Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the November 9, 2009, By-elections Held in Cumberland–Colchester–Musquodoboit Valley, Hochelaga, Montmagny–L'Islet–Kamouraska–Rivière-du-Loup and New Westminster–Coquitlam
1. Context of the November 2009 By-elections
1.1 H1N1 flu
The November 2009 by-elections were held while the H1N1 flu pandemic alert was in effect across the country and abroad. Elections Canada, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada, had developed a contingency plan for dealing with the situation in case of an election.
For the by-elections, various precautions were taken to protect the health of electors and election workers, such as distributing bottles of hand cleaner and cleaning wipes to polling sites and to offices. In cases where polling stations for the general public had been set up in long-term care facilities during previous elections, returning officers were this time instructed to set up those polling stations elsewhere, whenever possible; this was done in most cases. Pertinent information on how to prevent the flu was provided to electors and election workers, and special measures were put in place in case the absenteeism rate proved to be higher than usual. The overall results were positive.
1.2 New administrative initiatives
Elections Canada took advantage of the November 2009 by-elections to introduce a number of measures for improving the administration of electoral events and service to electors. The main initiatives that were implemented are as follows:
Telephony – In the past, Elections Canada paid a monthly sum to telephone companies between elections in order to reserve a certain number of telephone lines for potential local offices. During the November 2009 by-elections, we tried a new strategy that involved using cell phones for the first 10 days of the election, while land lines were being installed. Overall, this system worked well and may be applied on a larger scale during a general election. The use of cell phones allows electors and candidates to contact their returning officer right from the issue of the writs. Furthermore, Elections Canada will realize savings by reducing the costs for guaranteeing in advance the availability of conventional telephone services for its local offices.
Advance polling stations – In the spring of 2009, returning officers in rural electoral districts reviewed the number and distribution of their advance polling stations with a view to ensuring closer voting services for electors, especially in remote areas. We compared the proportion of electors who voted at the advance polls in the areas served by the new advance polling stations during the by-election and the 40th general election. The initiative had a statistically significant positive effect on the advance poll in the area served by the new advance polling station in Cumberland–Colchester–Musquodoboit Valley. In Montmagny–L’Islet–Kamouraska–Rivièredu-Loup, the results were less conclusive. The findings cannot, however, be generalized for the country as a whole.
Training – Following the last general election, we undertook to enhance training for election officers, primarily to ensure a more consistent application of the rules and procedures. In September 2009, all training officers – who had had to train themselves in the past – received training in the regions on the training programs for election officers. Furthermore, we adopted a new instructional approach that focuses on the knowledge that election officers must have to perform their work, instead of looking to cover all of the exceptions. These initiatives led us to change some of our instructional tools and to create new ones. We are currently assessing the impact of those changes with a view to making any necessary adjustments.