2. Delivering the General Election – Report on the 44th General Election of September 20, 2021
Issue of the Writs
On August 15, 2021, the Governor General dissolved the 43rd Parliament at the request of the Prime Minister, and writs of election were issued for all 338 federal electoral districts. The date for the 44th general election was set by proclamation of the Governor General as September 20. Advance polls were to be held one week before election day, from September 10 to 13. The election period was 37 days.
The timing of the election had both positive and negative consequences for Elections Canada. Though these are explored in more detail in the sections that follow, the two overarching factors were the increase in vaccination rates, which facilitated recruitment among a traditionally older workforce, and the fourth wave of the pandemic, which led to a large number of landlords retracting their commitments to provide space for polling places.
Local Elections Canada Offices
Setting up 501 local officesfootnote 1 in Canada's 338 electoral districts was the first link in a chain of operations that were critical to the success of the election. Physical distancing requirements and the extra storage space needed for personal protective equipment forced returning officers to find bigger facilities to house their operations. Despite this challenge, most returning officers had secured an office within two days of the writs being issued.
However, delivering information technology, telecommunication systems and election supplies took longer than planned in a number of electoral districts. Delays in making local offices fully operational made it difficult for returning officers to complete tasks they normally perform early in the election period, including issuing special ballots to electors who applied for them immediately after the election was called. Elections Canada is currently reviewing its office provisioning model to better support returning officers and their staff.
National Register of Electors
Elections Canada maintains the National Register of Electors, a database of Canadian citizens who are 18 years of age or older. The Register is updated both between and during elections using administrative data received either directly from electors or through agreements with some federal, provincial and territorial agencies. Elections Canada receives data from the Canada Revenue Agency; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; the Canadian Armed Forces; most provincial and territorial agencies responsible for driver licensing and vital statistics; and provincial and territorial electoral management bodies.
When an election is called, the agency uses the data in the Register to produce the preliminary lists of electors, which are provided to registered and eligible political parties and to returning officers. Returning officers then provide the lists for their electoral district to the local confirmed candidates, as required by the Canada Elections Act.endnote xi The preliminary lists are also used to produce voter information cards and as the basis for both the revised lists of electorsfootnote 2 and the official lists of electors.footnote 3
At the issue of the writs, 96 percent of electors were registered, 92.3 percent of them at their current address. Thus, 88.7 percent of all electors were registered at their current address and "ready to vote." While these quality indicators were marginally lower than at the call of the 43rd general election in 2019, they aligned with the long-term trend of improvements in the quality of the elector data maintained by Elections Canada. Appendix A provides further details about the Register and the agency's initiatives to improve its quality.
Communicating with Electors
Elections Canada's Public Education and Information program is designed to establish the agency as the authoritative source for information about federal elections and build trust in Canada's electoral process. Because of the pandemic, the agency expanded its Voter Information Campaign to address several key strategic objectives. The first was to make sure that electors who preferred to vote in person at their assigned polling station would be confident that they could do so safely. The second was to promote the option of voting by mail using a special ballot to electors who could not, or did not want to, vote at their assigned polling station. The third was to explain, well in advance of election day, why results in some electoral districts might not be known on election night.
The 37-day multimedia campaign was rolled out in four phases (registration, voter information card, early voting options and election day) and featured a prominent health and safety component to reassure electors and potential workers.
To complement the Voter Information Campaign, Elections Canada devised communications strategies to deal with issues such as a reduced number of voting locations in many parts of the country and the limitations of the special ballot option for some electors.
Increased monitoring of the digital information environment also enabled the agency to develop pre-emptive messaging and react to unfounded concerns about the voting process. This topic is explored further in the Electoral Security section of the report.
As in past elections, the voter information card (VIC) played a crucial role in informing electors about the electoral process. A personalized VIC was mailed to each registered elector telling them when and where to vote, the accessibility of their advance and election day polling places, and how to contact the nearest Elections Canada office. In total, Elections Canada mailed over 27 million VICs to individuals whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors.
However, the challenges in confirming polling places and finding alternative locations due to the pandemic, as described further below, resulted in delays in printing and issuing the VICs.
Whereas they would have normally been issued at the end of August, most VICs were mailed a week later. Some 26.4 million VIC cards were mailed by September 6, 2021, shortly before advance polls, and an additional 1 million were mailed by September 15, 2021. Delays in mailing resulted primarily from the short election period and difficulties in finding suitable polling places.
These delays affected certain electoral districts more than others. In Brampton East (Ontario), the VICs for approximately 70 percent (52,000) of registered electors were not mailed until after advance polling days due to an administrative error. To mitigate the impact, Elections Canada worked with regional media advisorsfootnote 4 to inform electors that they did not need their VIC in order to vote at advance polls. While turnout was much lower in Brampton East on the first day of advance polls than in the surrounding electoral districts, participation gradually increased over the four days. By the last day of advance polls, turnout was higher in Brampton East than in the surrounding electoral districts.There were also some instances of VICs being sent with incorrect information. An estimated 30,000 VICs for electors in Gatineau (Quebec) were mailed out showing "unconfirmed" instead of the location of their advance or election day polling station. This error occurred when a polling place was deleted in the system before the VIC files were sent for printing. On September 9, 2021, Elections Canada mailed approximately 27,000footnote 5 revised VICs to provide electors in Gatineau with the missing information or to advise them that the location of their polling station had changed. The agency contacted local media to quickly disseminate the updated information and published a targeted social media message encouraging electors to check online for their assigned polling place using Elections Canada's Voter Information Service.endnote xii After sending the VICs, Elections Canada distributed the Guide to the federal electionendnote xiii to every household in Canada. This brochure provided information about voter eligibility, registration, ways to vote, identification requirements, accessibility of polling places, and voting assistance tools and services available on election day. It also prompted electors to contact Elections Canada if they had not received a VIC. The agency distributed 15,806,012 bilingual brochures across Canada and an additional 10,159 trilingual brochures in Nunavut. Elections Canada also published a version of the guide in 49 different languages, including 16 Indigenous languages, on its website. The agency delivered information about the voting process and health and safety measures throughout the election period via social media; television, radio, digital and print ads; and the Elections Canada website. The messaging targeted Canadians at large and specific groups who face higher-than-average barriers to electoral participation.footnote 6 To ensure these messages were widely distributed to diverse communities, Elections Canada made several of its election-related advertisements and publications available in heritage and Indigenous languages, in addition to English and French.
