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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the Port Moody–Coquitlam By-Election

From there to here: Elections Canada, June 2, 1997 – March 30, 1998

Closing the books on the 36th general election

Evaluating the election

One of the most important activities following a general election is the process of examining how the election was conducted, in order to improve the administration of future electoral events. Such a process was particularly important following the 36th general election, as it was the first ever national electoral event to use a preliminary list of electors generated from the National Register of Electors and to be conducted in a 36-day period.

As happens after every general election, a representative group of returning officers, assistant returning officers, automation co-ordinators, and others involved in the electoral process were brought together by Elections Canada to identify issues and problems faced during the election and to identify possible solutions and strategies for future electoral events. As well, more than 100 Elections Canada staff participated in an internal post-mortem process, the most exhaustive Elections Canada has undertaken following a general election.

The post-mortem process did reveal shortcomings, most of them related to the need to have systems operational within a very short time frame, and it resulted in several suggestions for improvements. They will be analyzed over the coming months, coincident with Elections Canada's second strategic planning exercise. Together, they will lay the groundwork for improvements to Elections Canada's procedures and processes before the next major electoral event.

Review of candidates' and political parties' returns and reimbursements

Elections Canada has also audited the candidates' financial returns for the 1 672 candidates who ran for office in the general election to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act and to determine the amount of reimbursement owed to those who qualify. Candidates are required to file election expenses returns within four months of election day. Reimbursements of election expenses for registered political parties that qualified were issued. Registered political parties are required to fill their election expenses returns within six months of election day.

Publishing election reports

Over the coming months, Elections Canada will publish the campaign contributions and expenses of registered political parties and candidates. It has already published Official Voting Results and Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 36th General Election. Reflecting the transition from print to electronic communication where feasible, Elections Canada for the first time has published the official voting results on CD-ROM as well as in print form and on diskette.

Complaints of alleged offences under the Act

A total of 290 complaints related to the 36th general election alleging an offence to the Canada Elections Act have been brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, of which 223 were closed by March 30, 1998. These data do not take into account all the complaints that may be related to election financing. Written complaints must be submitted within six months of the date of the alleged offence; where the evidence is sufficient, and an intervention would be in the public interest, prosecution must commence within 18 months from the date the offence was allegedly committed.

Elector registration

The 1997 general election marked the first use of the National Register of Electors. Since that time, Elections Canada has been updating each of the 301 databases that make up the Register (one for each electoral district).

On October 15, 1997, each member of Parliament was sent a list of electors, generated from the National Register of Electors, for his or her electoral district. Each registered political party that presented a candidate in that electoral district could also request a copy of the list. This distribution will occur each year, as required by the Canada Elections Act, and will include all revisions to the Register since the previous October.

The National Register of Electors

The Register is maintained on a regular basis, so that a preliminary list of electors can be generated whenever an electoral event is called. Elections Canada has concluded agreements to obtain data for the ongoing maintenance of the Register from the Permanent List of Electors in Quebec, and from the majority of provincial and territorial registrars of motor vehicles and registrars of vital statistics. Negotiations are ongoing with motor vehicle registries in Manitoba and the Yukon and with Alberta Registries for the provision of both motor vehicle and vital statistics information. Government officials have confirmed their intention to conclude these agreements in late spring 1998. As well, an agreement has been concluded with the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer in British Columbia to obtain data from its permanent list of electors.

Similar agreements have been reached with the two federal data suppliers (Revenue Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada). As part of the agreement with Revenue Canada, income tax returns now include a consent box to allow taxfilers to authorize Revenue Canada to forward their names, addresses, and dates of birth to Elections Canada for updating their existing listing in the National Register of Electors. Because the National Register of Electors is still new to many Canadians, Elections Canada has established a temporary unit in its Enquiry Centre to deal with Register-related requests. The unit received 9 604 calls between January and April 1998 alone. As well, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has modified the Application for Canadian Citizenship form to include a consent box to allow prospective citizens to indicate their authorization for Elections Canada to add their names to the Register once citizenship is granted.

While the Register is designed to be updated from existing administrative data, minimizing elector responsibility for keeping listings up-to-date, electors can also submit registrations, corrections, and opt-out requests. Elections Canada has received and processed approximately 1 000 such transactions since June 1997.

Partnerships and sharing agreements

The National Register of Electors constitutes a valuable resource not only for federal electoral events, but for elections in all jurisdictions. Since its inception, in April 1997, Elections Canada has received 57 requests for Register data from 48 jurisdictions at the provincial, territorial, and municipal levels. In addition, in the fall of 1997, the first partnership agreement was concluded with the City of Winnipeg to exchange electoral data in connection with the city's fall 1998 municipal election. By using data from the National Register of Electors, the City of Winnipeg will save approximately $600 000 by eliminating its door-to-door enumeration. Another such agreement was concluded with the province of New Brunswick in March 1998, to provide elector data for use in its May 1998 municipal elections.

