Report on the Evaluations of the 41st General Election of May 2, 2011
2. Candidates' Experience of the Election
- Most candidates found it easy to comply with the requirements of the nomination process, although collecting enough supporting signatures remained a challenge for some.
- While the report of the Chief Electoral Officer following the election highlighted three incidents concerning the nomination process, the Survey of Candidates did not find any systemic problems with the process as currently set out by the Canada Elections Act.
- Some candidates continued to have difficulty finding someone willing and available to do the job of official agent.
- Candidates expressed satisfaction with the support they received from returning officers and Elections Canada.
2.1 Nomination Process
The Canada Elections Act sets out a number of obligations and steps (the nomination process) for every person who wishes to be a candidate in an election. These involve choosing an official agent and an auditor, obtaining the necessary forms from Elections Canada, collecting witnessed signatures of a least 100 electors entitled to vote in the electoral district, providing a letter of endorsement signed by the leader of the party (if the person is representing a political party) and submitting the nomination paper to the local returning officer (RO) with a $1,000 deposit by the statutory deadline for the close of nominations (2:00 p.m. on Monday, the 21st day before election day).
The person may file an electronic copy of the document, but the RO must receive the deposit by the close of nominations and the original documents no later than 48 hours after the close of nominations.
After receiving a nomination paper, the RO has 48 hours to review it and either accept or reject it. The role of the RO consists only of determining the completeness of the nomination paper and verifying that the addresses of the electors whose signatures appear on it are located in the electoral district. (There is no requirement to verify the names and signatures.) If the RO rejects a nomination, the candidate may present a new nomination paper up to the close of nominations.
A total of 1,587 candidates participated in the 41st general election, compared to 1,601 in the 40th election.
The report of the Chief Electoral Officer following the 41st general election noted some difficulties experienced by candidates with respect to the nomination process. For example, there were alleged irregularities with regard to the signatures on nomination papers, and three candidates experienced difficulty with the nomination process. Six prospective candidates had their nomination papers rejected by an RO.
The post-election Survey of Candidates did not provide any evidence of systemic problems with the nomination process. While 81 percent of candidates found it easy to comply with the process, 97 percent reported that Elections Canada had processed their nomination in a timely fashion. Despite this overall positive experience, 17 percent of candidates encountered difficulty with the nomination requirements set out in the Act, most reporting that it was a challenge to collect enough signatures in their electoral district. This was also the main problem faced by the candidates in the previous general election. About one quarter of candidates stated that there was too much paperwork and bureaucracy.
ROs also found that many aspects of the nomination process worked well. In addition, they made suggestions for further improvement, such as Elections Canada providing more clarification about the process for filing electronically rather than in person.
Elections Canada faces the ongoing challenge of striking a balance between the amount of work required to meet the strict obligations of the Act and the need to enhance efficiency and reduce the administrative burden on candidates and their staff. While developing an electronic process for completing and submitting nomination papers and signatures could help meet both objectives, it would require legislative change, as proposed in the Chief Electoral Officer's 2010 recommendations report. Revisiting the requirement to obtain signatures from 100 electors in an electoral district would require a more fundamental review by parliamentarians of the overall nomination regime set out in the Act.
2.2 Appointment of Official Agents
Official agents are responsible for administering the financial transactions of a candidate's campaign and reporting on those transactions in accordance with the Act. Most are volunteers. Typically, they do not possess detailed knowledge of the Act or have much bookkeeping or accounting experience. Previous research indicates that it is a difficult role to undertake, and many who accept the responsibility take on the position reluctantly.
To prepare for the 41st general election, Elections Canada conducted an extensive review of its communications material and the information it provides to official agents, candidates and political parties on topics such as good political financing practices, the obligations of official agents and election expenses limits. It also developed several online tutorials and made them available on its website.
After the election, Elections Canada held 26 information sessions for official agents, candidates and auditors on the financial reporting obligations that arise after an election. About 300 individuals attended these sessions, and their feedback was very positive.
