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Report on the 42nd General Election of October 19, 2015

3. Communications and Outreach Campaign

Elections Canada launched a comprehensive communications and outreach campaign to inform Canadians about the 2015 election and position the agency as the trusted source of voting information. Using plain language and more visual elements than in the past, the campaign focused on getting important messages out to Canadians at the right time during the election calendar so they would be ready to vote. It delivered messages about voter registration, the four ways to vote and identification requirements. 

The "Ready to Vote" campaign was designed to connect with Canadians at large, the majority of whom are registered to vote at their current address. It was also important to reach target groups who are known to face barriers to voting. People in these groups are less likely to be registered and receive a voter information card (VIC); are generally less aware of the electoral process and ways to vote; and, in many cases, do not have the necessary identification. For the 42nd general election, these outreach target groups were Aboriginal electors, electors with disabilities, electors from ethnocultural groups, electors who are homeless, seniors living in long-term care facilities, youth and students.

A number of other considerations were taken into account when developing the campaign, including:

  • Importance of having electors register before election day – Elections Canada aimed to encourage more electors to register in advance. Registered electors receive a VIC that tells them when and where to vote. An up-to-date list of electors also makes the voting process smoother for both voters and poll workers. The campaign used outreach, social media and advertising to promote the online voter registration service in the months before the election, particularly targeting first-time voters and electors who had recently moved.
  • Changes to voter identification requirements – With new restrictions on voter identification and public debate about these changes, Elections Canada needed to clarify the requirements in its communication products. For many electors, the attestation process that replaced vouching and the exclusion of the VIC as a piece of identification made it more difficult to prove their address. The campaign placed an emphasis on reaching out to affected groups.
  • Numerous sources of voting information during an election – Post-election surveys from 2011 confirm that Elections Canada is the most trusted source of information on registration and voting. However, the agency shares the stage with media, political parties, candidates, civic groups and electors themselves. The campaign made it easy for people and organizations to share Elections Canada's digital and print products so they could spread accurate information.

A wide variety of products, formats and channels maximized the campaign's reach. These included outreach programs; digital communications, including social media accounts and an election-specific website; a multimedia advertising campaign; direct mail; news media; a public enquiries service; and civic education for pre-voters.

Infographic on the Electoral Reminder Program for the 42nd general election
Text version of the infographic on the Electoral Reminder Program for the 42nd general election

Outreach Programs

Elections Canada used national and local programs to provide information on registration and voting to its outreach target groups.

Infographic on Samara Canada's election activities
Text version of the infographic on Samara Canada's election activities

At the national level, the agency worked with organizations representing these groups to distribute voter information products, expand the reach of the agency's social media messages, promote online voter registration and monitor outcomes. Starting in spring 2015, a total of 59 organizations helped to distribute more than 11 million hard-copy information products and held 105 events to inform target groups on when, where and the ways to register and vote. Social media connections expanded the distribution of this information to an estimated 1.5 million electors. These organizations included Apathy Is Boring, Samara, CNIB, People First of Canada, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations. The complete list of organizations can be found on Elections Canada's website.

Elections Canada collaborated with Samara Canada on its Vote PopUp program for 2015. With the downloadable Vote PopUp kit, community groups could recreate a polling place to foster interest in the election and demystify the voting process for first-time voters. Elections Canada provided ballot boxes, posters and voter information products to support the program. Over 300 community groups were involved in Vote PopUp activities in varied locations such as a homeless shelter in Calgary, a settlement agency in Toronto, a mobile library in Ottawa and a farmers' market in Vancouver.

At the local level, community relations officers delivered information to outreach target groups. They set up kiosks, made presentations, hosted discussion groups, distributed information products, and liaised with administrators of relevant organizations or facilities. Returning officers hired a total of 1,201 community relations officers for the 42nd general election, compared with 863 for the 41st general election, including 233 community relations officers to reach electors with disabilities.

As part of outreach to Aboriginal communities, Elders and youth worked at polling places on election day to help explain the voting process, answer general questions and provide interpretation services. In total, 285 Aboriginal Elders and youth were hired for the 42nd general election, compared with 303 for the 41st general election.

