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Statements and Speeches

Statement by the
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

At a news conference following the tabling in Parliament of

An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century–Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 42nd General Election

National Press Theatre
Ottawa, Ontario

September 28, 2016

Key recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer

Check Against Delivery

Good morning. Thank you for being here.  

I am accompanied today by Mr. Stéphane Perrault, Associate Chief Electoral Officer, and Mr. Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events.

I have submitted to Parliament my recommendations to improve the administration of the Canada Elections Act. This is the third and final report following the 42nd general election, and my last as Chief Electoral Officer.

I should be clear at the outset that this report does not deal with electoral reform. My mandate is to administer elections, and my recommendations in this regard remain valid, irrespective of any change to the voting system.

The findings of our surveys, reviews and consultations—which are documented in a report that was posted on our website last week—reaffirm the overall success of the 42nd general election. Canadians are generally very satisfied with how elections are administered, and trust levels continue to be enviably high.

While this success is very real, it is also fragile. This is not a time for complacency. The election demonstrated that Canadians' voting habits are shifting. More and more, voters are taking advantage of options such as advance polls or special ballots in order to vote outside their regular polling place. They expect service options that align with their lifestyles, and personal or family situations.

In this regard, last year's election clearly demonstrated that our electoral process is showing signs of strain. Lineups at advance polls were the result of unduly rigid and cumbersome procedures. In some parts of the country, returning officers struggled to recruit enough election workers to deal with our complex procedures and demanding working conditions.

I strongly believe that federal election administration has reached a tipping point and that action is required now to ensure we can meet electors' changing needs and expectations.

The Canada Elections Act is based on the way elections were delivered in the 19th century, when election administration was local, communication with the regions was limited, and oversight was minimal. It is a process that is entirely manual, rigid and slow.

There is no reason why voters should wait in line at one table while there is no lineup at other tables. An electronic list, available at all tables, would allow workers to strike off the names of voters in real time. Record-keeping can also be more efficient and less error-prone, for example, by using scanners and computers instead of requiring election workers at the polls to make handwritten entries on paper forms.

The amendments I am recommending to the Act would allow us to redesign workflows at the polls and take advantage of technology in order to increase accessibility and convenience for electors, while maintaining the strengths of our current electoral process. We would also be able to improve the working conditions for the more than 285,000 dedicated election workers across the country.

Other recommendations in my report are aimed at making our elections more inclusive. I am thinking, in particular, of voters with disabilities. They have the right, like all Canadians, to exercise their vote independently and in secret, and more could be done to assist them in this regard.

I am also thinking of youth. While young Canadians voted in larger numbers at the last election, there remains much to do. Their turnout was still almost 10 percentage points lower than the overall voter turnout. Similarly, the registration rate for Canadians aged 18 to 24 continues to be the lowest among all groups of electors. This is why I am recommending the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, who are easier to reach and engage. 

Finally, my report contains several recommendations dealing with political financing. In this regard, an important recommendation is to simplify and improve compliance through the imposition of administrative monetary penalties for non-compliance.

Currently, non-compliance is subject only to criminal prosecution. As an alternative, many other federal laws now include an administrative process where a form of "ticket" can be issued to those who do not meet their obligations, but who do not deserve the stigma of a criminal prosecution. This would be a more appropriate and effective way to deal with many of the relatively minor contraventions. The Commissioner of Canada Elections would continue to investigate the more serious cases.

My recommendations are presented in three tables in the report. You will also find in your kits a document that highlights certain key recommendations that I consider to be a priority.

The amendments I am recommending are essential to bring the Act into the 21st century, irrespective of any change Parliament may choose to make to the voting system.

In closing, I would like to express my thanks to parliamentarians for the opportunity to serve as Chief Electoral Officer for nearly 10 years. I feel both humbled to have been entrusted with the responsibility to be the steward of one of our most cherished and respected institutions, and proud of having served my fellow citizens and their elected representatives to the best of my ability.

Thank you. I would now be happy to answer your questions.