In Nunavut—where the territorial Official Languages Actendnote xiv recognizes the Inuit Language, English and French as official languages—Elections Canada took extra steps to ensure that voting was accessible to electors who do not speak English or French. In addition to providing information on the voting process in Inuktitut, as was done in the previous election, a poster replicating the ballot in Inuktitut was placed in polling places in order to assist electors in marking their ballot.
Description of "Ballot in Inuktitut"
Example of a poster used at polling places in Nunavut to help electors mark their ballot. It lists the candidates running for election in Inuktitut and English.
Elections Canada also translated several other materials into Inuktitut, including the list of candidates, recruitment messages and training materials for election workers. Every effort was made to hire poll workers who spoke at least one Inuit language.
The health and safety prong of the agency's national advertising campaign detailed the measures in place for both electors and election workers, and encouraged electors to apply to vote by mail if they had tested positive for or had symptoms of COVID-19, or if they had been in contact with someone who had the virus. A dedicated section on the general election website included an educational video, infographics, a series of organic social media posts and several communication products for Election's Canada's community relations officersfootnote 7 and stakeholders.
Though voting by mail using a special ballot has been an option for all electors for almost 30 years, Elections Canada used public opinion surveys to project that there would be increased interest in this alternative voting method as a result of the pandemic. In response, the agency created a new web page on voting by mail using a special ballot, complemented by a suite of FAQs on the topic. It also began running the paid advertising campaign on early voting options immediately after the close of nominations, which was sooner than in previous elections. Voting by mail using a special ballot was also promoted consistently as one of the four options available to electors, along with voting at an Elections Canada office, voting at advance polls and voting on election day. In the days before election day, Elections Canada reminded electors that if they had not yet had the chance to return their special ballot by mail, they could return it in person at any polling place in their electoral district by dropping it in a ballot box specifically set up for that purpose.
Elections Canada always welcomes feedback from Canadians on all aspects of the electoral process. As in previous general elections, they could lodge complaints through an online form, by telephone, by email or by regular mail. During the election period, electors could also file a complaint at a local office or at a polling place. In addition to filing complaints directly with Elections Canada, electors can also submit complaints about the general election through other entities, such as the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Complaints were given the highest priority when an individual's right to vote was at stake. Such complaints were often dealt with immediately by providing the affected elector with the address of the polling place or the telephone number for the returning officer.
Complaints related to a potential offence under the Canada Elections Act were referred to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for further investigation. Complaints related to potential offences involving robocalls or other voter contact services were referred to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
As of December 14, 2021, Elections Canada had received 9,410 complaints. The majority of them were related to accessibility; voter experience, long lines and interactions with poll workers; and voting by special ballot and other ways to vote.
To ensure that data on complaints about the electoral process is sound and presented in context, Elections Canada will publish further findings once the required analysis, review and categorization have been completed.
Recruitment and Training
Elections Canada's national recruitment campaign started on August 18, 2021, and lasted until September 18, 2021. Recruitment ads were placed in all electoral districts, with a particular focus on electoral districts that had previously faced recruitment challenges. The advertising budget for recruitment in 2021 was four times larger than that for the previous general election in 2019.
Elections Canada also implemented several measures targeting the recruitment of bilingual workers. These included:
- promoting employment opportunities, particularly through the Inspire Democracy program,endnote xv in official language minority communities (OLMCs)
- creating a database, in collaboration with Canadian Heritage, of more than 400 local and regional organizations representing OLMCs, which all returning officers could access in order to recruit bilingual workers
- working with returning officers to increase the number of community relations officers for official language minorities, who are responsible for engaging with members of OLMCs and encouraging them to work at federal electionsfootnote 8
Recruitment efforts were also made in Indigenous communities before and during the election. Between August 5 and 19, 2021, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) made calls to 400 First Nations communities to promote employment with Elections Canada. Information about employment opportunities was also emailed to more than 702 band offices and First Nations communities and to 98 First Nations organizations. After the issue of the writs, the AFN assisted communities that had experienced difficulties recruiting workers for past elections, and the Iqaluit-based Ilinniapaa Skills Development Centre endnote xvi provided messaging to northern communities with historically low recruitment rates.
Elections Canada's recruitment campaign emphasized the measures in place to protect the health and safety of election workers, but it stopped short of mandating their vaccination, except if required by property owners or managers (e.g. administrators of a hospital, longterm care facility or First Nation). Given that a reported 72 percent of eligible Canadians were fully vaccinated as of August 14, 2021,endnote xvii right before the issue of the writs, Elections Canada expected that the majority of electors and election workers would be fully vaccinated by election day.footnote 9 In the end, the age profile of poll workers for the 44th general election was similar to that for the previous general election: 46 percent of poll workers were 60 years of age or older (47 percent in 2019), and 58 percent were 54 years of age or older (57 percent in 2019).
In addition to forcing Elections Canada to revise its recruitment strategies, the pandemic also compelled it to review its approach to training election workers. Because circumstances varied across the country, returning officers were presented with the following four options for delivering training, giving them the latitude to determine the best fit for their poll workers:
- Classroom training sessions: in-person and trainer-led; physical distancing, masks and sanitization measures required
- Remote training sessions: virtual and trainer-led
- Training workbook: self-paced review of training materials
- Online training module: virtual and self-paced
As for the training of returning officers themselves, as well as their office staff, this was done either through the agency's Virtual Training Centre or through the self-paced review of manuals. Where normally some training sessions would be supplemented by in-person participation at regional meetings, participation in virtual meetings occurred instead.
