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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the Sherbrooke By-Election

Elections Canada: Activities since the last report

Follow-up to the 1997 general election and the March 1998 by-election

Update on complaints of alleged offences under the Act

At the time of writing, the Commissioner of Canada Elections had received 346 complaints alleging an offence under the Canada Elections Act related to the 36th general election (June 2, 1997). The files on 280 of these have been closed. The Commissioner consented to 17 prosecutions for voting when not qualified, fraudulent conduct at the poll, and defacing election signs. Three of these cases are before the courts. Where the evidence is sufficient, and an intervention would be in the public interest, prosecution must commence within 18 months of the date of the alleged offence.

Only one complaint of an alleged offence against the Canada Elections Act was brought following the Port Moody–Coquitlam by-election of March 30, 1998. This file has been closed.

With regard to the 36th general election, the deadline has expired for filing a written complaint alleging an offence. Even where no complaint has been received, however, the Commissioner can still proceed with prosecution on his own initiative, for example, upon verification of the expenses of candidates and registered political parties. The Elections Canada Web site contains data on convictions under the Canada Elections Act related to the 1993 general election.

Reviewing financial returns

Elections Canada continues to follow up on issues concerning the financial returns of candidates and political parties participating in the 1997 general election.

Evaluating the general election

Results of a new and comprehensive internal postmortem process, instituted after the 1997 general election, are being analyzed to determine the feasibility, impact, and appropriateness of implementing recommendations emerging from the process. Recommendations requiring legislative changes, together with recommendations from other postelectoral evaluations, will be brought to the attention of parliamentarians.

Legal issues

Amendments to legislation

Two laws received royal assent on June 11, 1998. The first, Bill C-411, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (1998, c. 18), amends parts of sections 222 to 238 dealing with the financial returns of candidates. The amendments allow the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the late filing of a candidate's election return, or to correct a filed return, and the receipt and payment of a claim after the time specified in the Act. This means candidates will not need to apply to a court for permission in these matters. An authorized excuse from a judge will be required only upon the Chief Electoral Officer's refusal. The amendments came into effect on June 16, 1998, following publication of a notice in the Canada Gazette, in accordance with subsection 331(1) of the Act.

The second piece of legislation, Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867 (1998, c. 15), amends the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Constitution Act, 1867 to take into account the creation of the territory of Nunavut in 1999. The amendment entitles Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories to one seat each in the House of Commons, thus pre-empting the need to establish an electoral boundaries commission in each of these territories. These amendments will come into force only at the creation of Nunavut.

Bill C-410, An Act to change the name of certain electoral districts (1998, c. 27), received royal assent on June 18, 1998. As a result, the names of 19 electoral districts, as described in the 1996 Representation Order, have been changed. This is in addition to the 22 electoral district name changes in Bill C-347, An Act to change the names of certain electoral districts (1996, c. 36), which received royal assent on December 18, 1996.

Under subsection 331(2) of the Canada Elections Act, these amendments were consolidated, and a notice was published in the Canada Gazette on August 17, 1998. The consolidation is now available in printed form as well as on Elections Canada's Web site.

Court decision on opinion polls

On May 29, 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in Thomson Newspapers Co. v. Canada (Attorney General), that section 322.1 of the Canada Elections Act, which prohibits the release of opinion poll results from midnight of the Friday before polling day until the close of polls, was unconstitutional. The Court was of the opinion that this section, introduced in 1993, restricted freedom of expression as guaranteed by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that the restriction was not justifiable under section 1 of the Charter.

The National Register of Electors

The National Register of Electors is now into the maintenance phase of its existence. Between general elections, the Register database must be kept as accurate and up-to-date as possible, so that it is ready at any time to generate reliable preliminary lists of electors for federal general elections, by-elections, and referendums. The current quality level of data is consistent with the projections developed during Elections Canada's research and feasibility study. Projected cost savings are being exceeded.

As a measure of its success, the Register team was awarded the APEX (Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada) Award for Leadership in Service Innovation for 1998. The award, which was presented at a ceremony on May 27, 1998, recognizes the team's achievement in producing a significant improvement in service for Canadian electors by applying new developments in information technology to develop a "better, more cost-effective and convenient way to manage the electoral process."

Maintaining the Register

As part of maintaining an accurate and up-to-date Register, agreements have been reached with federal and provincial/territorial sources of data. At the federal level, the first year of the active consent initiative with Revenue Canada was very successful. Four out of five tax filers agreed to have their name, address, and date of birth forwarded to Elections Canada, significantly greater than the 70 percent forecast. Tax filers will be asked for their consent each year. A similar agreement has been reached with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to allow prospective citizens to indicate their authorization for Elections Canada to add their names to the Register once citizenship is granted.

Agreements have been negotiated with the Directeur général des élections du Québec and Elections British Columbia to use data from the permanent electors lists in those provinces. In addition, agreements have been signed with all provinces and territories for the provision of vital statistics data and, with the exception of Alberta (which is currently in negotiation), for driver's licence data.

