Legislative Measures – Special Report of the Chief Electoral Officer: Administering an Election during the COVID-19 Pandemic
While the Act gives the Chief Electoral Officer significant discretionary authority over certain elements of the electoral process, much of the process remains outside the Chief Electoral Officer's reach. For example, the Act requires polling day to fall on a Monday and for polling locations to be open for a 12-hour period. The Chief Electoral Officer has neither the administrative discretion nor the power to adapt provisions setting out these foundational elements of the process. The changes identified above would require legislative measures.
Normally, the Chief Electoral Officer recommends amendments to the Act. In this case, however, it is proposed that the measures be set out in legislation that is temporary and that would supersede provisions of the Act in order to respond to the constraints of the pandemic. Ideally, legislative changes would expire after the next general election, leaving the Act unchanged once Canada emerges from the pandemic period.
An Election Statute in Response to the Pandemic
While it is unusual to do so, given the current circumstances and the urgency of the recommended changes, we have taken the liberty of submitting a model statute to assist Parliament in the study of these recommendations and the preparation of a bill. This model statute is only illustrative of the recommendations in this report.
The proposed approach contemplates a stand-alone statute that is composed of a limited number of substantive provisions putting into effect the elements described above. The statute would temporarily supersede and complement the relevant provisions of the Act. The substantive provisions would be framed by procedural provisions which, among other effects, would determine the duration of the application of the statute.
While the statute would be in force immediately upon royal assent, in order to allow Elections Canada to make the necessary preparations, the provisions of the statute would not be in effect for an election that occurs within four months of royal assent, unless the Chief Electoral Officer indicates that all necessary preparations have been made and publishes a notice to that effect in the Canada Gazette. This would allow Elections Canada to begin procurement processes and update systems and operational processes to reflect the changes authorized by the proposed statute.
The agency has reviewed its operations and has determined that four months is the time period needed to implement fundamental changes such as the shift to a two-day voting period on Saturday and Sunday.
Elections Canada recommends that the statute remain operative for the next general election and then expire six months after the date set for return of the writ. The application of the statute could be extended by a future parliament, if necessary.