In all cases, maintaining up-to-date manuals was a challenge owing to the agency's evolving pandemic response measures and varying restrictions across the country. Working groups within the agency managed this problem by developing complementary material that aimed to give workers the most current information about COVID-19 adaptive measures.
In total, returning officers were able to hire and train more than 195,000 workers, including 18,000 office staff and 177,000 poll workers.
While returning officers cannot lease polling places until the writs are issued and voting days are known, efforts to identify locations begin well in advance. Over the spring and early summer of 2021, returning officers began checking the availability of potential polling placesfootnote 10 with prospective landlords, city managers, school principals, school boards, First Nations band councils, and other property owners and managers. The results of these enquiries clearly indicated that many traditional polling places would not be available and that alternative locations would need to be considered. Moreover, with the onset of the fourth wave of the pandemic in August 2021, some property owners and managers who had previously told returning officers that they would lease space to them reversed their decisions. This forced returning officers to identify new places and secure the leases within a very short time. Returning officers demonstrated creativity in finding non-traditional locations such as commercial buildings and sports centres.footnote 11
Compared with the 43rd general election, there were 3 percent fewer advance polling places and 7 percent fewer election day polling places. Overall, this reduction proved to be manageable; however, in some instances, the large number of polling stations resulted in bottlenecks and lineups.
|Polling places||Polling stations|
|43rd general election||44th general election||Gap||43rd general election||44th general election||Gap|
|Advance polling days||3,802||3,688||-114||6,166||7,300||+1,134|
Because the agency anticipated that the number of electors choosing to vote at advance polls rather than on election day would continue to grow and to offset recruitment challenges, returning officers were instructed to increase capacity at advance polling places by splitting the advance polls in order to have two polling stations, each with a portion of the list of electors. As a result, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of advance polling stations compared with the previous election. Conversely, owing to the expected lower turnout on election day, combined with the difficulty in securing space, the number of election day polling stations decreased by 9 percent, as many were merged together.
Though the adaptation of services to pandemic circumstances went relatively smoothly in the vast majority of electoral districts, returning officers struggled to find polling places in densely populated urban centres. In electoral districts where most polling stations were traditionally set up in schools or the lobbies of high-rise condo buildings, finding alternative locations spacious enough to safely welcome tens of thousands of electors proved challenging. In Toronto, 15 electoral districts had 448 fewer polling places than in the 43rd general election. In some of these electoral districts, the number of polling locations decreased by 75 percent, and the available polling places were not big enough to set up individual voting desks for all required polling stations. Consequently, the lists of electors for multiple polling divisions were combined so that all electors could be served using fewer voting desks. However, this also meant that electors in affected electoral districts were more likely to experience long lineups.
In view of the pandemic, Elections Canada had prepared for a major change in the patterns of elector behaviour during the 44th general election.
Electors not comfortable with voting in person at their polling place could instead vote by mail using a special ballot. While initial data collected in 2020 showed that as many as 5 million Canadians might do so,footnote 12 the agency revised its estimate for the uptake of this voting method several times throughout the planning period as the pandemic situation changed.
While the actual number of electors who chose to vote by special ballot turned out to be much lower than initially planned for, more Canadians than ever before voted by special ballot from within their electoral district, either by mail or at a local office. In contrast, the number of electors who voted by special ballot from within Canada but outside their electoral district and the number of electors living outside Canada who voted by mail both decreased when compared with the 43rd general election.
In total, approximately 17.2 million Canadians, or 62.5 percent of registered electors, cast a ballot in the 44th general election. Of those, more than 16 million chose to vote in person, over 5.8 million at advance polls and 10.2 million on election day.
Voting by Special Ballot
Voting by special ballot is a voting method available to all electors. Two factors impact the options available to electors voting by special ballot:
- How they choose to cast their ballot: An elector can cast a special ballot by voting in person at a local office or by mail.
- Where they are when they cast their ballot: An elector can cast a special ballot from within their electoral district, from outside their electoral district but still within Canada, or from outside Canada.
The Canada Elections Act endnote xviii does not allow electors residing in Canada to apply for a special ballot before the writs of election are issued. As the election period for the 44th general election lasted the minimum of 37 days, this left only a few weeks for special ballots sent by mail to make the round trip from Elections Canada to the elector and back again.
For their ballot to be counted, electors who chose to vote from within their electoral district had to make sure that Elections Canada received their completed special ballot before the polls closed on election day. They could return it either by mail or in person at their local Elections Canada office. They could also go to an election day polling place in their electoral district and place their ballot in the boxes designated to receive special ballots. As well, electors who had applied to vote by special ballot but who were prevented from doing so at the election (e.g. their special ballot voting kit was never received or it was damaged or lost) could go to their polling place on election day, ask that their special ballot application be cancelled and vote in person instead. As shown in Table 3 below, more than 1 million special ballot kits were issued to electors voting from within their electoral district. Of these, just under 883,000 (87 percent) were returned on time and counted. Elections Canada is examining the distribution of late ballots across the 338 electoral districts to see whether measures can be taken to reduce those numbers in future.
On September 21, 2021, Elections Canada was advised of one electoral district, Mississauga–Streetsville (Ontario), where 1,589 special ballots from electors voting from within the electoral district had accumulated in a commercial mail room outside the control of the returning officer. Because these ballots were received after the September 20 deadline, they were not counted. This had no impact on the results for that electoral district, as the leading candidate had a margin of victory of 6,567 votes. Elections Canada is continuing to examine what caused the incident and will implement appropriate measures to prevent a recurrence in future events.
Like electors voting from within their electoral district, electors voting from within Canada but outside their electoral district could vote in person at a local office or apply to vote by mail. Electors voting from outside their electoral district had to return their completed special ballot to the agency's central processing centre in Ottawa by 6:00 p.m. Eastern time on election day. As indicated in Table 3, more than 200,000 special ballot kits were issued to such electors, and almost 159,000 (78 percent) of them were returned on time and counted.