The Chief Electoral Officer continues to work with his provincial and territorial counterparts, through a federal-provincial working group, to encourage further data sharing.

Amendments to legislation

Now that the National Register of Electors has been established and is being regularly maintained, an enumeration is no longer necessary as part of each federal electoral event. As provided for in subsection 94(3) of An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Referendum Act (S.C. 1996, c. 35), the sections of the Canada Elections Act regarding enumeration (sections 63–71 and 71.001–71.003) were therefore repealed as of December 1, 1997. On December 19, 1997, the Chief Electoral Officer adapted these amendments for the purpose of referendums.

Public outreach

During and between electoral events, Elections Canada runs programs to better inform Canadians about the electoral process and their democratic rights.

In keeping with the increasingly electronic world in which we live, Elections Canada's Web site continues to develop as a resource for information, not only about specific electoral events, but about elections and democracy in Canada. Elections Canada reports are made available on the Web site, which is updated regularly. E-mail from the Web site also provides a convenient means of communication between electors and Elections Canada. In addition, the agency operates a toll-free telephone enquiry line for the public, which is available in Canada, the United States and, since early 1998, Mexico (1 800 INFO-VOTE).

Reaching out to students

Elections Canada is also reaching out to future electors, with the recent launch of "Choosing Our Mascot." This election simulation kit is designed to teach children in kindergarten to Grade 4 how elections work by having them choose a classroom mascot from four animal candidates, all native to the Northwest Territories. The kit was launched at Nakasuk School in Iqaluit, Northwest Territories, on November 13, 1997, where more than 300 students elected Neevee the Caribou as their mascot. The kit, which was developed in partnership with Elections Northwest Territories, is available to all schools across Canada.

Older students will enjoy Exploring Canada's Electoral System, an interactive CD-ROM developed by Elections Canada. This dynamic multi-media program allows students aged 13–24 to explore different aspects of the electoral system, including a polling station, a campaign hall, and the House of Commons. It also includes a game which sends players to ten federal electoral districts to answer questions based on what they have learned.

The vote in Canadian history

Canadians of all ages will be interested in A History of the Vote in Canada, a new book published by Elections Canada recounting how the right to vote has evolved over the past 250 years. The book was launched by the Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc, Governor General of Canada, on December 8,1997. A History of the Vote in Canada is both an educational resource and a lasting reminder for Canadians of the evolution and significance of the right to vote.

Maintaining election readiness

As part of its mandate, Elections Canada is required to maintain a state of readiness for an electoral event at all times. Most of its activities between electoral events are geared toward this requirement.

Returning officers

An important part of maintaining election readiness is having returning officers in place in each of the country's 301 electoral districts. Since the June 1997 general election, seven returning officers have resigned, while another has died. Four new returning officers have been appointed, and another four positions are in the process of being filled. Plans are under way to provide training to the newly appointed returning officers, so that they are able to assume their duties at a moment's notice.

Elector registration system

Elections Canada is also in the process of redeveloping the field application it has been using to produce lists of electors (ECAPLE –Elections Canada Automated Production of the Lists of Electors). The system is now used primarily to revise the preliminary list of electors which is produced from the National Register of Electors. The redesign has been necessitated by the arrival of the Register, the elimination of enumeration, and the necessity to integrate the elector registration system more closely with other field activities and systems, such as the Election Results System, the Event Management System, and the processes related to the Special Voting Rules.

Electoral maps

The electoral maps used during the last general election were lacking information. Accurate, up-to-date, and detailed maps are important tools for the effective administration of an electoral event. As part of Elections Canada's continuing effort to increase the accuracy and quality of its mapping products, it has initiated, together with Statistics Canada, a joint project to build a national geocartographic database which will permit both agencies to revise and produce maps to meet the needs of electoral and census events. It will convert the agencies' existing geography databases into a format for ongoing maintenance and use. To maintain the currency of the National Geocartographic Database, Elections Canada and Statistics Canada will seek data from external sources on an ongoing basis. By pursuing this initiative jointly, Elections Canada and Statistics Canada are reducing their developmental costs; improving the currency and accuracy of the database; sharing, rather than competing for, scarce technical and operational resources; and taking the necessary steps towards potential longer-term co-operation for ongoing maintenance of the geocartographic database.

