Letter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs following the CEO's February 17, 2022 appearance – CEO appearance on the Main Estimates 2022-2023 before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
Le directeur général des élections The Chief Electoral Officer
Our file: 2022-103793
March 24, 2022
The Honourable Bardish Chagger, P.C., M.P.
Chair, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Dear Bardish Chagger:
I am writing to share information that was requested during my appearance before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on February 17, 2022, concerning the 44th general election.
Below you will find responses to the members' questions, with links to information on Elections Canada (EC)'s website and further details in the Annex.
Education Tools and Communication Approach on Preparing to Vote
Members sought information on the agency's education efforts and the approach taken to explain to voters—including new Canadians—how they should prepare to vote.
When a federal general election is called, Elections Canada launches a four-phase multimedia Voter Information Campaign to ensure that eligible electors have all the information they need on when, where and the ways to register and vote in a federal election. Phase one focuses on promoting registration. Phase two informs electors that they should receive their voter information card (VIC) in the mail telling them where and when they can vote, as well as what to do if they don't receive their VIC or if it has incorrect information. Some information products state that the VIC can be used as proof of address. The third phase promotes the early voting options (i.e. advance polls and the special ballot process) so that they can select the option that best fits their needs. The final phase focuses on the requirements to vote on election day (i.e. ID) and informs electors that they can register on election day if they haven't already done so.
Organic social media messaging and pro-active media outreach in the 44th general election encouraged people who hadn't received their VIC to visit the website to find out where to vote. Additionally, web content about the ways electors can prove their identity made clear that the VIC was not required in order to vote.
Before for the 44th general election, public opinion surveys indicated that there would be an increased interest in early voting options due to the pandemic. In response, EC began promoting early voting options organically on August 15 (on its website, on its social media platforms and through media relations efforts) and launched the early voting options phase of the paid advertising campaign on August 28. The paid campaign on early voting options began one week earlier than in previous elections, two days prior to the close of candidate nominations. The first week of the early voting phase (August 28 to September 5) was delivered through digital media and focused on promoting voting by mail and informing electors of the applicable deadlines. The second week of the campaign (September 6–12) was the traditional multimedia campaign promoting the various ways to vote in advance (voting at advance polls, by mail and at an EC office).
EC delivered information about the voting options throughout the election period via social media, television, radio, digital ads, print ads as well as the EC website and the Guide to the Federal Election, which was distributed to all Canadian households. Regional media advisors who are spread out in various regions across the country delivered key messages and proactive pitches to media starting at the beginning of the election period, and organic social media messaging started being shared after the writs were issued (sooner in the electoral calendar than it had been in past elections).
The Voter Information Campaign included ads in English, French and Inuktitut, as well as in 30 heritage languages (depending on the medium). The campaign also leveraged the general election website to provide target groups with digital information products in 16 Indigenous and 33 heritage languages, about where, when and the ways to register and vote.
Early voting options were also promoted through EC's Inspire Democracy network, which included 27 community organizations and stakeholder groups that had the capacity and reach to share information with groups of electors who face barriers to registering and voting (Indigenous electors, youth, new Canadians and electors with disabilities). These contracted organizations distributed Inspire Democracy learning materials, shared Voter Information Campaign materials in a variety of formats and languages and organized 139 community outreach events at which they presented information on how to participate in the federal election. In addition to these events, the Inspire Democracy team participated in another 26 outreach events and sent election information to 619 unique contacts via its election email series.
Annex 1 provides specific details about the Voter Information Campaign and how it presented the early voting options initiatives.
Natural Disaster Framework
Members requested additional information on EC's contingency plans for dealing with the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
Over the years, EC has developed a disaster response mechanism and operational expertise that has allowed it to mitigate some of the worst effects of severe weather events on the election process. Key elements of the disaster response mechanism include: a) a calibrated legal framework in the Canada Elections Act (the Act) that allows for solutions that are appropriate to the gravity of the emergency event, b) a network of partners at the federal and provincial levels and protocols that enable effective and responsive cooperation, c) operational measures to offer adapted services to electors and d) extensive communication capacity. These elements are discussed below, as is their application to the forest fires that broke out during the 2021 election and devasted communities across British Columbia, including Lytton, BC.
A Calibrated Legal Framework
While the Act is highly prescriptive, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) retains administrative discretion that can be used to adjust certain aspects of the electoral process, notably in response to weather events. This can include, or example, changing polling locations within the electoral district or setting up special ballot kiosks to serve electors form various electoral districts.
