Returning Officers Testimonials
What they have to say about their experience at Elections Canada.
- Arseneault, Réjean, Acadie—Bathurst (NB)
- Branswell, Kevin, Tobique—Mactaquac (NB)
- Brisson, Yves, Repentigny (QC)
- Crochetière, André, Québec (QC)
- Croubalian, Pierre, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville (QC)
- Croxall, Al, Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale (ON)
- Denesiuk, Johanna, Winnipeg South Centre (MB)
- Dionisio, Erlinda, Winnipeg North (MB)
- Dupont, Laurel, Elmwood—Transcona (MB)
- Edelman, Sue, Yukon (YK)
- Everitt, William, Thunder Bay–Superior North (ON)
- Grant, Lorraine, Cariboo—Prince George (BC)
- Haince, Paul, Laurier—Sainte-Marie (QC)
- Halliwell, Gayle, Selkirk—Interlake (MB)
- Holloway, Louise, Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre (SK)
- Kirby, Frankie, Vancouver Kingsway (BC)
- Lajeunesse, Steven, Joliette (QC)
- Loch, John S., Halifax West (NS)
- Provencher, Jean, Berthier—Maskinongé (QC)
- Racine, Raymond, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing (ON)
- Renaud, Jane, Outremont (QC)
- Ringuette Crawford, Ghislaine, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe (NB)
- Schultz, Audrey, Oxford (ON)
- Sneyd, Ralph, Simcoe—Grey (ON)
- Thomas, Anne-Denise, Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher (QC)
- Walton, Peter, Vancouver East (BC)
- Willcocks, Nina, York—Simcoe (ON)
Serving as returning officer is without a doubt one of the most gratifying challenges I've ever tackled. It's a position where you're called on to make decisions on the fly – decisions that, during an election, can have consequences on how events unfold.
Recruiting election-day personnel is probably one of the greatest challenges involved – that and getting them trained in such a short period. Of course, another major challenge is staying within the administrative budget for the election, as much as possible.
The biggest satisfaction is the sense you get of a job well done, right after the election, thanks to the teamwork that goes into it. The deadlines are tight and the work is demanding, but is it ever satisfying!
What's really helpful is to surround yourself with an effective team. Permanent office staff or election-day workers, people who aren't afraid of a challenge or lots of hours of painstaking work, often squeezed into 12+-hour days.
You have to be able to trust your team and not fall into the “I can make all the decisions alone” trap. It's important to have a “solution mode” attitude toward work, instead of blaming someone if a mistake happens.
I was a vice-principal of a high school during the minority governments that we had. Working full-time and being on high alert was difficult, but I had a great field liaison officer (FLO), Irène Hébert, who was most helpful. The FLO is a great help; they are very familiar with the tasks and know how to bring rookies along. They help you over that overwhelming period of everyone speaking in acronyms (when they said they wouldn't) and you don't know any of them. The help desk is also extremely helpful at all times and very patient. I felt overwhelmed during my first training and wondered if I could do it: I was 50 at the time. I saw the ROs who were getting the three-day refresher, and their average age was 65+, and then I told myself that I could do this. I suggest hiring an experienced Assistant Returning Officer (ARO). He or she may not want the same level of pressure as an RO, but will be able to offer a great deal of experience and wisdom. Organization is key for me. During my first event, I had NO experience and was very stressed out (one spare worker for the entire electoral district (ED) for the polling stations). For the next event, I had five spares in every rural town, as we received permission to train high school students. I had 50 spares available throughout my ED. The pressure was off and things ran smoothly. It is very rewarding to be responsible for so many things that have to be coordinated over a great distance (a four-hour drive) on election day. With good people in place, there is a feeling of satisfaction when things come together.
Quite the challenge, being a returning officer! It amounts to leading a public agency that's around for about two months; that operates within a specific regulatory framework; and that recruits, trains and assigns several hundred people, with only one goal in mind – elect a member of Parliament to ensure our democratic process.
I encourage future candidates to apply to be a returning officer. The job is a high-wire act performed in just a few weeks, but is it ever satisfying! During the last election, I served for the very first time (.... read: no experience) as returning officer in the Québec electoral district, and although the work was very intense and demanding, a job well done is its own reward. I cannot overstress the value of building a solid work team in your office, backed by the vast experience of the field liaison officer and the Elections Canada team, to be prepared to fully appreciate the upcoming election in October 2015.
