Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Briefing on the 44th General Election
February 17, 2022
Check against delivery
Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the Committee today about the 44th general election. While no election is like any other, it is safe to say that this was one of the most challenging in our history.
I would like at the very outset to express my gratitude to the 338 returning officers and their staff, as well as the 195,000 Canadians who served their fellow citizens to the best of their ability in difficult circumstances.
A safe election
I had indicated to this Committee last year that we would be in a position to deliver a safe election, and I can confirm that this was the case.
A range of measures to protect electors and poll workers were implemented in consultation with public health authorities across the country, and we continued to adjust those measures throughout the election as the situation evolved locally.
Various service options were also offered to long-term care facilities and seniors' homes to reflect the needs and circumstances of each institution and serve electors who reside there.
While the election was safe, the pandemic presented a number of challenges. These were not unforeseen. As I had indicated to this Committee prior to the election, recruitment and training of poll workers, as well as securing polling places, were the main concerns and they proved to be difficult.
This was particularly true of polling places. In a normal election, approximately half of the electors would be assigned to vote at a nearby school. This time, schools and other usual polling places were generally unavailable.
In preparing for the election, returning officers had worked to identify and confirm alternative locations. However, once the election was called, some landlords who had earlier indicated they would rent to us reversed their decision in the context of the emerging fourth wave. Difficulties in confirming polling locations led to delays in issuing voter information cards.
This did not prevent us from increasing the number of advance polls by 18% to meet an expected increase in early voting. But it did have an impact on services on polling day, especially in some urban centres where the scarcity of polling places led to longer wait times.
To support recruitment, our enhanced national recruitment campaign emphasized the measures in place to protect the health and safety of election workers. At the local level, there were efforts to recruit bilingual election workers and those in Indigenous communities. Overall, we recruited 15% fewer poll workers than in the previous election.
Apart from these overarching challenges, there were specific areas where our services were below expectations.
Students were disappointed that we were unable to offer Vote on Campus kiosks. This initiative had been piloted in 2015 and deployed more broadly in 2019, but in each case required many months of planning and coordination with post-secondary institutions. Pandemic circumstances and the lack of a fixed-date election meant we could not offer it this time. Our goal going forward is to make campus kiosks part of our permanent service offering.
As with previous elections, returning officers reached out to all First Nations communities in their electoral districts to arrange polling operations. Unfortunately, some First Nations electors in parts of Kenora in Ontario were unable to vote as a result of errors and miscommunications. I apologize to these electors, and we are putting in place measures to improve our services to First Nations communities across Canada.
Finally, several measures were implemented to assist voters who wished to vote by mail, including a new online application system, prepaid postage, a special information campaign and a ballot drop-off service at local polls. Procedures were also put in place to ensure the integrity of the process, which meant that the preliminary voting results took several days to complete.
Knowing that election results would not all be available on election night this time, and in the shadow of inaccurate information surrounding the 2020 US election, we took steps to maintain confidence in the process and results. We communicated early and often and were very transparent about the measures we put in place to make voting accessible and secure, as well as to ensure its integrity. I believe that this level of transparency was instrumental in preserving trust in the election. Preliminary results from our post election surveys of electors indicate that trust and satisfaction levels remained very high.
Redistribution of Federal Electoral Districts
I will now turn briefly to the ongoing electoral boundaries redistribution exercise. Canada has a robust process to ensure that the periodic redrawing of electoral boundaries is done in an independent and non-partisan manner.
In October, I announced that the number of seats in the House of Commons will increase to 342. This figure is calculated, as required by law, using the July 1, 2021 population estimates provided by the Chief Statistician and a formula found in the Constitution.
I would like to remind members that the calculation done to determine the number of seats allocated to each province is a mathematical operation over which I exercise no discretionary authority.
The ten independent commissions were created last fall. Their work began on February 9 with the receipt of the census population numbers.
Over the next ten months, each commission will develop boundary proposals, hold public hearings – where members of the public and MPs may make presentations – and complete a report on the new electoral districts. These reports will be submitted to the Speaker for tabling in the House of Commons and referred to this committee starting in fall 2022.
While commissions do consider the input received from Canadians and MPs when determining the boundaries, they make all final decisions as to where these boundaries will lie.
We will be offering briefings to party caucuses on the redistribution process in the coming weeks.
Thank you for inviting me today. I welcome your questions.