For Canadian electors living abroad, submitting a special ballot by mail is their only voting option. These electors can apply to be on Elections Canada's International Register of Electors at any time before an election or, once an election has been called, at any time before 6:00 p.m. on the 6th day prior to election day. Electors on this register are automatically mailed a special ballot at the beginning of every general election period. The unpredictability of international postal services, which always impacts the number of ballots returned on time, was exacerbated by the pandemic. As shown in Table 3, of the approximately 55,000 special ballots issued to electors living outside Canada, slightly more than 27,000 (48.5 percent) were returned on time and counted.
|Voting method||43rd general election Ballots cast (with rate)||44th general election Ballots cast (with rate)|
|Electors voting by mail from inside their electoral district*||4,980 (0.03%)||507,722 (2.95%)|
|Electors voting at a local office from inside their electoral district*||392,141 (2.14%)||375,093 (2.18%)|
|Electors absent from their electoral district voting by mail, at a local office, Canadian Forces base, or correctional facility||228,755 (1.25%)||158,693 (0.92%)|
|Electors living outside of Canada voting by mail||34,144 (0.19%)||27,035 (0.16%)|
|Electors voting at their assigned advance polling station||4,879,312 (26.59%)||5,895,072 (34.25%)|
|Electors voting at their assigned election day polling station||12,811,027 (69.81%)||10,246,196 (59.54%)|
|Total||18,350,359 (100%)||17,209,811 (100%)|
*The breakdown of special ballots cast by mail versus special ballots cast by voting in local offices is an estimate based on the total number of special ballots counted, the methods used to issue the ballots and their estimated return rates.
A comparison of return rates for special ballots between the 43rd and the 44th general elections in Tables 3 and 4 below shows a significant decline for all categories: local, national and electors abroad. In all likelihood, this reflects the fact that this election was one week shorter, which made it more challenging for voters to return their ballot in time.
|Ballots issued||Ballots returned on time and counted (with rate)||Ballots returned on time and not counted (spoiled) (with rate)||Ballots returned late and not counted (with rate)||Ballots not returned or cancelled* (with rate)|
|Electors voting by mail or at an Elections Canada office from inside their electoral district||1,015,305||882,815 (87.0%)||N/A||59,344** (5.8%)||73,146 (7.2%)|
|Electors absent from their electoral district voting by mail or at a local office, Canadian Forces base or correctional facility||203,446||158,693 (78.0%)||826 (0.4%)||19,231 (9.5%)||24,696 (12.1%)|
|Electors living outside Canada voting by mail||55,696||27,035 (48.5%)||221 (0.4%)||11,699 (21.0%)||16,741 (30.1%)|
|1,068,543 (83.9%)||1,047 (0.1%)||90,274 (7.1%)||114,583 (9.0%)|
*In situations where an elector requested a special ballot to vote by mail but did not return it, or returned it unused and subsequently voted at their election day polling station, the special ballot is considered cancelled.
**Includes all ballots set aside unopened under section 277(1) of the Canada Elections Act.
|Ballots issued||Ballots returned on time and counted (with rate)||Ballots returned on time and not counted (spoiled) (with rate)||Ballots returned late and not counted (with rate)||Ballots not returned or cancelled* (with rate)|
|Electors voting by mail or at an Elections Canada office from inside their electoral district||401,092||397,121 (99.0%)||N/A||N/A||3,971 (1.0%)|
|Electors absent from their electoral district voting by mail or at a local office, Canadian Forces base or correctional facility||243,938||228,755 (93.8%)
|4,007 (1.6%)||10,058 (4.1%)|
|Electors living outside Canada voting by mail||55,512||34,144 (61.5%)||115 (0.2%)||6,537 (11.8%)||14,716 (26.5%)|
|10,544 (1.5%)||28,745 (4.1%)|
*In situations where an elector requested a special ballot to vote by mail but did not return it, or returned it unused and subsequently voted at their election day polling station, the special ballot is considered cancelled.
Voting at Advance Polls
A record number of Canadians—over 5.8 million—voted at advance polls between Friday, September 10, and Monday, September 13, 2021, continuing the trend of increased uptake of this voting method.footnote 15
Planning for continued growth in the percentage of electors taking advantage of advance polls, returning officers recruited enough poll workers to staff 7,300 advance polling stations at 3,668 polling places. While the number of advance polling places was comparable to that for the 43rd general election,footnote 16 the number of polling stations (i.e. voting desks) increased by 18 percent.footnote 17 As a result, despite a 21 percent increase in the number of electors voting at advance polls, the number of electors served per advance polling station rose by only 2 percent (from an average of 791 in 2019 to 807 in 2021), a marginal increase.
In two electoral districts, Vaughan–Woodbridge (Ontario) and Beauséjour (New Brunswick), it was discovered that a small number of ballots showed the incorrect list of candidates. These incorrect ballots were found in booklets that also included correct ballots. Elections Canada immediately contacted the printing company for each ballot booklet to determine, based on the printing method, how many ballots would have likely been affected. This assessment suggested that a very small number of ballots were improperly printed.
Returning officers across the country were simultaneously instructed to perform quality control activities and remove any other misprinted ballots from circulation. In total, two ballot booklets containing a single misprinted ballot and three ballot booklets containing a combined 33 misprinted ballots were removed from circulation. Returning officers in the two affected electoral districts were also instructed to inform candidates without delay so that they could alert the representatives who would be observing the count. In total, seven misprinted ballots were discovered and rejected during the count. No misprinted ballots were found in any other electoral district, and Elections Canada is reviewing its processes to improve its quality control mechanisms.