If you build a good team and surround yourself with good people, you'll make it through your first election. Never panic, because even if time is running out and that fateful date is fast approaching, everything will fall into place, I can assure you. What's more, the support from the Elections Canada team and the field liaison officer, be it over the phone or by e-mail, is excellent, and I'm not just saying that. During my last election, the unthinkable happened: at the last minute and without warning, I was informed that a school that was to be used as a polling place would be closed the day of the election. Pandemonium ensued: we had to find a new polling place, negotiate and finalize a lease, change the voter information cards, print a sign and post it at the former site, etc. But we found a way. “Don't worry, be happy,” that's my motto.
New applicants, you might well think of stepping into a job that is like hopping off a moving bus and having to run when you hit the ground just to keep your balance… and then keep running for a couple of months. But when you are done, there is a terrific feeling of accomplishment in supervising a democratic election that has worked well. It will be “what you do” for the period of the election, and will probably take up most of your waking hours regardless of how much you might plan to share duties and time with your assistant returning officer (ARO). The trick is to do the job well so that it doesn't keep you awake during your resting hours. You might speak of specific skills with technology, budgeting, and of the need for interpersonal skills, but in my opinion, stamina, determination and the ability to solve problems quickly and well, while keeping a cool head, are the most important attributes you will need.
The biggest challenge? Maintaining the timeline as set out in the event calendar known as the aide- mémoire. Second biggest? Dealing with upset electors.
The biggest reward of the job is finishing… feeling that you have contributed along with your team to the success of a democratic election.
The thing that helped me the most was the indispensable work and support of my ARO and the rest of the staff. After that, I'd say the aide-mémoire – the election calendar – and its support documents and memos that help to maintain the steady pace of the event. And right next comes the Elections Canada help line.
A “must have” experience for prospective returning officers is to have been in charge of (or close to in charge of) a complex project that has an immovable deadline, a controlled budget, and a team of people, many of whom must be trained and need to work together, and yet do their jobs independently.
Winnipeg South Centre (MB)
The excitement of being part of a huge national event that takes place on a moment's notice is not to be surpassed. If you belong to a flash mob, you have some idea of the preparation and hard work that takes place behind the scenes. Your goal is based on how you can prepare for the best experience for your audience. Much like the flash mob, you will need to consider timing, players, venues, safety and process. When you are finished, you will go back to your life with the satisfaction of a job well done!
Winnipeg North (MB)
I would advise new applicants to ask themselves first and foremost if they have the commitment to meet the challenges of a really demanding but rewarding job ahead of them.
Find an office and the right key people to man that office.
The biggest reward is gaining full understanding of your riding and how elections are being held in this country and meeting new friends in the person of your co-returning officers and the technical people in Ottawa who will give you their full support. Another reward is realizing that in your own little way, you are doing your civic duty for Canada. Of course, remuneration is a factor too, but counting the number of hours you dedicate to doing the job lessens the value of what you get.
What helped most is teamwork from a very committed staff, starting with your assistant returning officer, who will help you run the election, plus the technical support coming from Ottawa, which will provide you with an aide-mémoire to guide you day by day and the assurance that they are just a phone call away to help you clear any stumbling blocks.
A returning officer should have the patience of a donkey so to speak, and the endurance of an insurance salesman to handle this job. You get the experience as you go along day by day.
Wake up early, have a full breakfast (which will probably be your only meal for the day), get to the office on time ready to face the rigors and challenges that might come, review your tasks at hand from your aide-mémoire, then lift up your hands and eyes to the heavens and pray... so help me God.
As with any management position, there are many challenges to being a returning officer, some larger than others. It has been my experience however, that with the dedication and assistance of both the Ottawa staff and my own electoral district staff, they are far from insurmountable. In my opinion, "must haves" for this position would be an unfaltering belief in our democratic process, a strong belief that all people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, strong organizational abilities and a good understanding of the politics of our land. If one possesses these qualities, they will undoubtedly find many rewards performing this job.
