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March 29, 2022 – Summaries of appearances on PROC's study on the inclusion of Indigenous languages on federal election ballotsCEO appearance on the Main Estimates 2022-2023 before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Meeting Information

Topic

Inclusion of Indigenous Languages on Federal Election Ballots

Witnesses
  • Stéphane Perrault, Chief Electoral Officer
  • Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events and Innovation
  • Anne Lawson, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Regulatory Affairs
  • Karine Morin, Chief of Staff
Other (follow-ups, motions, etc.)
  • Sections of the Canada Elections Act that would require amendment
  • Ballot production timeline

Opening Statements

The opening remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) can be found here: English/French

Questions by Subject

Nunavut (special ballots, facsimile)

When asked if special ballots written in Inuktitut were accepted by Elections Canada (EC) during the last general election (GE44), the CEO mentioned that under the current legislation, candidates' names need to be written using the Latin alphabet. He added that offering special ballots in Indigenous languages would raise questions for the compiling and counting of results in Ottawa since counters and observers may not be properly equipped to understand a variety of languages.

In response to a question about the printing of special ballots in Indigenous languages in Nunavut and how much of an impediment it would be for EC to add Indigenous languages on the ballots in that territory, the CEO indicated that in the case of Nunavut, translation is usually available within 24 to 48 hours and that EC could probably have the ballot printed in Inuktitut. Amendments to legislation would be required and this would also involve some policy considerations such as translation, validation of translation, ordering of the names on the ballots as well as the format of the ballot.

When asked about the facsimile option used in Nunavut during GE44 and the feedback EC received, the CEO explained that EC did not receive much feedback and that while it did not receive any complaints about the facsimile itself, it did receive some about a few other items that were not translated in Inuktitut (yellow ''vote'' sign). The CEO added that EC has learned about its ability to offer products in a language other than the two official languages and stated that it is easier to improve the overall presence of material than to translate ballots.

In response to a question about the facsimile model and its limitations, the CEO explained that all paper-based models have inherent limitations and that for some jurisdictions elsewhere in the world that use electronic machines, accessibility is not an issue. He added that in a paper-based environment, it would be impossible to produce a large number of facsimiles. He explained that, in some electoral districts, five Indigenous language communities would meet the 1% threshold, which is a lot for a facsimile model.

When asked about the validation of translation for the facsimile posters used in Nunavut, the CEO explained that EC normally works with the Translation Bureau, but had to do the translation itself. He added that translation and validation had to be done within 24 hours of the close of nomination in order print and distribute the ballot in time. The CEO stated that at a time when deadlines are tight and may not allow for translation and validation, he considers it risky, for integrity considerations, to add languages to an official ballot until more is known about the matter. He also reiterated the need to have ballots ready for advance polls so as not to compromise the vote (while being late with a facsimile is regrettable, it does not compromise the election).

Operational considerations (translation, production timeline)

On a question about translation, the CEO noted that EC is not an expert and must rely on the expertise of the Translation Bureau and that translation timelines vary (usually 10-20 days and sometimes more). He suggested an agreement with the party to have the party names translated/transliterated in advance). He added that a new process would have to be put in place to translate and validate the candidate's name after the close of nominations and mentioned, in passing, that EC currently has a quality control process in place with a very short turnaround time.

When asked about the timelines to produce election material that is not already translated, the CEO explained that EC has to decide which languages to use, identify the translation time and proceed with the production of the material. He added that EC will be looking at that and it should not take long for a decision to be made.

On a question about the collection of signatures for the candidate nomination process in languages other than English and French, the CEO explained that the RO has to ascertain that the signature is from an elector residing in the ED and may not have a way to validate the information in other languages.

Policy considerations (threshold)

On a question about the 1% threshold, which languages were selected and why, the CEO stated that EC assumed that the threshold was based on mother tongue, but it could be based on language spoken at home or on written language that is understood. He added that for the purpose of EC's information products, mother tongue was used and that the data came from Statistics Canada as well as information based on demands over the years. In addition, the CEO indicated that if EC were to apply the 1% threshold to ballots, the 17 languages identified with the 1% threshold would overlap with the 16 languages in which EC already offers communications products.