The Register is also maintained through elector outreach activities. Among initiatives either planned or in progress are outreach to new citizens, to potential new electors who have just turned 18, and to electors for whom information appears to be incorrect or missing.

In addition, electors may request to opt out of the Register entirely, or to opt out of sharing data with other jurisdictions. Since June 1997, 725 electors have requested the former, 42 the latter.

Sharing Register data

Elections Canada continues to pursue opportunities to share data from the National Register of Electors with other electoral jurisdictions in Canada. Sharing data in this way saves taxpayers money by eliminating costly enumerations. A special meeting was held in March 1998 with provincial and territorial chief electoral officers to explore sharing data, technology, and expertise.

For example, data from the Register has been used most recently to produce preliminary lists of electors for municipal elections in New Brunswick, which were held May 11, 1998. At last count, Elections Canada had supplied data from the National Register of Electors to almost 50 jurisdictions at the provincial, territorial, municipal, and school board levels. Further, Elections Canada is pursuing two-way data sharing agreements. For example, major initiatives are underway with Ontario and Newfoundland that could result in their using data from the National Register of Electors for upcoming provincial and municipal elections. In return, the provinces would provide Elections Canada with revised elector information following their event to help maintain the Register's accuracy. Such an agreement is already in place with the City of Winnipeg for their next municipal election. In this case, Elections Canada has provided Register data in exchange for revised lists.

Security of data in the National Register of Electors remains a paramount concern for Elections Canada. As part of this commitment, Elections Canada has put in place an internal working group to refine its policy on the collection, retention, and disclosure of personal information. This policy will cover the sharing of information in the National Register of Electors and set out the position of Elections Canada regarding this issue as well as the limits to such sharing. This working group is the result of discussions with the Chief Electoral Officers' Working Group on Sharing Initiatives held in March 1998.

Maintaining electoral readiness: Information technology

Elections Canada is developing a system to replace ECAPLE (Elections Canada Automated Production of Lists of Electors), the current system for field revision of electors lists. The new system, REVISE, will be year-2000 compliant and will allow on-line updating of all lists of electors during an electoral period.

Year 2000 compliance continues to be an Elections Canada priority for all its computer systems, so that it can respond to an electoral event at any time without disruption. Over the past several months, Elections Canada staff have been reviewing key areas, and work has begun on converting all affected systems to a state of year 2000-readiness. An assessment and strategy to remedy mission-critical applications was completed by March 1998, and additional work to investigate non-mission-critical applications is expected to be complete in the fall of 1998.

Elections Canada continues to make other advances in automating electoral administration. It is involved in creating a permanent Returning Office Technology Centre at its national headquarters in Ottawa. The purpose of the Centre is to ensure fast, accurate, and consistent deployment of Returning Office Automation tools and technology to all 301 returning offices during national events and to facilitate introduction of new technology in the offices of returning officers. Once operational, the Centre will assist Elections Canada with the logistical challenge of being ready to deploy technology infrastructure within 48 hours of an event being called.

Relations with Parliament and political parties

Electoral reform: Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs released its report on the Canada Elections Act on June 18, 1998. The report summarizes the Committee's review of the Canadian electoral system, which was undertaken following the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 36th general election and his appearance before the Committee on November 20, 1997. The Committee's report considers recommendations by the Chief Electoral Officer arising from the 35th and 36th general elections, as well as those made by members of Parliament, registered political parties, and the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing.

In undertaking its review of the Canadian electoral system and of the Canada Elections Act, the Committee invited parliamentarians and registered political parties to submit briefs, and it held meetings with members of Parliament and representatives of political parties. Elections Canada staff provided expert assistance to the Committee during this phase of their review.

The Committee examined in detail various issues related to the Canadian electoral system, among them registration of electors, voting, candidates, political parties, election administration, advertising, and election financing. Its objective throughout was to ensure full participation, transparency, and fairness. The Committee provided its views to the Government on each of the issues under examination.

The Committee explicitly excluded from its review issues before the courts as well as those that would entail constitutional amendments or that would represent fundamental changes in the Canadian political system.

Under Standing Order 109, the Committee has requested that the Government table a comprehensive response to its report. Elections Canada will continue to provide advice and support to the Committee in this connection.

Advisory committee of political parties

Elections Canada has established an advisory committee to bring together representatives of registered political parties and Elections Canada officials. This step was recommended to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs during hearings related to the Committee's report on the Canada Elections Act. The Chief Electoral Officer agreed with the recommendation and put in place logistical arrangements for meetings to be held every two months.

This advisory committee to the Chief Electoral Officer is a forum for sharing information, fostering good working relationships, and resolving administrative issues that do not require legislative change but that may have an impact on parties and candidates. It will also help identify the needs of the registered political parties relating to new systems and procedures.

The committee is chaired by the Chief Electoral Officer, with representatives from Elections Canada available as technical experts as required. To date, three meetings have been held, and it is intended that meetings will continue to be held every two months during the committee's first year.

