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Official Reports

They're Off

Wednesday, May 1, 1996. At a press conference in the Ontario riding of Hamilton East, the Honourable Sheila Copps announces her resignation as Member of the House of Commons. That same day, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien calls a by-election to fill the vacant seat. The 47-day campaign is under way.

The most pressing task? Shipping the electoral supplies to the returning officer, Ms. Jean Urie, who is abroad at the time the writ is issued but immediately returns home. In the meantime, her deputy, Ms. Irene Stayshyn, finds suitable premises for the office of the returning officer. The office, with all the necessary equipment, is operational by Saturday, May 4.

The first few days of an election period are especially intense. In addition to opening the returning officer's office, essential measures include confirming the addresses of polling stations, planning the recruiting of enumerators, revising officers and revising agents, and informing the public that the election is to be held, and of the first significant dates during the election period.

Ms. Urie has already conducted one referendum and one election. Two Elections Canada employees go to Hamilton at the beginning of the election period to inform her of the most recent changes in procedures and help her train some members of her staff.

At the same time, the support network springs into action. Throughout the campaign, the returning officer and her staff, the candidates, the parties, the media and the public at large can telephone Elections Canada resource persons for information on the election process and its administration. During the election period, the support network answers 1 347 calls.

Once the election is called, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade sends a message to Canada's diplomatic missions and consular posts to advise electors abroad that a by-election is in progress. Eligible voters whose domicile or last address in Canada is in Hamilton East are invited to register to vote by special ballot. They can obtain the required form from Canadian diplomatic missions, the Hamilton East returning officer, directly from Elections Canada or through the Internet.

The Information Campaign

At Elections Canada, the communications team answers questions from national and local media on a dedicated telephone line. In addition, they issue some 15 news releases during the campaign, informing the public about voting methods and various deadlines.

Another source of information ? the Elections Canada web site on the Internet ? is available to the media and the public. As in the March by-elections, the site posts all the news releases issued during the election period, the list of official candidates and the addresses of their campaign offices, a riding profile, and the returning officer's office address and telephone number. Candidates can obtain data of particular interest to them, such as expenditure limits and rules relating to contributions. In addition, complete information on voting by Canadian electors absent from the riding is accessible at the site, including the special ballot registration form.

On May 10, Elections Canada launches its advertising campaign. Canada Post delivers an information flyer to all homes in Hamilton East, and three-quarter page advertisements are placed in the daily The Spectator and the weekly L'Information. The public is informed of the imminent visits of enumerators and supplied with such key information as the Elections Canada toll-free number and the Hamilton East returning officer's phone number. Two other flyers are distributed on May 24 and June 6.

To encourage students to vote, the communications team sends an information kit and a poster especially designed for young electors to three universities, a half-dozen colleges, and some ten high schools attended by students who are residents of Hamilton East. In addition to a series of information documents, the kit contains guides and registration forms for voting by special ballot.


From Monday, May 13 to Sunday, May 19, 296 enumerators in teams of two go door-to-door across the riding. The enumeration records that they use contain pre-printed addresses, retrieved from the ECAPLE (Elections Canada Automated Production of the Lists of Electors) system database. Enumerators specifically ask electors if the address where they are currently living was their place of ordinary residence on the first day of enumeration and will remain so until voting day. This question differs slightly from the one that is asked at a general election. To vote in a by-election, an elector must maintain residence within the riding from the first day of enumeration until polling day. If, after two visits to an address, the enumerators still find no one at home, they leave a mail-in registration card.

The Elections Canada enumeration in Hamilton East coincides with the five-year Statistics Canada census on May 14. To avoid confusion of the two operations on the part of electors, the communications team adjusts the content of its messages and prepares to respond to requests for information from perplexed electors. For her part, the returning officer has more difficulty than usual recruiting enumerators, because a number of them have already been hired by Statistics Canada. She is obliged to complete her team by hiring a number of 16- and 17-year-olds and people from neighbouring ridings, as permitted by law.

The period of revision begins on the day following enumeration and continues until June 12. During this time, electoral officials make changes to the preliminary list based on information provided by electors. No objections to the registration of an elector are lodged during the May 30 and 31 revision sessions held for this purpose and chaired by a revising officer, confirming yet again that the position of revising officer is superfluous.

The Candidates Declare Themselves

Those who want to stand for office in Hamilton East have until May 20 at 2:00 p.m. to announce their intention officially. A total of 13 candidates, including three women, submit nomination papers with the deposit prescribed by the Act. Seven of them submit their nomination papers right at the deadline.

As soon as nominations close, the returning officer faxes the list of official candidates in Hamilton East to Elections Canada. In Ottawa, the list is immediately distributed in a news release and sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for electronic transmission to Canadian diplomatic missions and consular posts abroad. The Department of National Defence also receives a copy for faxing to Canadian Forces bases. The same evening, the returning officer sends the list of candidates, with each one's political affiliation, to the local printer responsible for printing the ballots.

The finance team, who have already activated the pay system for election officials and suppliers, now calculate the election expenditure limits for the candidates and parties in the Hamilton East by-election. The limit for candidates, determined in part by the number of electors on the preliminary list for the riding, is set at $55 269.83; the limit for the parties, at $29 794.42.

The finance team invites the candidates, their agents and their auditors to a seminar in the riding on Thursday, May 23. The purpose of the session is to explain the provisions of the Canada Elections Act relating to election expenditures and reports, and the provisions of the Income Tax Act on the issue of receipts for tax purposes. In their written evaluation, the participants express their appreciation of the session, which has satisfied their requirements.

