open Secondary menu

Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the Windsor–St. Clair By-Election

The Windsor–St. Clair by-election

On December 9, 1998, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Windsor–St. Clair, Shaughnessy Cohen, died suddenly, leaving a vacancy in the House of Commons. On March 7, 1999, the Governor in Council announced that the by-election to replace Ms. Cohen would be held on April 12, 1999.

Following this announcement, the Chief Electoral Officer issued a writ to the returning officer for Windsor–St. Clair, directing her to hold a by-election. Table 1 provides an overview of the important milestones between the issue of the writ and its return.

Table 1

Key dates for the April 1999 by-election in Windsor–St. Clair
Date Election calendar day Event
 December 9, 1998    Liberal Member of Parliment for
 Windsor–St. Clair, Shaughnessy Cohen, dies
 March 7, 1999  Day 36  Issue of the writ; preparations made to open
 the office of the returning officer
 March 7 to 13  Days 36 to 30 (midnight)  Advertising blackout period for political parties
 March 10  Day 33  Revision of list of electors begins
 March 11  Day 32  Proclamation published – candidates may
 file nominations
 March 15  Day 28  Targeted revision begins
 March 17 to 19  Days 26 to 24  Notices of Confirmation of Registration mailed
 to all registered electors
 March 22  Day 21 (2 p.m.)  Nominations close
 April 1  Day 11  Revised list of electors distributed
 April 2, 3, 5  Days 10, 9 and 7  Advance polls
 April 6  Day 6 (6 p.m.)  Revision and special ballot registration ends
 April 9  Day 3  Official list of electors distributed
 April 11 to 12  Days 1 and 0  Advertising blackout period for political parties
 April 12  Day 0  Election day
 April 13  Day -1  Official addition
 April 20  Day -8  Writ returned

Communicating with electors

An important part of Elections Canada's task in the Windsor–St. Clair by-election, as in all electoral events, was to generate awareness – among the general public, political parties, candidates, and the media – of the by-election and of the key dates in the election period.

The principal means of communicating with the general public was the "householder", a pamphlet sent to all residences in the electoral district within days of the issue of the writ. This publication provided basic information, including the name of the returning officer and the phone number of her office, information about the National Register of Electors, and details on how to have names added to, or corrected on, the list of electors. It also gave information on deadlines for voting by special ballot and the return of special ballots, key dates for advance polls, procedures for registering and voting on election day, and the residency requirements for voting in a by-election. It also stressed the importance of keeping the notice of Confirmation of Registration until election day.

The notice, which arrived several days after the householder, provided details of where and when electors could vote, including several alternatives that Elections Canada provides for electors unable or unwilling to go to their local polling station on election day.

All material was produced in both official languages. Census data revealed no ethnocultural or Aboriginal communities whose numbers would warrant translating basic information into other languages. However, key information was made available in alternative formats, including Braille, large print, and audio-cassette.

A print advertisement was run in daily and community newspapers in the final days of the election calendar to remind electors that their polling station location was printed on their notice of Confirmation of Registration, and that they could register to vote at the poll. The advertisement was based on the approach used in the last general election.

Elections Canada also worked closely with local media to ensure that electors had the necessary information, supplying a media information kit containing the launch news release, the householder, an electoral district profile, and a calendar of key dates. In addition, the kit contained background information on a variety of topics, ranging from the electoral process and the role of Elections Canada, to the Special Voting Rules, the National Register of Electors, and election expenses and contributions guidelines for candidates and parties.

Over the course of the 36-day campaign, Elections Canada issued 10 news releases highlighting key dates, election day reminders, and clarification of what the media could and could not report on the weekend preceding election day.

A special by-election segment was also established on Elections Canada's Web site. The list of official candidates, the electoral district map, and the address and telephone number of the office of the returning officer were included in this segment, along with general information on the voting process and voting by mail-in ballot. On election night, results were posted on the Web page as they became available.

As well, Elections Canada Enquiries Unit staff members were available to answer questions and distribute information to electors.

Communicating with candidates, official agents and auditors


Elections Canada presented a seminar on March 19, 1999, to help candidates, official agents and auditors understand and comply with the financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Instruction was given on how to complete the Candidate's Return Respecting Election Expenses and a demonstration of the Electronic Candidate Return was provided.

Revising the list of electors

For the third time since its establishment in 1997, the National Register of Electors was used to produce the preliminary list of electors for a by-election. The returning officer for Windsor–St.  Clair reported fewer than 4 300 additions, removals and changes during the event to the information contained in the preliminary list of electors. This number represents six percent of the total 69 034 electors on the preliminary list and demonstrates that the quality of the information contained in the National Register of Electors is consistent with projections made by Elections Canada during the Register's research and feasibility phase.

Including electors who registered on election day, there were, in total, 3 628 electors who asked that their names be added to the list or that their registration be modified during the event. Of the total, 1 291 electors responded to the notice of Confirmation of Registration; 391 electors were added or corrected their records during targeted revision, 41 at advance polls and 1 905 on election day. Figure 1 shows the distribution of additions and corrections by each method of registration. In addition, a total number of 587 records were removed from the list for a total of 4 215 transactions. Table 2 shows the details of revision transactions.

Figure 1
Windsor–St. Clair by-election

Distribution of additions and corrections
made to the preliminary list of electors by
registration method

N = 3 628

Targeted revision 11%, Registration at advance polls 1%, Registration at ordinary polls 52%, Revision induced by the notice of Confimation of Registration 36%.

