Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the May 15, 2000 By-election held in St. John's West
The by-election in St. John's West
On January 31, 2000, Mr. Charlie Power, Progressive Conservative Party Member of Parliament for St. John's West, resigned his seat in the House of Commons.
On April 9, 2000, the Governor in Council announced that a by-election to fill the vacancy in the electoral district of St. John's West would be held on May 15, 2000. Following this announcement, the Chief Electoral Officer issued a writ to the returning officer of the electoral district, directing him to conduct a by-election. Table 1 provides an overview of the important milestones during the period from the issue of the writ to its return.
|Election calendar day
| Issue of the writ; preparations made
to open the
office of the returning officer
|April 9 to 15
|Days 36 to 30 (midnight)
|Advertising blackout period for political parties
|Revision of lists of electors begins
| Proclamation published: candidates
|April 19 and 20
|Days 26 and 25
| Notices of Confirmation of Registration
to all registered electors
|Day 21 (2:00 p.m.)
|Nominations of candidates close
|Targeted revision begins
|Revised lists of electors distributed
|May 5, 6 and 8
|Days 10, 9 and 7
|Day 6 (6:00 p.m.)
|Revision and special ballot registration end
|Official lists of electors distributed
|May 14 and 15
|Days 1 and 0
|Advertising blackout period for political parties
An important part of Elections Canada's task in the by-election, as in all electoral events, was to generate awareness of the by-election and the key dates in the election period among the general public, political parties, candidates, and the media.
The principal means of communicating with the general public was the householder, a pamphlet distributed to all households within days of the issue of the writ. The householder provided the name and phone number of the returning officer, information about the National Register of Electors, and details of how to have names added to, or corrected on, the lists of electors. It also gave information on deadlines for voting by special ballot and the return of special ballots, key dates for advance polls, procedures for registering and voting on election day, and the residence requirements for voting in a by-election. The pamphlet alerted electors that they would receive a notice of Confirmation of Registration shortly, and stressed the importance of keeping the notice until election day.
The notices were addressed individually to electors whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors. Arriving immediately after the householder, they provided details of where and when electors could vote, including several alternatives that Elections Canada provides for electors unable to go to their polling stations on election day.
All public information was produced in both official languages. Census data revealed no ethnocultural or Aboriginal communities whose numbers would warrant translating information into other languages. Key information was made available on request in alternative formats, including Braille, large print, and audio-cassette.
During the November 15, 1999, by-election in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, Elections Canada tested the effectiveness of using radio advertising to announce the arrival of the householder. As a result of the success of the test, radio advertising was used again in the St. John's West by-election. Radio ads were also aired on election day to remind electors of their right to register and to vote, giving the telephone number of the returning officer for those who needed further information.
A print advertisement was run in daily and community newspapers in the final days of the election period to remind electors that their polling station location was printed on their notice of Confirmation of Registration, and that they could register to vote at the polls. The advertisement was based on the approach used at the last general election.
Elections Canada worked closely with local media to ensure that electors had the necessary information. It distributed a media information kit with the launch news release, an electoral district profile, and a calendar of key dates. The kit also included background information on several topics, ranging from the electoral process and the role of Elections Canada to the Special Voting Rules, the National Register of Electors, and election expenses and contributions guidelines for candidates and parties.
Over the course of the 36-day campaign, Elections Canada issued ten news releases highlighting key dates, election day reminders, and clarification of what the media could and could not report on the weekend preceding election day.
A special by-election section was posted on Elections Canada's Web site. The section included the list of official candidates, the electoral district map, the address and telephone number of the returning office, and general information on the voting process and voting by special ballot. On election night, results were posted on the Web site as they became available.
Staff of the Elections Canada Enquiries Unit were available through the 1 800 INFO-VOTE telephone line and the Internet to answer questions and fill requests for publications about the electoral process.
To help candidates, official agents and auditors understand and comply with the financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act, Elections Canada presented a seminar in St. John's West on April 14, 2000. An agency official offered instructions for completing the Candidate's Return Respecting Election Expenses and demonstrated the Electronic Candidate's Return.
For the eighth time since its establishment in 1997, data from the National Register of Electors were used to produce the preliminary lists of electors for a by-election. The returning officer for the electoral district reported 3 234 additions, 1 115 moves within the electoral district, 560 removals and 402 corrections recorded during the event on the preliminary lists of electors, including electors voting under the Special Voting Rules who were added to the lists. This represents 7.6 percent of the 70 023 electors on the preliminary lists.
