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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.

Table 1

Key dates for the May 15, 2000, by-election in St. John's West
Date Election calendar day Event
 April 9  Day 36  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
 April 12  Day 33  Revision of lists of electors begins
 April 12  Day 33  Proclamation published: candidates may
 file nominations
 April 19 and 20  Days 26 and 25  Notices of Confirmation of Registration mailed
 to all registered electors
 April 24  Day 21 (2:00 p.m.)  Nominations of candidates close
 April 25  Day 20  Targeted revision begins
 May 4  Day 11  Revised lists of electors distributed
 May 5, 6 and 8  Days 10, 9 and 7  Advance polls
 May 9  Day 6 (6:00 p.m.)  Revision and special ballot registration end
 May 12  Day 3  Official lists of electors distributed
 May 14 and 15  Days 1 and 0  Advertising blackout period for political parties
 May 15  Day 0  Election day
 May 16  Day -1  Official addition
 May 23  Day -8  Writ returned

Communicating with electors

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.

Communicating with candidates, official agents and auditors

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.

Revising the lists of electors

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.

Table 2

List of elector revision transactions
Calendar Revision transactions Total Cumulative totals
Day 33
Day 11
Preliminary list   70,023  
Additions 280    
Corrections 233    
Removals 481    
Moves 338    
Total 1,332    
Day 10
Day 6
Revised list   69,822  
Additions 446   726
Corrections 75   308
Removals 78   559
Moves 130   468
Total 729   2,061
Election day Official list   70,190  
Additions 2,508   3,234
Corrections 94   402
Removals 1   560
Moves 647   1,115
Total 3,250   5,311
Final list   72,697  

Voting in the by-election

Voter turnout

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.

Table 3
Polling sites

Location of polling sites
Building types Number of sites Percentage
Community centre 45 34.87%
Church hall 23 17.83%
Municipal or township hall 13 10.08%
Residential 13 10.08%
Educational 12 9.30%
Elderly hostel 9 6.97%
Commercial site 7 5.43%
Other 3 2.32%
Fire hall 1 0.78%
Hospital 1 0.78%
Office of the returning officer 1 0.78%
Royal Canadian Legion 1 0.78%
Total 129 100%

Types of polling stations
Ordinary Mobile Advance Total
213 1 13 227

Polling station accessibility
Total number of polling stations Accessible polling stations Percentage
227 227 100%

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.

Table 4

Registrations under the Special Voting Rules
Categories of electors asking to vote under the Special Voting Rules Number of ballots requested
Group 11
Members of the Canadian Forces 588
Incarcerated electors 0
Electors temporarily residing outside Canada 7
Group 1 subtotal 595
Group 22
Electors temporarily outside their electoral district 24
Electors voting in their electoral district 479
Group 2 subtotal 503
Total number of registrations for voting by special ballot 1 098

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.

Table 5

Preliminary statistics on the number of ballots cast and voter turnout
Number of
electors on
final lists
Voting Rules
Total votes
Total valid
72 697 30 629 1 061 520 32 210 103 32 107 44.3%

The candidates and by-election results

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.

Table 6

Preliminary statistics on valid votes obtained, by candidate
Candidate Political affiliation Valid votes obtained Percentage
Frank Hall Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance 1 315 4.09%
Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 11 392 35.48%
Greg Malone New Democratic Party 11 036 34.37%
Anthony G. Sparrow Liberal Party of Canada 8 032 25.01%
E. Sailor White No Affiliation 332 1.03%
Total 32 107 100%

Special permission

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.

Commissioner's report

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.