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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the Port Moody–Coquitlam By-Election


Foreword

This report to the Speaker of the House of Commons, following the March 30, 1998 by-election in the electoral district of Port Moody–Coquitlam, in British Columbia, provides details of that by-election, and of Elections Canada's activities since the statutory report on the June 2, 1997 general election. It also enables me to provide readers with a glimpse of our future challenges.

As I indicated in my last report, the June 1997 election was truly a departure for Canadians, not least because it featured, in close succession, the last national enumeration for a federal election and the establishment and first use of the National Register of Electors. Among other changes, it marked the inauguration of the 36-day election calendar.

We at Elections Canada have spent considerable time over the past year assessing what worked well in that election and where improvements could be made. The details of this process are found in the pages of this report. I am particularly pleased with the way Elections Canada is using new developments in technology to automate and streamline practices and processes that help to maintain a constant state of election readiness.

We continue to see progress in the maintenance of the National Register of Electors. Through agreements reached with Revenue Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as well as with the provinces and territories, we have access to up-to-date and accurate data on electors as they move, reach voting age, become Canadian citizens, or die. The National Register of Electors is increasingly becoming a resource, not only for federal elections, but also for provincial and municipal elections. We have already entered into several partnership agreements to share data for this purpose, and I continue to place a high priority on our work with other levels of government to further develop these partnerships, given the very significant advantages such partnerships can bring to Canadian electors.

Looking to the future, Elections Canada is exploring ways to make it easier for all Canadians to cast their ballots. New developments in technology, in particular the World Wide Web, have enabled us to provide a wide range of information to electors. We are now considering whether and how technology can be applied to the act of casting a ballot. We recently commissioned a study to examine what types of technology exist, and how these can be adapted for federal elections, as well as what other countries are doing to bring their voting systems into the electronic age.

Our responsibility is to understand the full range of options, with all the attendant advantages and disadvantages each would bring, so that we can provide the best possible advice to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is responsible for reviewing and reporting on all matters relating to the election of members of Parliament. Throughout, our emphasis has to be on protecting the main tenets of the democratic system while attempting to ensure increased accessibility to the process for all Canadians.

We recognize that, as with the National Register of Electors when it was first considered, the introduction of electronic voting could raise a number of concerns for many Canadians, particularly related to privacy and security. We will recommend that Parliament proceed with such a radical change to the way Canadians cast their votes only after we have paid full attention to these concerns and with due regard to all of the other principles inherent in our current process. As part of our study of electronic voting, we worked with the Public Policy Forum to hold round-table discussions with key stakeholders, in part to identify these concerns. A common thread throughout, and one to which we will attach great importance, was the very clear desire, on the part of the electorate, to see changes in voting methods introduced as a supplement to, rather than a replacement of, traditional methods.

Considering the implications of the possible introduction of a system of electronic voting will form part of Elections Canada's second strategic planning exercise. Our first strategic plan was developed and published in 1994. As we come to the end of its intended life span, I am pleased to note that we have achieved what we set out to accomplish. The plan was absolutely essential to our being able to plot the course that would best enable us to carry out our statutory obligations, and provided us with a sense of direction for the changes that were required.

Among the challenges we have to consider in developing our second strategic plan is maximizing the opportunities for sharing the National Register of Electors, so that Canadian electors can enjoy the advantages of sharing the system, while respecting the confidentiality of Register information and restricting its use to electoral purposes only. Further, we must ensure that returning officers have the knowledge and training they need to operate in an increasingly automated environment. Above all, we must maintain a sense of direction so that we can determine and shape the changes that we will be faced with, rather than simply reacting to them.

As we prepare to enter the new millennium, I remain confident that Canada's electoral system is one of the finest in the world, and that it continues to protect and extend our democratic heritage.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley