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Electoral Insight - Participation In The Electoral Process

Electoral Insight – January  2001

Electoral News in Brief

2000 federal general election

Photo : Wayne Brown
Electoral geography technician Philippe Palmer examines one of the
90 000 electoral maps that Elections Canada prepared for use at the
recent federal general election

Canada's 37th federal general election concluded on Monday, November 27, 2000, as electors went to the polls in 301 electoral districts to choose their members of Parliament from among 1 808 candidates. More than 57 000 polling stations served cities, towns and villages across a country spanning six time zones. Approximately 20.8 million citizens were registered on the final voters lists and eligible to participate in the election, an increase from the 19.6 million registered at the previous general election in 1997. Approximately 12.7 million Canadians cast ballots, with most doing so on election day, 36 days after the writs were issued on October 22. More than 750 000 Canadians cast ballots at the advance polls on November 17, 18 and 20.

Eleven officially registered political parties took part in the general election. Five of them won seats in the House of Commons, with the Liberal Party of Canada, led by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, returned as the government with approximately 41 percent of the national popular vote. The Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance won 25 percent of the national vote and retained its status as the Official Opposition. Following several judicial recounts in districts with close results, the final elected standings were: Liberal Party of Canada 172 seats, Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance 66, Bloc Québécois 38, New Democratic Party 13, and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 12. No candidates for any of the other six parties were elected, nor were any independent candidates or those with no affiliation.

The five party leaders with seats in the previous Parliament were personally re-elected. There were 1 808 candidates in the November election, with an average of 6 per electoral district. The total number was 136 more than at the previous election, but less than the 2 155 who contested the 1993 election. There were 375 women candidates, which was slightly less than 21 percent of the total and a decrease of almost 4 percent from the 1997 election.

For the November 2000 election, third parties were required to register with the Chief Electoral Officer and were subject to spending limits on their election advertising. Those requirements, part of Bill C-2, which took effect on September 1, 2000, applied to a person or group other than a candidate, registered political party or a local association of a registered political party. There were 47 registered third parties. Early in the election period, the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta granted an injunction against the limits, but it was suspended on November 10 by the Supreme Court of Canada. Third parties are required to report the details of their election advertising expenses within four months after election day.

Some 550 tonnes of election materials, including ballot boxes, forms, training manuals, and signs, were used in the election. More than 3 000 computers equipped the local offices of the returning officers. Returning officers employed approximately 150 000 election officers across Canada, including deputy returning officers, poll clerks, special ballot coordinators, revising agents, and others.

voter information program for the 37th general election

An extensive and fully integrated voter information program was activated for the recent federal general election. To ensure that all electors were aware of their right to vote, the need to have their names on the voters lists, and the methods available to cast their ballots, Elections Canada advertised widely on television, radio and in print. The timing and content of those ads were synchronized with the key phases of the electoral calendar. Elections Canada also expanded the extensive information already available on its Web site. During the 36-day election period, the Web site ( provided registration and voting information, a youth module, the electoral calendar, maps, and a profile of each of the 301 electoral districts, news releases and background information about the electoral system. Banner ads on major Internet portals generated significant traffic to the Elections Canada site. In the area of public enquiries, Elections Canada significantly increased the number of officers answering questions received by telephone, fax and e-mail.

Early in the 36-day election period, a bilingual (English/French) pamphlet was delivered to approximately 12 million households across Canada. A bilingual (Inuinnaqtun/Inuktitut) version was sent to all households in Nunavut. The pamphlet was also made available in three other Aboriginal languages and 26 ethnocultural languages. More than 75 000 copies of the pamphlet were ordered.

All registered electors were mailed voter information cards that advised them where and when they could cast their ballots. Almost 2 500 information kits about the electoral process were distributed to national and local associations representing young and other first-time voters, Aboriginal Canadians, ethnocultural communities, and persons with disabilities. Special brochures and advertisements in newspapers in the United States targeted those residing away from Canada who might wish to vote by special ballot.

The information provided by Elections Canada reminded Canadians that the voters lists are based on the data in the permanent National Register of Electors, and that a door-to-door enumeration is no longer carried out during federal elections. Therefore, a key message was that electors needed to verify that they were on the voters lists, and if not, to take the appropriate action. Another key message was the availability of voting by special ballot for those who do not wish to go to their regular or advance polling stations, including those who are disabled, hospitalized or away from home attending school, and those who are temporarily living away from Canada or travelling on vacation or business.

On election night itself, after the polls closed, the Elections Canada Web site posted preliminary election results, rapidly updated as the polls reported in, and with an unprecedented level of detail. Users could personally customize their results windows to view and analyze the results for selected electoral districts or overall results, by registered party, for a large city, a province or territory, or the entire country. Over the 36-day election period, the total number of visitors to the Elections Canada Web site was ten times greater than during the previous election in 1997.

To help the media report on the election, a comprehensive Media Guide and a CD-ROM were produced, offering information on electoral legislation, registration and voting, and past elections. A network of regional media representatives was in place to support Elections Canada's media relations program.

In September, Elections Canada also placed advertisements in 112 daily newspapers, including eight ethnocultural newspapers, to inform the public about the new Canada Elections Act, resulting from the passage by Parliament of Bill C-2, which came into force on September 1, 2000. Among the provisions of the new Act are the regulation of third party election advertising, more rigorous financial reporting by registered parties and candidates, and new rules for the publication and broadcasting of election advertising and new opinion surveys.

giant training event at elections canada

Photo: Elections Canada
Many returning officers who were in Ottawa for training also attended
the August 9, 2000, anniversary event at the Canadian Museum of
Civilization in Hull, Quebec. Sitting with Elections Canada and museum
officials (front row) was Don Boudria, Leader of the Government in the
House of Commons (centre).

The biggest training program ever held at Elections Canada took place last summer in Ottawa, as part of the agency's plan to ensure event-readiness by September 1, 2000. The project brought together 301 returning officers (ROs), 301 assistant returning officers (AROs) and 301 automation coordinators (ACs) with 25 trainers/presenters from nine different divisions at Elections Canada.

The staff of the Training and Evaluation Division of Elections Canada's Operations Directorate, ably aided by an outside contractor, Prime Strategies Inc., arranged for the ROs, AROs and ACs to receive nearly 25 000 hours of training between July 31st and August 26, 2000. The ROs and AROs each received three days of training, while the ACs received five days.

Adding to the logistical challenge, the participants came from every electoral district in Canada, necessitating travel reservations and the booking of more than 5 500 bed-nights – the most for one night being 235 rooms. For the training sessions, a series of rooms were booked in two different hotels. Besides the sound and audio-visual systems needed in each room, eight complete computer networks, comprising not less than 80 workstations, 8 servers and 8 printers, had to be installed and linked to Elections Canada. Ottawa's Crowne Plaza and Delta hotels provided sterling service throughout this very intense period.

Recent legislative changes (Bill C-2) and their impact on event administration formed the primary subject matter of the training sessions, together with newly developed systems for field elector registration and field financial management and revised systems for event management and results reporting. Also covered were a new organizational structure for the offices of returning officers, the revised tariff of fees, and a new performance assessment process for returning officers.

80th anniversary of office of chief electoral officer

Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley presents Museum of Civilization President Dr. Victor Rabinovitch (left) with a copy of the Elections Canada CD-ROM, Explore A History of the Vote in Canada, at the 80th anniversary celebration at the museum.
Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley presents Museum of
Civilization President Dr. Victor Rabinovitch (left) with a copy of the
Elections Canada CD-ROM, Explore A History of the Vote in Canada,
at the 80th anniversary celebration at the museum.

Last year marked the 80th anniversary of the office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. In 1920, Parliament adopted the Dominion Elections Act, which marked the beginning of the modern era of electoral administration in Canada.

On August 9, 2000, the anniversary and our electoral system were at the centre of an event at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. Hosted by Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and the museum's President, Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, it was attended by the Honourable Don Boudria, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Senator Gérald Beaudoin and more than 300 guests. "The creation of the office of Chief Electoral Officer in 1920 was a giant step forward," stated Mr. Boudria. "Before that, electoral administration was the government's responsibility, which meant the party in power had the opportunity, and the temptation, to favour its own candidates. In 1920, Parliament turned over a new page forever."

Since the 1920 creation of the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, the number of seats in the House of Commons has increased from 235 to the current 301. Meanwhile, the number of Canadian electors has grown to more than 20 million from 4.4 million (at the December 1921 general election). Mr. Kingsley became Chief Electoral Officer in February 1990 and is the fifth person to hold that post.

Two new information products were unveiled at the August 9 event: the third phase of the Web module, Explore A History of the Vote in Canada, and the French version of the ACE (Administration and Cost of Elections) Project. The third phase of the Web module is entitled "Chronicle" and examines the evolution of Canada's electoral system from 1920 to 1997. Its content includes SElections, Elections Canada's new electronic trivia game. "Explore A History of the Vote in Canada is an excellent example of how the computer can serve democracy," stated Mr. Boudria. "The launch of the third phase is well-timed, since with the adoption of Bill C-2, we have just implemented the greatest electoral reform in Canada in 30 years."

The ACE Project, a comprehensive reference work on the management of elections, is available on CD-ROM and the Internet ( and includes about 5 000 Web pages of electoral information. "The primary goal of the ACE Project is to promote democratic development in countries that do not necessarily have a long tradition of democracy," explained Mr. Kingsley. "It certainly represents a valuable investment, particularly in terms of the potential spin-offs in the spread of democracy."

two federal by-elections

By-elections were held in two electoral districts on September 11, 2000, the results giving seats in the House of Commons to the leaders of two federal political parties. Both seats were retained by the parties that previously held them.

In the British Columbia riding of Okanagan–Coquihalla, the leader of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, Stockwell Day, received 70 percent of the vote in defeating seven other candidates. In the Nova Scotia riding of Kings–Hants, Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader Joe Clark obtained more than 53 percent of the vote while defeating four other candidates.

The number of registered electors and the voter turnout were quite similar in the two electoral districts. There were more than 67 000 registered electors in each electoral district and slightly over 40 percent cast their ballots.

support program for international visitors to mexico's 2000 election

Elections Canada played a major role last year in implementing a United Nations program to host visits by electoral officials from around the world during Mexico's presidential elections. Assistant Director of International Services France Demianenko oversaw the coordination and support for the more than 50 international visitors. Their presence during the period of June 28 to July 4 lent credibility to Mexico's electoral process, and this was widely regarded as the most democratic election that country has ever experienced. After 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the Mexicans chose opposition leader Vicente Fox, the candidate of the National Action Party, to be their next President.

The main purpose of the United Nations program was to enable the foreign officials to visit polling stations and witness the election process. The visits were organized by the UN in a manner that promoted the professionalism, credibility and independent status of the special guests. Following an orientation program that concluded on July 1, the guests visited numerous polling stations and then returned to the Federal District of Mexico to review their findings and present them to Mexico's electoral authority, the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) and the media. All of this occurred under UN coordination.

In March 1999, the Mexican government and the United Nations had signed an electoral assistance agreement, which called for an information and coordination program for the international visitors that would reinforce and complement the support they would receive from Mexico's federal electoral authorities. In December 1999, the Instituto Federal Electoral General Council issued a notice stating it would welcome officials from "bodies endowed with electoral authority from other countries." IFE and the Tribunal Electoral prepared the orientation and seminar program for them.

To obtain the widest possible understanding of Mexico's electoral process, the international guests visited areas that demonstrated the key dynamics affecting the electoral process. They went to urban and rural regions (about 70 percent and 30 percent respectively); areas of differing geography (mountains, hills, plains); areas with the highest and most concentrated voter population; and regions with politically sensitive and vigorously contested seats.

The democratization process in Mexico began a number of years ago, concurrently with a profound social transformation. Thanks to a series of electoral reforms, Mexican citizens have been able to decide for themselves who will lead their government, rather than having it decided by the internal mechanisms of a single party or coalition.


Members of the Standing Committee Ajauqtiit of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly visited Elections Canada in Ottawa in June 2000 to discuss issues regarding the administration of elections, as part of their study on electoral reform. This visit also provided the opportunity for Elections Canada to learn more about particular challenges in administering elections in the North. The discussions focused on the National Register of Electors, a central election office, electoral finance, new election administration technology, the training of election officers, electoral geography and the rules for voting by special ballot. The goal was to ensure that the Nunavut Elections Act meets the needs of voters in the new territory.

The Standing Committee was accompanied by representatives of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, who wish to work with it (as they are already legislated to do with the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories) on a host of issues critical to the development of Nunavut.

For many years, Elections Canada was responsible for administering the territorial elections in the Northwest Territories. In 1997, the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories completed an agreement granting territorial officials full responsibility for future territorial elections. Nunavut's historic, first general election in February 1999, which was administered by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories, elected nineteen members of the Legislature, who began governing two months later when the Northwest Territories was divided into Nunavut and the remaining western portion.

The committee's mandate includes reviewing the report of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories, entitled Election of the First Legislative Assembly of Nunavut – 1999: A New Beginning, and preparing a report that will recommend improvements to the Nunavut Elections Act. "The challenges facing elections staff at all levels in Nunavut include the preparation of materials in Inuktitut, voting maps for our communities, which do not usually have street names, and enabling electors in outpost camps to vote," said Committee chairman Hunter Tootoo.

The Standing Committee has held public hearings and, last April, issued an interim report outlining some of the issues that have been raised. In September, it visited a number of territorial communities to hold further hearings in advance of issuing its final report. More information is available from the Web site of Nunavut's Legislative Assembly (


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.