The CEO explained that when it comes to threshold, more data is needed to understand and that EC needs to work with Indigenous communities to better understand their realities. He added that EC also has to look at the demand and capacity on the ground and explore as much as possible to see what are the obstacles that may be encountered.

In response to a question about the possibility of including people who are relearning an Indigenous language in the 1% threshold, the CEO explained that it depends on Statistics Canada and that this data is not available.

Legal considerations (amendments to the CEA)

On a question about the CEA and the sections that would need to be amended, the CEO said a number a section would need to be amended and suggested to share this information with the committee.

Participation in the electoral process (Indigenous rights, advisory group, CanTalk)

When asked if the language on the ballot has been identified as a barrier Indigenous electors' participation, the CEO responded that EC surveys do not address linguistic barriers and added that what EC knows is what is learned on the ground. He also mentioned that the Assembly of First Nations has identified languages as a significant barrier to participation in the electoral process.

On a question about Indigenous' rights, the CEO explained that he is open and willing to improve the presence of Indigenous languages at the polls by ensuring that the voting experience reflects Indigenous people's identity. The CEO also explained that he has to respect the fact that some Indigenous communities (40%) do not want polling stations on reserves. The CEO also said that symbolically, the use of Indigenous languages in the electoral process has a political weight in itself.

On a question about requests from First Nations, the CEO explained that EC has always sought to improve service offerings to Canadians and that the reconciliation lens offers a new perspective. He added that Bill C-309 tabled last spring clearly pointed to a need.

When asked about how EC can provide more help to Indigenous communities, the CEO explained that the service model is currently based on Canadians serving fellow Canadians in their community. Normally, in Indigenous communities at the local level, EC is able to provide services in Indigenous languages, but the CEO acknowledge that the situation in Iqaluit, which requires electors to vote by special ballot, is a complex issue. The CEO informed members that EC has launched a program review and is exploring the possibility of having an Indigenous participation advisory group that could focus on the issue of Indigenous languages on ballots. The CEO indicated that he wants to better understand the needs and realities of Indigenous communities and that EC needs to be more engaged on an ongoing basis, even outside the election period. The CEO added that he also knows there is a need for more flexibility for service at advance polls.

On a question about CanTalk and its use, the CEO said that service is provided in approximatively 24 Indigenous languages and hundreds of languages in total, but anecdotally, there is very little uptake and it needs to be promoted more. The CEO also explained that it is only available at the Returning Officer's (RO) office and is not something that can be made available at the polling places.

Miscellaneous (recruitment, collaboration with EMBs, rapid response team)

On a question about recruitment of election workers speaking an Indigenous language, the CEO said that the vast majority of people are hired locally, but EC does not have data to support this claim. He also mentioned the elders and youth program and specified the uptake has gone down and that it is something he wants to look into. He indicated there is not a self-identified Indigenous person at higher ranks, but some are working at EC headquarters (ECHQ) and as ROs in the field. The CEO added that as part of the program review, EC wants to bring in some Indigenous Canadians at the executive level.

When asked about conversations with other electoral management bodies at the national and international levels, the CEO explained there has been collaboration even though there are only a few countries dealing with the same realities as Canada. He explained that issues for Indigenous communities inside Canada are different and reactions are not the same. He also noted that provincial and territorial CEOs will meet in Iqaluit this summer.

On a question about a rapid response team, the CEO said that understanding when to brief up to ECHQ is important. He added that regional meetings across the country are starting next week and this specific issue will be discussed. The CEO referred to the situation in Kenora, where there was no briefing and reiterated the need for EC to plan in advance and proactively in order to reduce last minute changes.

*This is an unofficial summary of the Committee proceedings please refer to the official transcripts for clarification.