Voting on Election Day
As part of their recruitment activities, returning officers were directed to hire replacement workersfootnote 18 to fill in for staff who, owing to a variety of circumstances, were unable to work at their assigned polling place. Though hiring a roughly 10-percent surplus of poll workers is a standard practice for Elections Canada, the agency also put other contingency measures in place. These included procedures to promptly detect and adjust for worker absences, revisions to the Federal Elections Fees Tariffendnote xix that improved worker remuneration, and the single poll worker model. This model, authorized for the first time during the 44th general election, not only enabled more physical distancing between election workers, it also gave returning officers more flexibility in assigning responsibilities. Despite an increase in the number of poll workers who failed to show up when compared with the 43rd general election,footnote 19 the contingencies implemented by Elections Canada meant that less than 0.5 percent of advance and election day polls opened late.footnote 20
The agency also developed an alternative voting modelfootnote 21 to support returning officers who experienced challenges in either securing polling places or recruiting sufficient poll workers. This model was piloted in two electoral districtsfootnote 22 where a large number of polling stations were assigned to a single polling place. Poll workers directed electors waiting in line to the first available voting desk rather than having each desk serve electors from one particular polling division. This model allowed electors to vote quickly, offered flexibility in the number of voting desks required, and reduced the number of poll workers needed to manage lineups and support other polling place operations.
Because of worker shortages at some polling places and COVID-19 health and safety measures, such as frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, physical distancing and oneway traffic through polling stations, many electors waited longer to vote in the 44th general election. Wait times were especially long in some electoral districts—including in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal—that had significantly fewer polling places than in previous elections. Ultimately, however, with 10.2 million Canadians choosing to cast a ballot in person on election day, this voting method remained the most popular option.
Health and Safety at the Polls
Elections Canada had to work closely with several federal, provincial and local health partners to keep abreast of the various public health protective measures in place, such as mask mandates. The agency used tailored messaging to communicate the varying requirements at polling places in different areas of the country, which sometimes caused confusion among electors. In provinces with mandatory mask mandates for indoor venues, Elections Canada advised that electors who did not bring a mask with them, and refused to wear the mask offered to them, would be turned away from the polls unless they had a medical exemption. In provinces without mask mandates,footnote 23 electors only had to wear a mask in their polling place if the landlord leasing the space to Elections Canada required that masks be worn inside the premises. Electors in these provinces who were unwilling to wear a mask were offered a transfer certificatefootnote 24 if the landlord of their polling place required masks. In the instances where masks were not required by local public health measures, Elections Canada nonetheless encouraged electors to wear one.
Polling places underwent a health and safety analysis to ensure they met the federal guidelines on indoor ventilationendnote xx and had adequate air flow. The following materials were also made available:
- hand sanitizer stations at entrances and exits
- plexiglass barriers between voters and poll workers
- single-use pencils
- disinfectant cleaner to regularly clean high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables and handrails
- self-administered COVID-19 rapid tests for election workers
Election workers began their workday an hour earlier than in previous elections in order to implement the measures outlined above and set up polling places in a manner that respected physical distancing. Elections Canada also limited the number of people allowed inside each polling place at any time to ensure adequate physical distancing between electors.
In the days leading up to September 20, 2021, but after the deadline to apply for a special ballot to vote by mail, some electors were concerned that they would be unable to vote if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 or self-isolating. Due to the need to balance public health with the right to vote, Elections Canada asked that electors stay home and not go to an Elections Canada office or polling place if they had symptoms of or had tested positive for COVID-19.
While health and safety measures did result in some tension at polling places, a topic explored in the Electoral Security section below, they proved successful in that there were no COVID-19 outbreaks associated with the agency's election activities.
Accessibility at the Polls
The Canada Elections Actendnote xxi requires that local offices and polling places be accessible to all electors. To articulate that requirement on an operational level, the agency uses a Polling Place Suitability Checklist,endnote xxii which contains 37 accessibility criteria, 15 of which are mandatory.
In the 44th general election, 94.2 percent of polling locations met all 15 mandatory accessibility criteria. This is only a slight decrease from the 94.3 percent in the 43rd general election. Of the remaining 5.8 percent, 3.1 percent provided a level access entrance, while 2.7 percent lacked wheelchair access.
To mitigate the impact of having to use locations that did not meet all 15 mandatory criteria, Elections Canada provided returning officers with a list of recommended measures to proactively address accessibility shortfalls. These measures included but were not limited to:
- installing temporary ramps at sites that lacked level access
- hiring an additional worker to open heavy doors
- installing temporary outdoor lighting at locations that were poorly lit
The Chief Electoral Officer approved all requests for additional funds from returning officers to make temporary accessibility improvements.
The accessibility of polling places was published on voter information cards and Elections Canada's online Voter Information Service.endnote xxiii Electors who were concerned about the accessibility of their polling place were encouraged to contact their returning officer to get a transfer certificate allowing them to vote at another location. In addition, election workers received improved training on accessibility, and accessibility feedback mechanisms were made available to electors and workers alike.
Serving Indigenous Electors
The delivery of all registration and voting services to all Indigenous communities has historically presented challenges that are often unique to these groups of electors. Among others, these challenges are related to language barriers, remoteness and the low population density of some communities—which then translate into difficulties recruiting enough election workers or finding available polling places. As a result, Indigenous electors face barriers to participating in the electoral process that are unlike those faced by other Canadian electors.
In 2021, two other challenges led to more barriers for Indigenous electors: forest fires, which displaced or threatened to displace several First Nations communities for most of the summer, and COVID-19, which forced certain communities to restrict access to outsiders.
As part of preparations for the 44th general election, returning officers consulted with Indigenous leaders on how the pandemic was affecting their communities and what public health measures were in place locally. They also consulted about which electoral services would be best suited to the various communities, worked on securing polling places on reserves and started recruiting Indigenous election workers. Returning officers also made sure that appropriate health and safety and accessibility measures were applied, and that communities that restricted access to outsiders would still be able to exercise their right to vote by using special ballots.