Table 4 in the Appendix lists the number of community relations officers and Aboriginal Elders and youth hired for the 40th, 41st and 42nd general elections.

Digital Communications

Social media

This was the first time the agency used social media to provide electors with information about registration and voting. Its Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels, launched in advance of the election, made it easier for Elections Canada and its followers to share digital voter information products. Twitter and Facebook were vehicles to respond to questions from the public, point them to specific information on the website, or refer them to the toll-free phone number or online complaints form.

Facebook message posted on the International Day of Democracy.
Text version of a Facebook message posted on the International Day of Democracy

On September 15, the International Day of Democracy, Elections Canada partnered with Facebook for a voter registration blitz as part of Canada's Democracy Week. Some 44,400 users successfully confirmed their information through the online voter registration service – the most transactions in a single day since the system's launch in 2014. As well, 1,328 users added themselves to lists of electors and 5,310 updated their address.

On election day, Facebook users could click on "I'm a Voter" in their news feeds and have it appear as a message in their friends' feeds. Some 12,422,158 users were reached in this way, and 814,373 people shared that they were voters. Users could also click a button for more information and be directed to the website; over 150,000 people clicked on the button.

Facebook message posted on election day.
Text version of a Facebook message posted on election day

Elections Canada's Facebook posts reached 13.1 million users (based on the number of people who received messages in their news feed). The agency's Twitter messages earned 17.7 million impressions. Its videos on YouTube were viewed 700,000 times

The agency launched a new election-specific website in early August 2015 to put voter services front and centre – namely, the online voter registration service and the voter information service. The latter showed electors when and where they could vote based on their address, and provided information on the accessibility of their polling place.

From the home page, electors could learn about the ways to vote, identification requirements, and voting as a student or for the first time. They could access shareable voter information products, such as videos and infographics that made it easier for electors and groups to spread the word about voting. Two key documents were published online in 31 heritage and 12 Aboriginal languages: the voter identification requirements and a voter's guide.

The website received a record 16 million visits during the election period, with 4 million visits on election day. Typically, visits to the website double from one general election to the next; however, the number of visits tripled in 2015 compared to the 2011 general election. On advance voting days and election day, mobile users accounted for 50 to 61 percent of visits. Live election results were published starting at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on October 19, with over 560,000 visits that night.

Website Visits
Text version of "Website Visits"

Elections Canada partnered with Google to make sure that people searching for voting information were directed to as the authoritative source. Beginning in September, up-to-date information about when and ways to register and vote appeared directly on when users searched for that information. This was supported with promotional days for voter registration on September 20 and for election day on October 19 on Google sites, including an election day Google Doodle and YouTube Yoodle.

Multimedia Advertising

The multimedia advertising campaign was delivered in phases that followed the important dates, themes and activities in the election calendar:

Print ad for Phase 1 – Registration.
Print ad for Phase 1 – Registration

  • Phase 1 – Registration (September 1 to October 1)
  • Phase 2 – Receipt of voter information cards (October 2 to 6)
  • Phase 3 – Advance polls (October 7 to 12)
  • Phase 4 – Election day (October 13 to 19)

Print ad for Phase 3 – Advance polls.
Print ad for Phase 3 – Advance polls.

The campaign had an ongoing presence in mainstream, digital and specialty media. English and French mainstream ads were in 96 daily newspapers and 612 community newspapers, and carried on 708 radio and 63 TV stations. Ads also ran on 502 websites and in specialty media.

Students and youth were targeted with ads on 489 campus digital screens, 19,187 buses serving downtown and campus areas, and 2,317 Tim Horton's TV screens. Ads played on youth-oriented radio stations and during popular TV shows; they appeared on frequently visited websites and social media.

Print ad for Phase 4 – Election day.
Print ad for Phase 4 – Election day.

To help reach Aboriginal electors, ads ran in 47 print publications, on 102 radio stations, 4 TV networks and 6 websites. Print, radio and TV ads also appeared in Inuktitut in the North.