Being a returning officer during a federal election is one of the biggest challenges you will ever have in your life – though unlike parenthood, you get a manual. This short-term commitment will be jam-packed on a daily basis with decisions that will use all of your intellectual and creative faculties.
There are, fortunately, a number of people who live in your riding who help conduct elections on a regular basis on the provincial/territorial, municipal, regional and First Nations levels. These kind souls, along with Elections Canada staff, will be of invaluable assistance to you in your endeavours.
As soon as the writ is dropped, you feel the adrenaline. It is your job to make sure that as many Canadians who have the right to vote in your riding get the opportunity to do so. You have had extensive training and you have good staff to help you, but nothing prepares you for that feeling of excitement. It is a wonderful way to serve your country.
Thunder Bay–Superior North (ON)
Initially appointed in 2000, it has been my privilege to serve as the returning officer for
Thunder Bay–Superior North, one of Canada's largest geographical electoral districts. One of my most rewarding experiences in this capacity has been assembling a core of competent election staff and watching them mature as they developed their knowledge and skills in the conduct of five general elections.
As in any leadership role, it is important to select the key support staff carefully, as it is they who make for a successful election experience. The skill set required by the RO includes organizational, communications, time management, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills. All of these have been required by me, as well as the other key election staff, in all of the elections that I have participated in. Thus, my first priority in preparing for an election has been to ensure that I have selected carefully in choosing my key staff.
While all electoral districts have their unique features, large geographical districts pose significant challenges in terms of management. Due to distance and, often, isolation, additional assistant returning officers (AAROs) are appointed to these electoral districts. In my case, I have three AAROs who assume significant responsibility in managing the election in their area. Selection of competent individuals for these roles is critical.
Identifying, training and supplying hundreds of election-day workers in the short time period provided is probably the most challenging task that an RO has. While the manuals provided by Elections Canada for each role are comprehensive and full of valuable information, it is the quality of the training session that election workers receive that ultimately prepares the majority of them for their role. Finding sufficient qualified workers has become a major challenge and requires the cooperation of the political parties and the returning office staff.
The role of the returning officer has continued to develop over the years and is now primarily a management function. Working with quality individuals in the returning office and the offices of the AAROs; the many people who enthusiastically respond to the call for election-day workers; the representatives of the various political parties and the general public; and having the opportunity to interact with young people during an electoral event continue to make being a returning officer a very rewarding experience. At the end of the day, it is nice to know that you have been able to make a positive contribution to the democratic process that we value so highly as a right of Canadian citizenship.
Cariboo–Prince George (BC)
Being a returning officer has provided me with the challenge to be involved in ensuring that every eligible Canadian citizen in “my” electoral district has the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to be involved in governing our country. Great attributes of the returning officer's position include a bucket load of patience, attention to detail, and excellent interpersonal skills. The position can provide tremendous satisfaction in a very short period as you observe the election night results showing the fruits of your and your team's labours.
Here are the qualities of a returning officer (RO) that I feel are essential:
- Excellent sense of event planning (recruitment and logistics).
- The choice of an assistant returning officer (ARO) with experience organizing an election is key. The quality (talent) of the ARO's team will make all the difference.
- Community involvement will play a vital role when the time comes to recruit office personnel.
- Total independence from any political influence.
- The RO is the captain. In certain circumstances, it's the RO's judgment that will make all the difference.
- I was impressed by EC's organizational skills. Support from the Ottawa team is vital!
One of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had.
Coordinating the activities of a diverse group of individuals, each performing a distinct function within the delivery of an electoral event – and within a timeline made up of absolutes – is one of the primary tasks of the returning officer (RO). Effective forecasting and management can reduce costs, duplication, and under-resourcing of the electoral process. Invaluable to the RO in this effort are manuals, including that of the returning officer, provided by Elections Canada. Used in conjunction with the aide-mémoire, the RO manual and others can be used to set daily and weekly localized priorities, and to ensure that all locations and sites within an electoral district have the information, resources, and personnel needed to fulfill mandates and provide thoughtful, facilitative service to the electorate.