Of the approximately 635 First Nations communities in Canada, 361 (57 percent) were assigned an election day polling station on their reserve. The remaining 274 First Nations communities were assigned an election day polling station off their reserve at varying distances. In one instance, a polling station that was initially planned to be on reserve had to be moved just outside the reserve as a result of protests from traditional leaders.
|42nd general election||43rd general election||44th general election|
|Number of polling stations||366||389||361|
In the electoral district of Kenora in Northwestern Ontario—which encompasses 44 First Nations communities—3 communities, Cat Lake, Poplar Hill and Pikangikum, did not have polling stations on election day as initially planned and communicated. The leaders of these communities had been concerned that many of their residents would be away participating in traditional hunting and cultural activities on election day. The returning officer therefore moved in-person voting services from September 20 to September 13—that is, to one day during advance polls. Because the change came late in the election period, new voter information cards reflecting the change could not be issued to the electors in these communities. This resulted in some electors not finding out about the date change and being unable to vote. Elections Canada has issued an apology to electors in Kenora who were unable to vote. The agency has also reviewed with the community leaders the circumstances that led to the gap in communication and the service delivery decisions that were made.
Making polling stations available on election day is a minimum standard of service to be met, regardless of other voting service arrangements made locally. In the very rare cases where election day services must be cancelled, all avenues must be explored to offer alternative voting services and extensive communication efforts must be deployed. In this case, better communication with the communities early on could have prevented the lack of polling stations on election day. Services could have been maintained on election day, or electors could have been better informed of their voting options.
Moving forward, Elections Canada is reviewing the way in which it engages with and serves Indigenous electors in order to reduce barriers to participation.
Serving Electors in Long-Term Care Facilities and Seniors' Residences
Early in the election period, several administrators of long-term care facilities and seniors' residences informed Elections Canada that they would be opting for the unassisted vote-bymail service offering for their residents. This approach, while mitigating the risk of exposure to COVID-19 associated with inviting non-residents into the facility, put the burden of applying to vote by special ballot and completing and returning the ballots on the residents.
Understanding that this could have a significant negative impact on participation among this group of electors, Elections Canada reached out to administrators to discuss other possible options and mitigation measures.
The agency worked closely with administrators to ensure that the COVID-19 protocols in place at each facility were well understood and could be respected by election workers, and returning officers were required to prioritize the assignment of vaccinated poll workers to these facilities and residences.
Elections Canada's direct outreach to administrators and flexibility in implementing the health and safety protocols specific to each facility had significant positive impacts. According to preliminary numbers, out of the 5,167 facilities and residences across Canada, 67.6 percentfootnote 25 opted for an early on-site polling station, 19.2 percentfootnote 26 opted for a coordinated special ballot voting process, 9.6 percentfootnote 27 opted for an on-site polling station on election day, and only 3.5 percentfootnote 28 opted for residents voting independently by special ballot.
To assist election workers and the facility administrators and staff serving these vulnerable electors, Elections Canada developed the following documents:
- COVID-19 Guide for the Service Centre
- Instructions for coordinated special ballot voting – Facility administrator
- Instructions for coordinated special ballot voting – RO office staff
Voting on Campus
The Vote on Campus initiative was introduced as a pilot project in the 2015 general election and was offered again, with a significant increase in scope, in the 43rd general election in 2019. Though the initiative was favourably received by electors during those two fixeddate elections, its implementation required considerable and sustained effort on the part of Elections Canada and campus administrators. In 2015 and 2019, parties from both groups worked for about six months ahead of the elections to, among other things, coordinate and secure the needed equipment, workers and spaces.
Because the pandemic created uncertainty about student presence on campuses and, in a minority government context, no fixed election date could be provided to campus administrators to help them plan, the agency reallocated the resources needed for the Vote on Campus initiative to other service offerings. The intent of this decision was to better enable Elections Canada to deliver an election to all electors—including students—in an unprecedented pandemic environment. Elections Canada communicated its decision to key partners from the 43rd general election,footnote 29 published it on the agency's website in September 2020 and published it again in the Retrospective Report on the 43rd General Election of October 21, 2019,endnote xxiv on April 15, 2021.
In June 2021, in a context where more Canadians were vaccinated and the number of active COVID-19 cases was declining, the Chief Electoral Officer decided to revisit this decision. However, the election was called only two months later, long before the necessary conversations or preparations could be concluded with campus administrators.
Despite Elections Canada's not being in a position to offer Vote on Campus in 2021, students had several voting options available to them. Students could vote by mail or at any local office using the same special ballots they would have used under the Vote on Campus initiative. Special ballots preserve students' ability to vote using the address they consider home, whether that is where they live while at school or somewhere else.
Students who considered their residence on or near campus to be home also had the option of voting at their assigned advance or election day polling station, as long as they had accepted proof of identity and address. Those who considered themselves to be living away from home could return to their home electoral district to vote at their assigned advance or election day polling station there, if travel was a possibility for them.
Additionally, throughout the election period, the agency posted information on a dedicated section of its website to support students in voting, whether at a polling station or by special ballot.
Elections Canada appreciates that Vote on Campus was a welcome service offering for students attending post-secondary institutions in 2015 and 2019 and is committed to making it a part of its permanent service offering, even outside of fixed-date general elections.
Along with ensuring the security of the election, Elections Canada worked to maintain Canadians' trust in the electoral process. This work included continued transparency about all aspects of the general election, but focused especially on processes that were new or had been adapted to pandemic circumstances. The messaging from Elections Canada was the same throughout the preparation and delivery periods: Canadians could trust the results of the election.
Because Elections Canada oversees the administration of the election in every electoral district, the agency was able to be consistent when communicating about the various integrity measures that govern casting a ballot, whether in person at a polling place using a regular ballot or by mail or at a local office using a special ballot. Understanding that there might be particular concerns about special ballots, Elections Canada, for the first time, invited observers to the agency's processing centre in Ottawa to witness the count of special ballots.