Table 2

List of elector revision transactions
Calendar Revision transactions Total Cumulative totals
Day 33
Day 11
Preliminary list   69,034  
Additions 761    
Corrections 521    
Deletions 496    
Total 1,778    
Day 10
Day 6
Revised list   69,299  
Additions 353   1,114
Corrections 88   609
Deletions 70   566
Total 511   2,289
Election day Official list   69,582  
Additions 1,591   2,705
Corrections 314   923
Deletions 21   587
Total 1,926   4,215
Final list   71,152  

Voting in the by-election

Voter turnout

In total, 31 827 of 71 152 eligible electors cast their ballots in the Windsor–St. Clair by-election. The majority voted on election day, April 12, 1999, at one of the 52 polling sites located throughout the electoral district. Polling stations were open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Voter turnout was 45 percent, compared to 49 percent for the Sherbrooke by-election in September 1998, and 56 percent for Windsor–St. Clair in the 1997 general election.

For those unable to vote on election day, advance polls were held on April 2, 3 and 5, 1999. Table 3 shows the details of polling site locations and accessibility.

As is always the case during elections or by-elections, residents of the electoral district unable to vote at the advance or ordinary polls, as well as residents travelling or residing outside Canada temporarily, could vote by mail-in ballot under the Special Voting Rules. Canadians abroad were notified of their opportunity to cast a ballot in the by-election by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade through its diplomatic missions and consular posts. Soldiers posted to Canadian Forces bases, whether inside or outside Canada, were informed of their right to vote by the Department of National Defence (please see Table 4).

As well, persons in institutions, including hospitals and correctional facilities, were permitted to vote in the by-election under the Special Voting Rules. Registration and voting in acute care hospitals was held on April 5 and 6. To facilitate special voting in correctional facilities, information kits were supplied to the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies.

Preliminary statistics on the number of ballots cast by all means are presented in Table 5.

Table 3
Polling Sites

Location of polling sites
Building type Number
of sites
Church hall  16  30.8%
Community centre  12  23.1%
Educational  11  21.1%
Hostel for the elderly   5   9.6%
Recreation centre   1  1.9%
Residential   5  9.6%
Royal Canadian Legion   2  3.9%
Total 52   100.0%

Types of polling stations
Ordinary  Mobile  Advance Total 
199  3 9 211

Polling station accessibility
 Total number
of polling
211  211   100%

Table 4

Registrations under the Special Voting Rules
Categories of electors asking to vote under the Special Voting Rules Number of ballots requested
Group 11
Members of the Canadian Forces 133
Incarcerated electors  15
Electors temporarily residing outside Canada  18
Group 1 subtotal 166
Group 22
Electors temporarily outside their electoral districts    6
Electors voting in their electoral districts 468
  Group 2 subtotal 474
  Total number of registrations for voting by special ballot 640

1 The three lists of electors registered under group 1 of the Special Voting Rules are separate from the list that is revised during an event.
2 The electors registered under group 2 of the Special Voting Rules are also entered on the revised list of electors.

Table 5

Preliminary statistics on the number of ballots cast and voter turnout, April 1999 by-election in Windsor–St. Clair
Number of
electors on
final list
Voting Rules
Total votes
Total valid
71 152 29 677 1 848 487 32 012 185 31 827 45%

The candidates and by-election results

The deadline for the nomination of candidates was 2:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, on March 22; 5:00 p.m. was the deadline for withdrawal or for making corrections to information on candidates' nomination papers. Five candidates were nominated for the by-election, and four political parties were represented. One candidate ran with no political affiliation.

Once nominations closed, the list of official candidates was transmitted to Canadian diplomatic missions and consular posts by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as well as to Canadian Forces bases by the Department of National Defence. The list was also posted on the Elections Canada Web site.

On election night, the returning officer's Election Results System was linked to Elections Canada's central computer; as votes were counted, they were transmitted to the Ottawa server for posting on the Web site.

Liberal candidate Rick Limoges received the most votes and was elected Member of Parliament for Windsor–St. Clair (please see Table 6).

Table 6

Preliminary statistics on valid votes cast, by candidate, April 1999 by-election in Windsor–St. Clair
Candidate Political affiliation Valid votes obtained Percentage
  Comartin, Joe New Democratic Party 13 800         43.4%        
  Cowan, Scott Reform Party of Canada 1 956         6.2%        
  Easton, Bruck Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 2 074         6.5%        
  Limoges, Rick Liberal Party of Canada 13 891         43.6%        
  Turmel, John C. No affiliation 106         0.3%        
  Total   31 827           100.0%        

Improvements to electoral administration

As a result of discussions with the Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties, a review and pilot project were undertaken during the Windsor–St. Clair by-election to test the format of identification labels provided by Elections Canada for the use of candidates' representatives at the polls. The objective was to make identification of the representatives more visible to electors as they enter the polling station, as well as to party workers who must contact these representatives periodically during voting hours.

A larger identification card was developed, to be worn around the neck. As well as the representatives' identification cards, those worn by poll personnel were also modified. The returning officer reported that these new labels were viewed by all parties as an improvement.

It was also decided that new seating arrangements at the polls for representatives of candidates would be tested during the by-election. No tables were provided for the representatives; they were seated behind the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk. Their chairs were positioned as close as possible to the poll officials' table to ensure that they could clearly hear the electors identifying themselves as they arrived for voting.

All deputy returning officers and central poll supervisors were surveyed to assess the usefulness and appropriateness of the new identification cards and seating arrangements. The results of this survey will be discussed with the Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties. Elections Canada will then determine whether or not these new measures should be implemented for the next general election.