Also, sections 17 and 179 of the Act allow for the Act to be adapted by the CEO to respond to unforeseen circumstances, and are the cornerstone of the natural disaster response framework. While there are limits to the adaptation power, it is nonetheless an essential tool that is used at every election to allow electors to vote and have their votes counted. In 2019, for example, I adapted the Act to allow for electors who were evacuated from communities across Manitoba to vote at a “super poll” in Winnipeg.
Finally, section 59 of the Act allows for an election to be postponed or cancelled in an electoral district in the event of a “fire, flood or other natural disaster.” The provision requires first that the CEO certify that it is impracticable to deliver an election and then for the Governor in Council to decide whether to postpone or cancel the event in that electoral district. Postponing or cancelling an election is an extreme measure that must be used only in the last resort.
As part of its preparedness activities, EC informs political parties, through the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP), of the various measures that are available to deal with special circumstances such as extreme weather events. Annex 2 includes a presentation that was given to ACPP in June 2021 as we planned for the election.
A Network of Partners
EC maintains close working relationships with federal and provincial emergency management bodies. Information also flows to EC from a number of intelligence bodies constantly throughout the election period, including from Public Safety's Government Operations Centre. In the lead-up to and throughout an election period, EC receives constant information from weather services across the country and the senior management team is regularly updated with the latest information when a weather event unfolds.
While the precise operational measures required will vary depending on the nature of the crisis, EC has the capacity to respond to a variety of emergencies.
A key element of operational responsiveness is the capacity to make human resources available to address crises on an emergency basis. Returning officers are able to hire additional office staff and election officers with as little of a delay as possible, and regional networks of returning officers coordinated by a regional field liaison officer ensure cooperation and the sharing of resources. In addition, Elections Canada headquarters (ECHQ) has “surge capacity” available that allow human resources to be dispatched on short notice from the National Capital Region to election districts where they are needed. In 2019, for example, a team from ECHQ was sent to Manitoba to establish a polling station to serve Manitoba Hydro emergency workers who were working to restore power far from the electoral districts in which they resided.
In the summer of 2021, given the exceptionally active forest-fire season, the Forest Fire Task Force was created to respond to ongoing forest fire emergencies across the country and support Returning officers.
EC maintains a media monitoring unit and a network of regional media advisors with connections to local media that provide EC with significant intelligence about circumstances on the ground. In addition, EC has the capacity to receive and respond to communications from electors across a range of social media platforms.
These communications services complement the community networks of local returning officers and other staff who have deep connections to their communities and a wide network of contacts across communities who can provide and disseminate information through informal channels.
EC also communicates regularly with registered political parties through the ACPP and provides updates throughout the election period.
Services for Evacuated Electors in the Electoral District of Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, Including the Community of Lytton, BC
Members asked why EC did not offer a mobile polling station to evacuees of Lytton, BC.
During the 44th general election, fires in the region of Lytton Creek, BC, were among the most severe and a general evacuation of the village of Lytton and the Lytton First Nation took place. BC ended the declaration of emergency on September 21, one day after polling day.
During this entire period, I received up-to-date information multiple times a day from the region and supervised the activities of EC's Forest Fire Task Force. Information about general circumstances in the Lytton area was available to EC through direct communication with local election administrators, provincial emergency management officials, federal public safety experts and official weather services. However, information about the particular circumstances of individual electors was much harder to obtain. Evacuations had significantly dispersed the population and few evacuees had registered with government emergency services. Information from local returning officers indicated that many evacuees had relocated to other population centres such as Kamloops, Kelowna, Abbotsford and Chilliwack. EC made two attempts during the writ period to reach the Lytton First Nation via the Assembly of First Nations, but was unsuccessful.
While there is the option of opening a polling station for an electoral district outside of that electoral district during an evacuation, it is critical to know where the electors are, how many are concentrated in the area and their access to the poll, and to be able to communicate the services offered. For the evacuated electors of both Lytton and the Lytton First Nation, “out of electoral district” polls, mobile polls and transfer certificates were not viable options because the residents were spread out across the province and EC did not know of any concentration of evacuees where a mobile polling station could be sent on election day.
Given these circumstances, EC launched a media and communications campaign designed to reach electors in affected areas and advise them of their voting options, wherever they were located. Through social media, radio, television and locally distributed print materials, EC informed displaced electors of their voting options, emphasizing special ballot options (i.e. voting by mail or at a local office).
Evacuated electors were also given the option to vote in person at polls in Spences Bridge (the closest community). The polls in Spences Bridge were held on election day and all roads leading to Spences Bridge were opened by emergency services to facilitate voting. I also directed EC to work with Public Safety Canada to distribute flyers with messages about voting options in to locations across the BC interior where evacuees may have been displaced.
I trust that this information will be of assistance to the Committee and invite you to contact me if you have any further questions.
Chief Electoral Officer
c.c.: Justin Vaive
Clerk of the Committee