Ethnocultural audiences were reached through 100 print publications (30 languages), 62 radio stations (31 languages), 19 TV stations (26 languages) and 374 websites (12 languages).

The advertising encouraged electors to check their registration; advised them to consult their VIC for when and where to vote; informed them of advance voting options at polling places and local offices; and promoted election day, reminding electors to bring identification and advising them that they could still register when they went to vote.

Direct Mail

Voter information card.
Voter information card.

As in past elections, a VIC was mailed to all registered electors. It provided them with personalized information on when and where to vote, the accessibility of their polling places, and how to contact their local Elections Canada office. The agency mailed 25.3 million VICs by September 25 to electors whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors. It subsequently mailed about 300,000 revised VICs to advise electors of changes to polling place information and about 715,000 VICs to electors who were newly registered or had updated their name or address.

Rolls of blank, uncut voter information cards 
      (credit: J. Larocque).
Rolls of blank, uncut voter information cards
(credit: J. Larocque).

A week after sending the VIC, Elections Canada distributed a general information brochure to every household that provided residents with information about voter eligibility, registration, identification requirements (including the list of accepted identification) and the ways to vote. It prompted electors to contact Elections Canada if they had not received a VIC or received one with errors. The agency distributed nearly 15.2 million bilingual brochures to households across the country and 20,000 trilingual (English, French and Inuktitut) brochures to households in Nunavut.

Information brochure.
Information brochure.

News Media

Elections Canada used its network of 14 national and regional media advisors as well as its permanent media relations advisors to keep in direct contact with the Canadian media and get information to electors. From the start of the election to the end of judicial recounts, this team responded to 4,955 calls from journalists.

News conference with the Chief Electoral Officer, September 14, 2015 (credit: N. Babin-Dufresne)
News conference with the Chief Electoral Officer, September 14, 2015
(credit: N. Babin-Dufresne).

The vast majority of questions – some 4,640 – concerned routine matters of election administration, such as candidate nominations, ways to vote, identification requirements, advance polls, voter turnout and judicial recounts. Specific to this election were questions about the effect of revised electoral district boundaries and legislative changes in 2014, online registration (with a particular emphasis on VIC-related issues), and voting options for Canadians living abroad.

Elections Canada also initiated calls to the media to provide information on the electoral process. It issued 33 news releases and advisories.

Public Enquiries Services

While local Elections Canada offices were equipped to answer many public enquiries, electors could also contact the agency's national office directly.

The most common way electors accessed the national public enquiries service was through its toll-free telephone number. Callers were connected to an automated voice response system with self-service menus, available 24 hours a day throughout the election period. Those who wished to speak to an agent were connected to a national call centre agent, their local Elections Canada office or a call agent for special ballot voting. Agents answered phones from August 2 to September 7 on weekdays between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (Eastern Time), with reduced weekend hours, and from September 8 to October 19 between 7:00 a.m. and midnight (Eastern Time) seven days a week.

To handle the high call volumes, Elections Canada retained a private sector partner and renewed an agreement with the Government of Canada's Enquiry Centre. In addition, the Canada Revenue Agency supplied 60 call centre agents on several days during the election, including on election day. Electors could also contact Elections Canada through its website. Online forms made it easy to ask a question, send a compliment or suggestion, file a complaint, or provide feedback on the accessibility of polling places. Other options for contacting the agency were by fax or teletypewriter (TTY).

Civic Education for Pre-voters

A student participates in the 2015 Student Vote program (credit: CIVIX).
A student participates in the 2015 Student Vote program (credit: CIVIX).

As part of its ongoing civic education programming, Elections Canada contracted CIVIX to run the Student Vote parallel election program. From October 13 to 16, elementary and high school students took on the roles of election officers and voted for federal candidates running in their local riding. The vote followed a series of lessons and activities on government, candidates, parties and issues, as well as discussion with family and friends. More than half of all schools in Canada participated, with a record 922,000 students casting a ballot across all 338 ridings.