Registration of political parties

As part of maintaining a state of election readiness, Elections Canada ensures that the registration status of political parties is kept up-to-date. Following the June 1997 general election, there were 10 registered political parties in Canada. The only party to apply for registered status since that election was the Communist Party of Canada, which was accepted for registration on October 17, 1997.

Information technology

The efficient administration of elections has become increasingly dependent upon information technology over the past several years. For activities ranging from preparing the preliminary list of electors to posting election results on the Web, to reporting on and checking candidate expenses, computers have become an integral part of every step.

Elections Canada is in the process of ensuring that all of its computer systems will be ready for the Year 2000, so that it can respond to an electoral event before, during and after 2000, without disruption. Although Elections Canada is well prepared, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure an efficient transition. Over the past several months, Elections Canada staff have been reviewing key areas; following their report, work will begin on converting all systems diagnosed as having problems to a state of Year 2000 readiness.

Elections Canada will have successfully redeveloped the last of the four legacy systems residing on the VAX computer and deployed all four to the Oracle and Powerbuilder production environment by May 1998. These systems are the List of Candidates System (LOC), Control of Authorizations System (COA), Supplies Management System (SMS), and the Candidates' Returns Management System (CRMS).

As these systems were converted, a new function was added to enhance productivity. For instance, the LOC electronically exports candidate information to the Enquiries Unit System to answer public enquiries about candidates. It also electronically imports official election results from the Elections Results System, to better process candidates' expense reports after an electoral event. The official list of candidates is also produced electronically for submission to the Department of National Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Finally, the list is now put on the Internet, to allow the public another way to access information about candidates.

All these systems are Year 2000-ready, and will be available for use during future electoral events.

Electronic voting

To ensure it remains at the forefront of electoral management, Elections Canada is conducting a study of technology as it applies to the act of voting, to consider various approaches that may be considered for implementing new procedures at the federal level. The goal of such procedures would be to increase the accessibility of the electoral process by providing more alternatives for all electors.

As part of the study, Elections Canada will examine existing technologies to determine their suitability for adaptation to voting purposes. The study also reviewed trends in other countries, and assessed the challenges new ways of voting might bring. An essential part of the study was the conduct of roundtable discussions with groups of key stakeholders, including parliamentarians, opinion-leaders, and representatives of various segments of the electorate, including people with disabilities and ethnocultural groups. Once completed, the study's findings will be shared with members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Northwest Territories elections

On November 10, 1997, the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories completed an elections agreement. The agreement allows the Government of Canada to provide financial assistance to the Territories to fund the election of members to the Legislative Assembly. It also provides for a one-time payment to allow the Territories to prepare and administer the first elections in 1999 for members of the Legislative Assembly for Nunavut and remaining Northwest Territories. Until that agreement, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada was also the Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories. This agreement also includes the administration of elections in the Nunavut Territory, which will be created from the eastern part of the existing Northwest Territories, in 1999.

International activities

Elections Canada maintains contact with similar organizations in jurisdictions around the world, to exchange information, and learn from each others' experience in electoral matters. As well, Elections Canada works with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to provide technical and professional assistance to other countries.

As part of these activities, a team of Canadians and other international advisors helped to plan and carry out municipal elections in Bosnia in September 1997. Three Canadians stayed on to help organize the national assembly elections in Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 1997; two remain on site today, providing support for the Provisional Election Commission, on which one serves as vice-president.

Other areas of international involvement for Elections Canada include an ongoing partnership with the Russian Central Electoral Commission, designed to strengthen the Commission's managerial and technical capacity to manage electoral events. The focus of activities is on improving the Commission's legislation pertaining to the participation of Russian citizens travelling or living abroad and to the registration of electors.

As well, Elections Canada continues work within its five-year bilateral technical co-operation agreement with Mexico's Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE), which came into effect in June 1996. The purpose of the agreement is to identify and promote projects and programs in the fields of exchange, consultation, co-operation, and technical assistance at the bilateral and international levels, relating to the subject matter of electoral administration, so as to consolidate institutional links between IFE and Elections Canada and assist both in achieving their respective aims.

Elections Canada also provided two Canadian electoral experts to prepare and conduct a training workshop for the Independent Electoral Commission of Gambia. The objectives of the workshop were to enhance the national capacity to administer elections in Gambia, as well as to educate personnel of agencies whose functions are related to elections and to provide a forum within which to discuss solutions to problems that arise in election management.

In addition, as part of its role on the international scene, Elections Canada often welcomes delegations to its offices in Ottawa, to provide information and presentations about Canada's electoral system. Since June 1997, we have hosted 13 visits from 12 countries: Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Mexico, Slovakia, Sweden, Togo, Russia and Yugoslavia.