Regina–Lumsden–Lake Centre (SK)
I found that one of the most rewarding things about the job were the great people I had working with me – at the office, mostly – so it is very important to get good people to work with you. You face many difficulties and time restrictions and it pays to have dedicated help.
It really helps if the returning officer (RO) is very familiar with geography maps and has no difficulty reading them – especially in the rural areas.
The RO must have a good way with people, and be fair and patient.
There is no “typical” day in the life of the RO during an event. Every day brings new challenges.
Vancouver Kingsway (BC)
As a returning officer in Vancouver, one of the biggest challenges was finding office space large enough for the election office and training space. This, I hope, should now be easier with fixed election dates. Fortunately, I inherited a great team that has been with me through the last two elections. A definite must-have is a team that you can depend on – and in particular, your assistant returning officer. You will work with this person very closely for long days over the election period, through busy, demanding, and unexpected situations. You must have the confidence to be able to delegate to that person. Your recruitment officer is also a very important selection. Since political parties do not put names forward in BC, your recruitment officer has to work hard to recruit the required staffing for the election and the polls. This person works closely with the training officer – another important choice.
No one day is the same during an election period; you are often juggling priorities and tasks. Meeting the candidates and ongoing dealings with them is an important part of the process. Good communication skills are required, as well as a positive attitude to all candidates, demanding or not. Make sure your reception is a welcoming area to all who walk in. My electoral district is one of the most diverse in Canada, with a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, and languages. Being able to handle pressure is important, sticking to the required daily tasks – this is facilitated by Elections Canada with the aide- mémoire (I call it my “Election Bible”). Getting the voter information cards (VICs) out can be tough; you must be able to accomplish tasks in a very tight timeline.
You definitely need a sense of humour because there can be really “crazy” days. When the election is over and everybody and everything is accounted for, it's a great feeling that the whole team shares. It's a very rewarding experience. Now it's time to relax and have a party.
My advice to the new returning officers would be to get as good a grasp of the electoral law as possible, establish good cooperation with their field liaison officer, choose office staff based on their abilities, not authorize partisan appointments and be strict with the parties but fair with their representatives.
My biggest challenge as a returning officer was establishing my leadership and acquiring the credibility I needed to manage internal and external conflicts, as well as being professional at all times and conveying this value to everyone.
My greatest satisfaction is having successfully overseen my first general election while staying within my budget.
What was most useful to me was my 18 years of experience managing a large business, especially when it comes to managing a staff and budget.
A real plus is not being afraid to surround yourself with talented people (sometimes more talented than you), but maintaining control at all times. Delegate tasks that take up too much of your time.
John S. Loch
Halifax West (NS)
The best part of being an returning officer (RO) is the incredible diversity of jobs that you do in eight weeks or so. It's “whack a mole” for real! Lots of excitement, frustration, no boredom and you're doing something important for Canada.
My experience as a new RO (2007) was great, but others in my class found it too much and quit because: 1) the nature and quantity of work was bewilderingly complex (e.g. computing and bureaucracy) and onerous from the get-go; and 2) there was no help from other electoral staff within the electoral district because they/friends had lost the RO competition or were otherwise unable to help.
During an electoral period, the life of a returning officer is filled with both trepidation and excitement. Everything happens at warp speed, so when you meet the objectives at each stage of the process, you get a real sense of satisfaction, on a daily basis. The key attributes you must have to make this 35-day sprint a success are leadership, decisiveness and teamwork. Good leaders know to surround themselves with strong people and to delegate important responsibilities to those people. Ideally, then, returning officers should have a wealth of experience in managing personnel.
Being a returning officer is a privilege. You have to enjoy the challenges of managing an effective and efficient office operation, ensuring that all electors have access to voting in your district. Acquiring these goals is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. The ability to select, train and direct suitable and knowledgeable staff for your office will ensure that important tasks are met. Ideally, a returning officer would have a good sense of humour, enjoy working with people and be prepared to commit to long hours of work, especially during an election.
The most satisfying part about this job is when, just before the election workers go for their training, I meet with the groups for five minutes to welcome them and tell them how lucky they are to live in a country where the democratic process is alive and universally respected. Serving as returning officer is a way to help maintain and make transparent Canada's democracy.