Environmental and Social Media Monitoring
Elections Canada's engagement with electors on social media platforms increased considerably during the 44th general election. This coincided with an improvement in the agency's ability to monitor certain election-related topics in the public environment and to address potential mis- or disinformation that could affect electors' ability to vote. The agency created its Environmental Monitoring Centre in 2020, enabling it to deepen its understanding of the information environment and observe inaccurate narratives as they developed, both before and during the general election. This in turn allowed Elections Canada to preemptively develop messaging for all its channels and share them with its followers, and to quickly craft reactive messages to respond to inaccurate information. These efforts, along with the agency's outreach and stakeholder mobilization initiatives, served to reaffirm Elections Canada as the official source of information on the federal democratic process.
During the 44th general election, there were several reported incidents of violence, harassment and vandalism. Many of the underlying issues were not exclusive to this election; however, the COVID-19 pandemic and trends in the political environment, including growing polarization and extremism online, likely increased the frequency and escalation of incidents. Elections Canada actively worked to mitigate their impact by continuously monitoring the environment, communicating with security partners and supporting election workers with additional resources.
Returning officers in 111 of the 338 electoral districts requested, and received, increases to their budgets for security at polling places. Most incidents at the polls involved the refusal to wear a mask, while most protests were related to either mask mandates or vaccination policies.
On September 13, 2021, the agency told members of the Advisory Committee of Political Partiesendnote xxv that, though advance voting went smoothly overall, there were some incidents of concern. These included reports of rude or harassing behaviour toward electors and election workers by individuals opposed to the wearing of masks, and disregard by some for the health and safety protocols at the polls.
While the impact of this behaviour on the overall security of the general election was low, any incident involving confrontational behaviour had the potential to harm the physical security of electors and workers alike. In response, Elections Canada reminded electors that inappropriate language or behaviour would not be accepted. Following feedback received after advance polls, the agency also developed a document entitled Role of Police Service and Mitigation Strategies to explain to election workers the role of police in relation to polling place activities and to provide tips on how to engage with disruptive individuals at polling places.
Although election workers were able to resolve most situations at polling places by respecting a medical exemption or explaining the local requirements, 78 incidents required police intervention.
Elections Canada actively monitored environmental events, prepared contingency plans and, in some cases, modified operations. As in previous elections, extreme weather events had the potential to impede electors' access to certain voting options. As a result of the agency's efforts to inform affected communities about alternative voting options, the impact of extreme weather events on electors' ability to vote was mitigated.
- Wildfires (in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia)
The agency monitored wildfires throughout the election period, paying special attention to their possible impact on displaced electors (victims, first responders and relief workers). The Forest Fire Task Force was created and mandated to ensure that all electors affected by the wildfires were able to vote. The task force, which was made up of members from Elections Canada and Public Safety Canada, actively monitored the situation on the ground.
The task force also developed a targeted media approach to reach self-evacuated electors whose whereabouts were unknown. Using social media, radio, television and locally distributed print materials, Elections Canada informed displaced electors of their voting options, emphasizing special ballot options (i.e. voting by mail or at a local office). Electors who were evacuated from Lytton, British Columbia, could vote in person at polls in Spence's Ridge (the closest community) or by mail or at a local Elections Canada office if they had self-evacuated farther away.
The agency engaged the Government Operations Centre to distribute flyers on voting options to firefighters and aid agencies and at any known locations where evacuees were gathered or had a central point of contact—while reminding them that they could vote by mail or at any local Elections Canada office, regardless of where they resided in Canada. Manitoba were evacuated to 13 hotels in Winnipeg. On election day, Elections Canada opened a poll for the communities in each of the two main hotels in Winnipeg. The Red Cross helped Elections Canada by informing electors from these communities about where and when to vote and provided shuttles to take evacuees staying in other hotels to their polling station.
Lastly, a special ballot coordinator was flown into a hydro work camp in Manitoba to enable the hydro workers to vote. These workers came from different regions and were working on restoring the hydro poles and lines at Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids. They had been away from their homes for advance polls and would still be away on election day.
- Hurricane Larry
Hurricane Larry, classified as a Category 1footnote 30 storm, brought intense winds and heavy rainfall to eastern Newfoundland beginning on the evening of September 10 and lasting until the morning of September 11, 2021. The hurricane damaged buildings and power lines in the electoral districts of Avalon, St. John's East, and St. John's South–Mount Pearl and left thousands without electricity.
Elections Canada continuously monitored Hurricane Larry and had contingency plans in place for the electoral districts most likely to be affected by the storm. The agency shipped extra computer equipment, to be used if any existing equipment was damaged, and worked with stakeholders to ensure that landline phones were installed in order to maintain lines of communication.
As the hurricane approached, many advance polls were forced to close early on September 10, 2021. Due to power outages, polling places in St. John's East and St. John's South–Mount Pearl remained closed on September 11, 2021, and reopened the following day when power was restored to the area.Despite these closures, turnout at the advance polls in Avalon and St. John's South– Mount Pearl was higher than in the 43rd general election.
For the 44th general election, Elections Canada, once again, offered prospective candidates the option of submitting their nomination papers via the agency's online Political Entities Service Centre.endnote xxvi Despite the pandemic, uptake of this option continued to be low: Elections Canada received only 12 percent of nomination papers electronically, while 88 percent were submitted to returning officers on paper.footnote 31
During the October 2020 by-elections, the agency introduced a single elector signature form to facilitate the collection of elector signatures while minimizing risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The form was revised and re-released with new accompanying guidelines in advance of the 44th general election.
These guidelines included instructions on how to distribute the form electronically. However, electors and witnesses were still required to provide "wet ink" signatures. The conventional form with space for 10 elector signatures remained a valid alternative. Candidates leveraged both the conventional form and the new single elector signature form to meet the nomination requirements.