Technology in voting

A study of Technology and the Voting Process, commissioned by Elections Canada, was submitted in May 1998 and distributed to members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The study was intended to review the impact of information technology on the voting process. Specifically, the study assessed the feasibility of increasing the accessibility of the voting process during federal electoral events through the use of the telephone, Internet, or voting kiosks. One of the key findings underscored the need to ensure that any new methods of casting ballots complement, not replace, current voting methods (at polling stations or by mail).

The study outlined possible next steps, including pilot projects and further research. The Standing Committee supported further study by Elections Canada but wished to be involved in the planning and design of these projects.

Public outreach

Elections Canada continues to update and improve its Web site to provide Canadians with information about the electoral process. Most recently, Elections Canada added a segment dedicated to the National Register of Electors. It provides further information on the benefits of the Register and explains how the Register is maintained.

The Federal Electoral Legislation and Federal Referendum Legislation were also made available on the site. In addition, a new search engine allows users to do a keyword search of the site.

Data from candidates' election expenses returns for the 36th general election are also available on-line now. This first electronic compilation is intended mainly for research. A future version, which will let users retrieve information more easily, will be published on the Web site in December 1998. This document is expected to prove invaluable as a research tool.

Voter education remains a priority for Elections Canada. In May, the Chief Electoral Officer released Elections Canada's new interactive CD-ROM, Exploring Canada's Electoral System. The CD-ROM was produced to enable young Canadians to learn more, in a new and entertaining way, about voting in Canada and is being made available for use in classrooms across the country. Exploring Canada's Electoral System received an Award of Merit from the Association for Media and Technology in Education in Canada (AMTEC) in June 1998.

Elections Canada's new corporate brochure, Canada's Electoral System, released in July 1998, gives readers a glimpse of Canada's parliamentary system of government, highlights milestones in its electoral history, and examines the behind-the-scenes administrative machinery that supports and ensures access to the voting process.

Both initiatives received special mention in the awarding of a Certificate in "Best Printed Materials" category for Elections Canada's display booth at the conference of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers (IACREOT), held in Florida in July 1998.

International activities

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

As part of its five-year bilateral technical co-operation agreement with Mexico's Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE), Elections Canada participated in a Trilateral Conference (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) on External Voting, held in Mexico City on September 2-3, 1998. The purpose of the conference was to study in detail the approaches and experiences of Canada and the United States in organizing and regulating external voting programs for their citizens and to examine the experiences of other countries in organizing and regulating similar programs for their citizens residing in Canada and the United States. The conference was also intended to support the work of a group of Mexican experts who are currently preparing a proposal for legislation on this issue.

Elections Canada also sent three electoral experts to Cambodia on a five-month technical assistance mission for legislative elections held there on July 31, 1998. A voter education and electoral management expert, an electoral logistics expert, and an electoral legal expert were on-site to provide assistance and professional advice to facilitate understanding and the management of a fair, free, transparent, and credible electoral process.

Closer to home that same month, Elections Canada hosted the IVth Conference of the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations (UNIORE). This two-day conference involved senior officials representing electoral agencies from North, Central, and South America. Its purpose was to discuss current issues of common interest among electoral authorities and to reflect on the very real challenges facing electoral institutions. The theme of the conference was "Intercontinental Consultation: The Search for Constructive and Innovative Options", and discussions focused on the financing of political parties and candidates and on preventing and resolving electoral conflict.

As well, as part of its role in providing information on Canada's electoral system, Elections Canada has welcomed representatives of the following nations to its offices since March 1998: Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, and Russia (the Yeltsin Democracy Fellowship Program).

Elections Canada is also participating in the production of the first-ever electronic encyclopedia of elections. The Administration and Cost of Elections (ACE) Project is an initiative of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

The ACE Encyclopedia is a milestone contribution to the strengthening of the democratic process. It will give election administrators, legislators, bilateral and multilateral assistance agencies, and academics around the world analytical and comparative texts and good-practice examples for use in organizing, supporting, or studying free and fair elections.

The ACE Encyclopedia will be available to the public free of charge on the Internet in late 1998.

Threat and risk assessment

Elections Canada is currently undergoing an Information Technology Threat and Risk Assessment Review to permit senior management to make informed decisions on security issues that could affect Elections Canada's ability to carry out its mandate. The review will also help ensure that areas of preventable unacceptable risks are avoided and will allow upcoming Business Resumption Planning activities to focus on creating recovery plans for risks that cannot be prevented and can only be mitigated through recovery processes.

Setting a path for the future: The second strategic plan

Work is well underway in developing a second strategic plan for Elections Canada. This plan will build on Elections Canada's first strategic plan, created in October 1994, and will cover the period from 1999 to 2003. Executive managers and staff held several workshops over the summer to review the accomplishments of the past four years and to determine the vision for the future and where the organization's key efforts should be concentrated.

The review examined the key trends affecting Elections Canada – whether external, such as changing demographics, an evolving legislative environment, and the rapid development of technology, or internal, such as the increasing complexity of demands placed on staff and returning officers, the adoption of new business processes, and changing management practices.

The new strategic plan sets goals for three key results areas: service, performance improvement and innovation, and organizational development. As well, for the first time, the strategic plan articulates a vision statement for Elections Canada. Distribution of the finalized plan should take place in December 1998.