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Elections Canada's Main Estimates 202021

Statements and Speeches

Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer
before the
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Elections Canada's Main Estimates 202021

November 19, 2020

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Introduction

Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to present to the Committee Elections Canada's 2020–2021 Main Estimates.

I will also take this opportunity to briefly reflect on the conduct of the October 26 by-elections and the need to swiftly pass targeted legislative change to deliver a general election in these very challenging pandemic circumstances.

Elections Canada's Main Estimates

Elections Canada is funded under two distinct authorities: an annual appropriation and a standing statutory authority.

Today, the Committee will vote on the annual appropriation, which amounts to $48.2 million and represents the salaries of some 530 indeterminate positions.

The agency also has a standing statutory authority to draw directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for all expenses related to its mandate, other than the salaries of indeterminate staff.

This funding model allows Elections Canada to access the funds required to plan and deliver elections, which may occur at any time, and ensures its independence. Planned spending under the statutory authority is reported for transparency and accountability.

The statutory appropriation for the fiscal year 2020–2021, as reported in the Main Estimates, totalled $85.5 million. However, the Main Estimates for 2020–2021 were submitted before the end of the 2019 general election. As a result, they do not reflect the costs associated with remaining ready to deliver a general election in a minority government context. Nor do they reflect the additional costs resulting from required measures for the pandemic.

Elections Canada's Priorities

Being ready to administer an election is at the core of Elections Canada's mandate. In a minority government situation, maintaining a constant state of readiness involves additional costs. These costs include preparing and deploying IT hardware to regional warehouses, replenishing electoral supplies, as well as hiring and training a contingent of temporary personnel.

For the current fiscal year, we have incurred to date additional expenses totalling $99 million from the statutory appropriation to be prepared to deliver an election at any time in this pandemic context. Of this, $52 million relates directly to the pandemic, including the purchase of masks and hand sanitizer, improvements to vote-by-mail capacity, a new voter information campaign on the safety measures, and a more extensive campaign to recruit election workers.

The pandemic has also affected our ongoing activities; most Elections Canada staff now work from home. To support this transition to telework, we have invested in tablets and other equipment. While not without challenges, this arrangement is working well, and we are equipped to deliver the next election with most staff working remotely, if required.

Reflections on recent by-elections and the need for legislative change

Since I last appeared before this Committee, Elections Canada has administered by-elections in Toronto Centre and York Centre, two regions with high rates of COVID-19. While the by-elections were delivered successfully, they also demonstrated the challenges presented by the pandemic, including the need for coordination with three public health authorities in the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the federal government.

A general election during a pandemic will be even more complex and will require engaging with health authorities at the local, provincial, territorial and federal levels, as well as with over 600 First Nations reserves, some of which have their own COVID-19 protocols.

The experience of the recent by-elections only strengthens my conviction that the conduct of a federal election during a pandemic requires an ability to adapt to changing local circumstances. This is why I can only reiterate the importance of the recommendations that I presented earlier this fall and the need to act on these recommendations quickly so that we are able to implement them in a timely manner.

Conclusion

Madam Chair, I am happy to work with the Committee and answer any questions.