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The Role and Structure of Elections Canada

Headed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency of Parliament. Its primary task is to be prepared at all times to administer an electoral event.

The Chief Electoral Officer

The position of Chief Electoral Officer, was created in 1920 by the Dominion Elections Act, largely to put an end to political partisanship in the administration of federal elections. The Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by a resolution of the House of Commons, so that all parties represented there may contribute to the selection process. Once appointed, the incumbent reports directly to Parliament and is thus completely independent of government and political parties. As of 2014, the Chief Electoral Officer is appointed for a 10-year non-renewable term. He or she can be removed only for cause, by the Governor General, following a joint address of the House of Commons and Senate.

Duties and Powers of the Chief Electoral Officer

Originally, the Chief Electoral Officer was responsible only for the administration of general elections and by-elections. Under the Canada Elections Act and other laws that now govern the federal electoral process, Elections Canada's mandate has broadened to include the administration of referendums and other important aspects of our democratic electoral system.

The agency's duties include:

  • administering electoral legislation 
  • registering political parties and third parties engaged in election advertising as well as electoral district associations, leadership contestants and nomination contestants of registered parties 
  • maintaining the National Register of Electors
  • appointing and providing instructions to returning officers (one in each electoral district) 
  • disclosing contributions to candidates, political parties and third parties, and to electoral district associations, leadership contestants and nomination contestants of registered parties; examining and disclosing their financial returns; and reimbursing expenses to candidates and parties according to formulas laid down in the Act 
  • ensuring access to the system for all eligible citizens, through both physical facilities and advertising messages
  • providing legal, technical, financial and administrative support to the independent commissions responsible for the periodic process of readjusting federal electoral boundaries, to ensure that representation conforms to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act

The Broadcasting Arbitrator

The Chief Electoral Officer appoints a Broadcasting Arbitrator.

The current Broadcasting Arbitrator is Monica Song. She is responsible for allocating paid and free broadcasting time to the political parties and for resolving disputes about the purchase of advertising time during an election. For each general election, she prepares guidelines intended to clarify the responsibilities of broadcasters in allocating time to federal political parties for partisan political broadcasts during the campaign period.

Elections Canada

The Office through which the Chief Electoral Officer carries out his mandate normally comprises a group of some 500 employees working in the National Capital Region. During a general election or referendum, more than 235,000 positions are filled by election workers across the country. A returning officer in each electoral district administers the election to choose a member of Parliament.

To carry out the administrative tasks involved in preparing for and running electoral events, Elections Canada is organized into a number of sectors reflecting its activities.