Despite the challenges of a pandemic election, 2,010 candidates appeared on ballots in the 44th general election. Of the 338 who were elected to the House of Commons, 287 had been members of the 43rd Parliament.
|42nd general election||43rd general election||44th general election|
|Identified as male||1,253||250||1,384||240||1,222||235|
|Identified as female||535||88||744||98||734||101|
|Did not disclose their gender identity||0||0||13||0||45||2|
|Identified as another gender||0||0||4||0||9||0|
|Political affiliation||After the 43rd general election (October 21, 2019)||At the dissolution of Parliament (August 15, 2021)||After the 44th general election (September 20, 2021)||Change from dissolution of Parliament|
|Liberal Party of Canada||157||155||159||+4|
|Conservative Party of Canada||121||119||119||0|
|New Democratic Party||24||24||25||-1|
|Green Party of Canada||3||2||2||0|
|Independent / No affiliation||1||5||1||-4|
Third Party Participation
For the 44th general election, the agency received, processed and approved 105 applications for registration from third parties, a 31 percent reduction from the previous general election. This is a change in the trend over the last three general elections of increasing applications from third parties.footnote 32 This decrease may be attributed to the fact that the 44th general election was not a fixed-date event. As a result, there was no pre-election period and third parties had less time to plan their activities. In total, 88 percent of third parties received confirmation of registration within two business days. Financial returns from third parties can be viewed on the Third Party Financial Returnsendnote xxvii section of Elections Canada's website. As in previous general elections, unions, medical groups, climate action groups, supply management groups and social advocacy groups made up the majority of registered third parties.
Return to footnote 1 338 offices for returning officers and 163 offices for additional assistant returning officers.
Return to footnote 2 The revised lists of electors are used at advance polls and incorporate changes made to the lists from the start of the election period until just before advance polling days.
Return to footnote 3 The official lists of electors are used at election day polls and incorporate changes made to the revised lists of electors until just before election day.
Return to footnote 4 Regional media advisors are election workers who support returning officers with media relations during an election. They are located across the country and provide coverage for their respective geographic regions.
Return to footnote 5 Replacement cards were not sent to the 3,000 electors whose VIC showed "unconfirmed" where the location of their advance polling station should have been; given that the revised VICs could only be mailed on September 9, they would not have arrived before the last day of advance polls on September 13.
Return to footnote 6 New electors (youth and new Canadian citizens), Indigenous electors and electors with disabilities.
Return to footnote 7 Community relations officers are Elections Canada employees who liaise with groups known to face barriers to registration and voting. They also facilitate communications between these target communities and local offices.
Return to footnote 8 These efforts resulted in 30 additional appointees (87 versus 57) when compared with the 43rd general election.
Return to footnote 9 Vaccination rates varied considerably across Canada, with rates in some communities below 30 percent. This, combined with the fact that the health and safety protocols at the polls reflected the advice received by public health authorities, was an important factor in deciding not to require vaccination as a condition for working at the polls. The overall vaccination rate nevertheless gave Elections Canada confidence that it would be able to offer services by vaccinated poll workers in those locations, such as long-term care facilities, where it would be a requirement.
Return to footnote 10 A polling place is a location where electors go to vote. One polling place may house several polling stations. Generally, one polling station (i.e. voting desk) is established for every polling division in an electoral district. Every polling station has one ballot box and a list of electors. Each elector is assigned to a specific polling station, based on their residential address.
Return to footnote 11 Elections Canada leased approximately 105 percent more commercial buildings to use as polling places for the 44th general election when compared with the 43rd general election.
Return to footnote 12 In spring 2020, a survey of Canadians conducted on behalf of Elections Canada suggested that voting by mail using a special ballot would be the preferred method of casting a ballot for 20-25 percent of electors. Using this information, and data from previous elections, Elections Canada initially estimated that up to 5 million electors could choose to vote by mail in the 44th general election, depending on the public health situation at the time of the vote. Data from the British Columbia and Saskatchewan provincial elections, which both occurred in October 2020, was used to produce a revised estimate of 4 million.
Return to footnote 13 In an early version of this report, Table 3 contained an error that has since been corrected. Copies of the report that were downloaded or printed before the correction was made will show an inaccurate total.
Return to footnote 14 In an early version of this report, Table 4 contained errors that have since been corrected. Copies of the report that were downloaded or printed before these corrections were made will show inaccurate figures.
Return to footnote 15 There were 4,840,300 valid votes cast at advance polls during the 43rd general election, 3,657,415 valid votes cast at advance polls during the 42nd general election, 2,100,855 valid votes cast at advance polls during the 41st general election and 1,520,838 valid votes cast at advance polls during the 40th general election.
Return to footnote 16 There were 3,802 advance polling places in the 43rd general election.
Return to footnote 17 There were 6,166 advance polling stations in the 43rd general election.
Return to footnote 18 Also referred to as standby workers.
Return to footnote 19 During the 43rd general election, approximately 10,000 poll workers failed to show up for work, while during the 44th general election about 14,000 poll workers failed to show up.
Return to footnote 20 31 polling places, out of approximately 7,300, opened late on advance polling days, and 258 polling places, out of about 61,400, opened late on election day.
Return to footnote 21 The "bank teller" model, also known as the "vote at any desk" model.
Return to footnote 22 University–Rosedale (Ontario) and Eglinton–Lawrence (Ontario).
Return to footnote 23 Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Yukon and Nunavut.
Return to footnote 24 A transfer certificate allowed the elector to cast their vote at a polling place that did not have a masking requirement.
Return to footnote 25 3,494 facilities or residences with 215,556 electors.
Return to footnote 26 994 facilities or residences with 407,579 electors.
Return to footnote 27 496 facilities or residences with 40,582 electors.
Return to footnote 28 183 facilities or residences with 75,325 electors.
Return to footnote 29 Polytechnics Canada, Universities Canada, Colleges and Institutes Canada, Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, Québec Student Union and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec.
Return to footnote 30 Category 1 storms have sustained winds of 119-153 km/hr (64-82 knots/hr).
Return to footnote 31 262 candidate nominations were submitted via the online portal; of these 253 were confirmed by returning officers. 1,858 candidate nominations were submitted in paper format; of these 1,757 were confirmed by returning officers.
Return to footnote 32 There were 55 approved applications for registration from third parties in the 41st general election, 115 in the 42nd general election and 152 in the 43rd general election.