Of the 5 311 revisions performed during the event, including electors voting under the Special Voting Rules, 2 061 took place during the actual revision period from April 12 to May 9. An additional 3 250 revisions were performed as a result of registrations at the polls on election day. Table 2 shows the details of the revision transactions.
In total, 32 210 of 72 697 registered electors cast their ballots in the by-election. For those unable to vote on election day, advance polls were held on May 5, 6 and 8. Most electors voted on election day, May 15, at one of the 214 polling stations located throughout the electoral district. All polling stations were open for 12 hours from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., local time.
Each of the 129 voting locations provided level access. Table 3 shows the details of polling station locations and accessibility.
Voter turnout was 44.3 percent. At the 1997 general election, the voter turnout in the riding was 60.4 percent. The voter turnout is always lower at a by-election than at a general election. The national turnout at the last general election in 1997 was 67 percent, the lowest since 1925 (66.4 percent) and second-lowest since 1896 (62.9 percent, the lowest ever). During the 20th century, Canada has held 28 general elections, and the average turnout has been about 73 percent. The highest national turnout since Confederation in 1867 was 79.4 percent, in the 1958 general election.
|Number of sites
|Municipal or township hall
|Office of the returning officer
|Royal Canadian Legion
|Total number of polling stations
|Accessible polling stations
As is always the case during elections or by-elections, residents of the electoral district who were unable to vote at the advance or ordinary polls, and residents travelling or temporarily residing outside Canada, could vote by mail-in ballot under the Special Voting Rules. Canadians abroad could obtain information about how to cast their ballots from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, through its diplomatic missions and consular posts. Canadian Forces electors, whether based in Canada or elsewhere, were informed of their right to vote by the Department of National Defence.
Table 4 shows the number of registrations for voting by special ballot. The three lists of electors registered under group 1 of the Special Voting Rules are separate from the lists that are revised during an event. The electors registered under group 2 of the Special Voting Rules are also entered on the revised lists of electors.
|Categories of electors asking to vote under the Special Voting Rules
|Number of ballots requested
|Members of the Canadian Forces
|Electors temporarily residing outside Canada
|Group 1 subtotal
|Electors temporarily outside their electoral district
|Electors voting in their electoral district
|Group 2 subtotal
|Total number of registrations for voting by special ballot
1 The three lists of electors registered under
group 1 of the Special Voting Rules are separate from the list that
is revised during an event.
2 The electors registered under group 2 of the Special Voting Rules are also entered on the revised list of electors.
The deadline for the nomination of candidates was 2:00 p.m. on April 24, 2000. The deadline for withdrawal or for making corrections to information on candidates' nomination papers was 5:00 p.m. that same day.
Of the 10 registered federal political parties, four chose to nominate candidates in the by-election: the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada. One candidate had no affiliation with a registered political party.
Once nominations closed, the list of official candidates was transmitted to Canadian diplomatic missions and consular posts by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and to Canadian Forces bases by the Department of National Defence. The list was also posted on the Elections Canada Web site.
On election night, the Election Results System used in the electoral district was linked to Elections Canada's central computer; as votes were counted, they were transmitted to the server in Ottawa for posting on the Web site.
Progressive Conservative candidate Loyola Hearn received the most votes (see Table 6), and was elected Member of Parliament for St. John's West.
|Valid votes obtained
|Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance
|Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
|New Democratic Party
|Anthony G. Sparrow
|Liberal Party of Canada
|E. Sailor White
The week before election day, the Chief Electoral Officer made a ruling 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. This case concerned subsection 126(4),which 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 extended this provision to central poll supervisors, information officers, registration officers and their assistants, and persons responsible for maintaining order. These officials would otherwise have been deprived of their right to vote, because they may not leave the polling stations where they work.
The Commissioner of Canada Elections, Raymond A. Landry, C.M., is responsible for ensuring compliance with and enforcing of the Canada Elections Act. At the time of writing, the Commissioner had received four complaints alleging an offence under the Canada Elections Act related to the November 15, 1999, by-elections in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal and Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar. The complaint files concerning voting, advertising and financial matters have been closed.
One complaint of an alleged offence under the Canada Elections Act was brought to the Commissioner's attention following the May 15 by-election in St. John's West. The file is under review.
The Commissioner may institute an investigation or a prosecution either on his own initiative, or if he receives a complaint in writing alleging that an offence has been committed, within six months of its commission. Prosecutions must be instituted within 18 months from the commission of the offence. These deadlines have not yet expired.