The results from the Survey of Candidates confirmed that the issues related to the role and responsibilities of official agents encountered in previous elections still held in 2011. A majority of candidates (82 percent) said that the appointment of an official agent was easy (a slight increase over 77 percent in 2008). Of those who did not find it easy (18 percent), the main reason given was that it was hard to find someone willing or available to do the job. Smaller proportions explained that the job was simply too difficult, that it involved too much responsibility or that it was hard to find someone qualified. These were also the same three reasons given in the 2008 survey.
Within the current regulatory regime set out by the Act, Elections Canada will continue to implement administrative enhancements to help candidates and other political entities meet their obligations under the legislation. However, at this time, legislative amendments – as proposed by the Chief Electoral Officer's 2010 recommendations report – offer the best avenue for improving the accountability and integrity of the regulatory regime while reducing unnecessary complexity and paperwork.
2.3 Dealings with Elections Canada
Elections Canada provides a number of services to candidates: information services to support their understanding of the requirements of the electoral process; support tools and documents to help facilitate compliance with legislative requirements; and information products, including polling division maps and voters lists, as mandated by the Act. The agency strives to build strong working relationships between candidates and their representatives on the one hand and ROs on the other. Candidates need information and tools on such subjects as procedures at the polls, the role of ROs and their offices, recruiting workers, handling unusual circumstances (e.g. floods affecting electors) and managing any complaints and concerns that arise.
The majority of candidates reported being satisfied with the overall quality of service received from Elections Canada (81 percent), the way the RO in their electoral district conducted the election (81 percent) and their interactions with the RO (86 percent). These results are consistent with those of the 2008 election.
Most candidates (83 percent) who used Elections Canada's information services were satisfied with the information obtained (up slightly from 79 percent in 2008). The all-candidates' briefing was well attended by 74 percent of candidates or their representatives, and the majority (81 percent) of attendees found it useful (compared to 83 percent in 2008).
Many candidates or their representatives availed themselves of at least one of three Elections Canada information sources during the election. More than four in five sought information from the agency's website and/or the local Elections Canada office, while fewer than half (42 percent) used Elections Canada's 1-800 support line (down from 48 percent in 2008).
A majority (83 percent) of candidates who used Elections Canada's information services reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the information they or their representatives obtained. Nevertheless, feedback received from the Advisory Committee of Political Parties pointed out to a need for further improvements in this area.
With respect to the various support tools that Elections Canada provided to candidates, a majority of candidates used polling division maps (81 percent) and voters' lists (64 percent). Half (49 percent) of the candidates reported using the Statement of the electors who voted on polling day,Footnote 12 a significant decline from 2008 (67 percent).
Less widely used tools continued to be the Chief Electoral Officer letterFootnote 13 (45 percent, up from 40 percent in 2008) and GeoExploreFootnote 14 (23 percent, up from 19 percent in 2008). Even though a minority of candidates used the Chief Electoral Officer letter, previous consultations with political parties have indicated that it was extremely useful. A majority (72 percent) of the candidates who did not use GeoExplore or were not aware of it expressed an interest in using it for future elections.
The candidates offered numerous suggestions for improving the conduct of general elections, although no single suggestion was offered by more than 10 percent of them. The suggestions covered the following topics: voting or registration changes, administrative changes (e.g. better training for election officers), communications and regulatory changes.
Overall, the evidence indicates that candidates were satisfied with the services they obtained and with most of the information and support tools provided. Elections Canada will continue to refine its internal documentation for supporting candidates, such as training materials, guidelines and checklists, and will increase the availability of online information and support tool.
Return to source of Footnote 12 A form used to record the unique identification number of each elector who voted. It is provided to candidates' representatives at the end of each advance polling day and regularly on election day.
Return to source of Footnote 13 A letter signed by the Chief Electoral Officer to facilitate access to public places by candidates and their campaign workers.
Return to source of Footnote 14 A Web-based mapping tool provided to candidates that allows users to locate civic addresses, streets, municipalities, electoral districts and other information.