A Minor Disruption

On Monday, May 27, there is a break-in at the office of the returning officer. The stolen equipment is replaced promptly and work proceeds without major disruption. The Hamilton East incident points up the need for increased security measures to protect the up-to-date equipment, specifically computers, now used by returning officers. The operations team is currently developing appropriate measures for future elections.

Special Ballot Voting

A total of 295 persons vote by special ballot in the Hamilton East by-election. Electors who expect to be unable to vote at an advance poll or on polling day can register to vote by special ballot. In all, 238 do so; of this number, only three do not return their special ballots. Electors who are out of their home riding during the by-election period can also vote by special ballot.

Because this is a by-election, members of the Canadian Forces vote by mail, like the others who vote by special ballot outside their home riding. After the writ is issued, voting kits are automatically sent to Canadian Forces electors whose ordinary residence is in Hamilton East. Of the 121 electors in the Canadian Forces to whom a kit is addressed at their base or mission site, 30 return completed ballots.

By virtue of a Federal Court decision handed down December 27, 1995, all incarcerated electors whose ordinary residence is in Hamilton East may vote, whatever the length of their sentence. Because this is a by-election, they are obliged to register with Elections Canada and vote by mail. Elections Canada sends voting kits to five inmates who register after the writ is issued and whose ordinary residence is in Hamilton East; four of them return their special ballots by the prescribed deadline.

Similar rules apply to Canadians temporarily living abroad. As soon as the writ is issued, Elections Canada identifies ten electors listed on the International Register whose home address in Canada is in Hamilton East, and sends each of them a voting kit. Three of these electors return their ballots by the prescribed deadline. No applications for registration on the International Register are received during the election period.

Acute Care Patients

Under the Act, people who are unexpectedly hospitalized in an acute care facility during an election period can vote by special ballot from their hospital rooms. Although there is no such facility within the limits of Hamilton East, there are five in the immediate vicinity.

The Chief Electoral Officer writes to the administrators of these five hospitals to inform them how patients may cast their ballots in the by-election. On June 9, five co-ordinators visit individual patients and hand out flyers on special ballot voting. A total of 22 electors from Hamilton East hospitalized outside the riding register for special ballot voting and all those registered exercise their right to vote. On June 11 and 12, the co-ordinators collect 22 ballots, which are then sent by courier to Elections Canada before the June 14 deadline.

Voting at the Advance Polls

The electors of Hamilton East who are unable to go to the polls on polling day are invited to vote at an advance poll. The electors are informed of this option by newspaper advertisements and flyers delivered to their homes. The advance polls are held on Saturday, June 8, Monday, June 10 and Tuesday, June 11. On these three days, the polls are open from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. A total of 1 485 electors cast their ballots at the advance polls.

Polling Stations

The returning officer must confirm the locations of the polling stations in the very first days of an election period, so that this information can be given to the printers responsible for printing the elector information cards distributed during enumeration; the addresses for 42 polling sites are confirmed. The premises reserved include 22 schools, seven residential buildings, seven church basements, three community centres, two hospitals and one shopping centre. All the premises are accessible to persons with disabilities after a ramp is constructed at one school.

Revision of the Lists

The period for revising the electoral lists ends on Wednesday, June 12, five days before polling day. Anyone who wants to be added to the list or to change information has until 6:00 p.m. to do so in person or by mail. During the revision period, the names of 2 191 electors are added to the lists for Hamilton East, eight are struck off and 38 are corrected.

Special Permissions

As in the March 1996 by-elections, the Chief Electoral Officer makes a ruling in the week before polling day under subsection 9(1) of the Canada Elections Act, which allows him to adapt provisions of the Act in keeping with the intent of the legislation. In this case, subsection 126(4) permits transfer certificates for deputy returning officers and poll clerks working at polling stations other than the one at which they may vote, if they are appointed after the advance polls. The Chief Electoral Officer extends this provision to central poll supervisors, information officers and revising officers and their assistants, who may not leave the polling stations where they work, so that they will not be deprived of their right to vote. Another decision concerns subsection 302(2.1), which authorizes, in exceptional cases, the hiring of enumerators who are 16 or 17 years of age or reside outside the riding where the vote is being held.

June 17, Polling Day

Monday June 17. After six and one-half weeks of intense activity, polling day finally arrives. The 148 ordinary polling stations are open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Election officials on duty include deputy returning officers, poll clerks, central poll supervisors, revising officers and their assistants, information officers, interpreters and security officers.

At the Elections Canada Enquiries Centre, the two enquiries officers have been joined by a third for the by-election period. On polling day, the unit assists electors who do not know their polling station address. Over the election period, a total of 3 922 calls are received from members of the public, the media, the candidates and the parties, including 583 directly related to the Hamilton East by-election. The unit also responds to information requests made via the Internet, where users can pose questions and record comments directly online. During the election period, the Elections Canada Internet site reports 30 736 accesses.

On polling day, two of the candidates broadcast radio announcements. A number of surprised people telephone the returning officer and the Enquiries Centre to find out whether this is legal. In fact, since a 1993 court decision in Alberta on this matter, upheld on June 5, 1996, by the Alberta Court of Appeal, candidates, but not parties, are allowed to advertise on polling day. Elections Canada advised party leaders and chief agents of this on May 1 (the date the writ was issued), as we have done at all elections and by-elections since the judgment, to remove any element of unfairness.