Ghislaine Ringuette Crawford
I have been an RO since 1996. I did 6 federal elections. 2011 was my last one. I enjoyed my job until the end. I felt I had some things I could share, especially with the new ROs.
An RO needs to be organized, a team player, a coordinator, a good listener, and a decision maker.
She or he needs to choose the office staff to fit the needs that are required to do the job efficiently. No political [alliances] or friendships should be considered if they don't qualify to do the job properly. ROs are not jacks-of-all-trades, so selection of the staff is very important.
It is a very challenging position. Political parties depend on an effective returning office for a lot of different things. The voters want to be served in a proper manner in the language of their choice. ROs have to be up to speed with what comes their way to be able to deal with it in order to get good results.
One of the biggest challenges is to find enough workers for polling day. A lot of them find the training overwhelming, and they resign after the training sessions. It is very hard to find good workers at the initial stage.
Good luck with your next endeavour!
- Advice for new applicants: Get reliable office staff whom you know and trust to get the job done with enthusiasm. Always check the Elections Canada guides and ask for help from Ottawa.
- The biggest challenge I encountered as an RO: Difficulty getting good poll officials. Political parties offer very little [in terms of staff]. They want their good people as volunteers, not paid employees. Know your riding and its boundaries. Cover previous polling sites to see what might need changing.
- The biggest reward of the job: Superb office staff. Things are fast and furious for two months, but I was glad that everything was accomplished. Thank-yous from staff, poll officials and political parties.
- What helped me most during busy times: Patience with workers and the public.
- "Must haves" in terms of experience: Knowledge of riding, knowledge of political parties, knowledge of possible contacts, and knowledge of day-to-day operations.
- A day in the life of an RO: Arrive one hour before office opens. Check to see if everything is in order. Retrieve e-mails. Sign documents. Greet staff as they arrive. Make/respond to phone calls. Administer oaths to poll officials. Respond to any queries from staff and poll officials and the public. Arrive home late exhausted to go again the next day.
These are some of my comments regarding the hiring of a new returning officer. I still enjoy doing the job and meeting people on the street who remember me.
The top 10 things you must do to succeed as an RO:
- Build an effective team of key personnel that you know and trust.
- Be a “people person” and meet every one of your election workers if possible, to promote our goals at an event.
- Treat every candidate the same way and with the same support.
- Communicate problems – don't let them fester or they tend to grow.
- Realize that you will get support from the network but check EC Docs first if you don't know something.
- Effective pre-election work solves most of the problems that arise during an event. (Keep an eye on changes in your constituency.)
- Election day morning team meetings and phone-in of Election Ready must be drilled into central poll supervisors.
- Post-election returns must be planned for so that you can actually clean up the job (look ahead on the aide-mémoire).
- Keep a daily diary of calls involving complaints, commitments, costs, and how they were dealt with, and include the caller's information.
- Work with your finance officer to ensure that all election worker claims are correct, and communicate any discrepancies to the workers before closing down.
Being a returning officer is a little like leading a small business that, within the space of 39 days, carries out a host of human, material and financial resource management tasks to achieve its objective: ensuring that all electors who so desire can exercise their franchise and elect someone to represent their electoral district in the House of Commons. Faced with the enormity of this task, you sometimes have to wonder how you got yourself into this! Fortunately, though, EC is there with its tireless support. I'm always enthusiastic about taking part in my country's democratic process.
Vancouver East (BC)
It's the perfect job for motivated, organized and quick-thinking individuals interested in the rush and challenge of setting up and managing every aspect of a complex organization employing and training hundreds of people, working in dozens of locations for an event that lasts less than 60 days.
It is not only an honour and a privilege to have the title of returning officer but also a very satisfying one. This title links us with the past and places us on the cusp of change for the future.
The Magna Carta played a key role. The 61st clause set up the election of 25 barons. The “sheriff” was the returning officer in charge of managing the election. To this day, in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, sheriffs can be found with this title.
This position offers the ultimate in project management. Elections Canada provides the legal framework and support, but ultimately, you are responsible for delivering all the variables associated with providing Canadians with the opportunity to vote for a new government.
The current procedure at the polls is undergoing sweeping technological change. These are exciting times, offering us the opportunity to participate in shaping the future of democracy.