's accessibility criteria. Elections Canada monitors a database that stores accessibility information for all polling sites. Every returning officer is responsible for entering and validating the data.

During the 2012 by-elections, 91 accessibility feedback forms were submitted. Of the 91 forms, 22 reported a total of 49 accessibility complaints. The remaining 69 forms did not relate to accessibility; some were completed to advise of other concerns regarding the elector's voting experience, while others were complimentary.

Returning officers are responsible for reviewing all the forms collected and for following up on all those related to accessibility – as well as for responding to the electors who completed those forms and requested to be contacted. One example where the form was instrumental in quick remedial action being taken is a case in Victoria. During the three days of advance voting, the forms are reviewed daily by the returning officer. In this case, the front door of an advance polling site needed repair; the returning officer read the form and called the maintenance staff for the location in question, and the door was fixed immediately. Feedback forms dealing with non–accessibility-related issues were forwarded to Elections Canada in Ottawa and handled as appropriate, depending the nature of the feedback.

All accessibility issues were addressed by the returning officers, and the files are now closed. The table below summarizes the number of accessibility complaints reported, by category, on the forms submitted.

Summary of accessibility complaints
Accessibility category Number of complaints Percentage of total complaints (%)
Parking 8 16.3
Signage 4 8.2
Walkways and pathways 11 22.4
Entrances 6 12.2
Interior accessible routes 4 8.2
Doors 7 14.3
Voting area 2 4.1
Other 7 14.3
Total1 49 100

1 One form can report on issues in multiple categories. The 49 issues summarized above were reported on 22 forms.

Election results

Voting results

On election night, each returning officer logged into his or her local Event Results System (ERS) and then connected to Elections Canada's central computer. When ballot counting was completed at each polling station, the deputy returning officer called in the results to the local Elections Canada office, where totals were entered into ERS, then transmitted to Elections Canada in Ottawa for posting on the Elections Canada website. Some ballots cast under the SVR were counted at Elections Canada in Ottawa on election night.

The by-election results were as follows:

Table 9 in the Appendix lists the valid votes obtained, by candidate, in the four by-elections.

Validation of results

Returning officers validate the results as soon as possible after election day. All validations were completed without delay, as follows:

Return of the writs

A writ must be held by the returning officer for six days after the validation of the results to allow time for candidates and electors to request a recount. No recounts were requested, and the writs were returned as follows:

Official results

Elections Canada publishes official voting results about three months after an election. Those publications contain the poll-by-poll results for each electoral district as well as various statistics. The official results for the Toronto–Danforth by-election were published in June 2012; the official results for the November 2012 by-elections were published in February 2013.

The official voting results for the 2012 by-elections, including poll-by-poll results, are also available on the Elections Canada website at under Resource Centre > Reports > Elections Canada's Official Reports > Official Voting Results.

Electoral law enforcement

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is the independent officer who ensures compliance with and enforces the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act.

During the 2012 by-elections, the Office of the Commissioner received 20 communications, 18 of which came from outside Elections Canada. Of the 18 complainants, 17 were contacted, and one could not be reached.

The Office of the Commissioner was able to quickly resolve one complaint regarding the absence of authorization statements on election advertising. The Commissioner continues to investigate one allegation of an elector voting twice and one allegation of a misleading telephone call.

In the other 17 cases, the Commissioner verified the complaints and determined that no offence had occurred. For example, one complaint involved a candidate campaigning on a municipal bus, and another involved a campaign worker distributing pamphlets and waving to people on election day. Neither conduct is an offence under the Canada Elections Act. In these cases, the Office of the Commissioner responded in a timely manner, advising the complainants that the subject matter was not illegal or regulated by the Act.

Five communications were from Canadians complaining about telephone calls they had received during the campaign. A follow-up was done in each case. One complaint remains under investigation. In the other four cases, the complaint was closed following the initial review, disclosing no evidence of an offence under the Act. For example, there were two complaints related to automated telephone surveys.

Cost of the by-elections

The estimated cost for the March 2012 by-election in Toronto–Danforth is $883,000. The estimated cost for the November 2012 by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria is $2.7 million. The total estimated cost for both events is $3.6 million, approximately $10.02 for each registered elector.

Approximately $2.1 million or 58 percent of the estimated election costs went to workers – returning officers, staff in local offices and poll officials – and to goods and services providers in the four electoral districts, including printers, renters of polling sites, and local furniture and equipment suppliers.

Approximately $1.1 million or 30 percent of the estimated costs was incurred at Elections Canada in Ottawa to prepare and conduct the by-elections. These costs included the production and placement of election advertising (print, radio, Web); the production and printing of reminder brochures delivered to every household; the delivery of election materials and supplies to the electoral districts; and the technical help to support the required information technology infrastructure between Elections Canada in Ottawa and the returning offices.

Another $423,000 is projected to be paid to candidates for the partial reimbursement of their election expenses.

Overall, the average cost per electoral district for these four by-elections ($893,000) is comparable to the average for the last 17 by-elections.

Estimated costs ($ thousands)
Estimated cost of the 2012 by-elections1
Activity Toronto–Danforth Calgary Centre, Durham and Victoria Total
Conducting the by-elections in the electoral districts – Includes expenses related to election workers at returning offices and polling stations, printing the lists of electors and voter information cards, and leasing and equipping local Elections Canada offices and polling sites 427 1,659 2,086
Conducting the by-elections and preparing for them at Elections Canada in Ottawa, and providing support to returning officers – Includes training returning officers and other key employees, advertising and awareness campaigns, the Elections Canada Support Network, information technology and post-election activities 359 703 1,062
Subtotal 786 2,362 3,148
Reimbursing election expenses to candidates and subsidies to candidates' auditors (projected costs)2 97 327 424
Total 883 2,689 3,572

1 Estimated costs as at December 31, 2012.

2 Actual expenditures will not be known until Elections Canada has received and audited the candidates' election expenses reports.

Footnote 1 Updates identified from administrative sources after the preliminary lists were produced were made to the National Register of Electors and provided for the preliminary lists at the beginning of revision activities. The larger increase in the number of electors in some electoral districts is due in part to a higher number of updates from the Register.