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Statements and Speeches

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Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer

on the reports of the Chief Electoral Officer on the
42nd General Election

Before the
Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs


November 23, 2016

Check against delivery

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am pleased to be here today to discuss my reports following the 42nd general election.

Post-Election Reports

As required by the Canada Elections Act, on February 3, 2016, I submitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons an initial report on the 42nd general election. It provides a description of key events as they relate to the preparation and the delivery of the election.

This was followed last September by a comprehensive retrospective of the election, which offers an assessment of the election and the experiences of electors and political entities. The findings from the independent audit of poll worker performance and Elections Canada's response to that audit are also included in this report.

Finally, on September 26, 2016, I submitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons a report containing recommendations for legislative changes, which is currently being reviewed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Experience of the 42nd General Election

Historic Election

Looking at the 2015 election, we must say that it was historic from several perspectives.

It was the first fixed-date federal election and the longest in more than 140 years. Compared to the previous election, some three million more Canadians voted, resulting in the highest turnout in more than 20 years. Voter participation increased among groups that typically vote less than the general population, such as Indigenous people and young Canadians.

There was also a 74 percent turnout increase in advance voting, which included voting on a Sunday for the first time. This confirms a changing pattern in the way electors choose to cast their ballot.

Service Improvements

Overall, multiple lines of evidence show that our service improvements were successful. These included the online voter registration service, enhanced outreach and voting opportunities for young voters and students, more stringent accessibility criteria for polling locations, training for candidates and their officials, and the issuance of written opinions, guidelines and interpretation notes for political entities.

Overall, the improvements were generally well received by electors, political entities, returning officers and poll workers. There was no evidence of any systemic incidents having interfered with voter participation. As well, the vast majority of electors and political entities continued to express confidence in the administration of the election and in the voting results.

Current Framework

That said, the election demonstrated in many ways that a limit has been reached regarding what election workers can achieve under the current electoral framework. Increasing staffing to meet the changing needs of voters is no longer sustainable.

Returning officers faced significant challenges in recruiting and training competent workers and in responding to long lineups at polls. The current regime provides little flexibility to scale services to a sudden and pronounced increase and is not amenable to the automation of the most basic, repetitive and tedious tasks.

Recommendations Following the 42nd General Election

CEO's Recommendations

I have therefore made recommendations for legislative changes on this and other aspects of the administration of the Act. These amendments are essential to bringing the Canada Elections Act into the 21st century, irrespective of any change to the voting system.

The recommendations are inspired by three main themes.

Accessibility and inclusiveness

The first is accessibility and inclusiveness. Several recommendations are made in this regard. Of note are those aimed at facilitating the full participation of electors with disabilities in the electoral process. While a lot was done to increase accessibility at the polls for electors with disabilities, more is required. Also, young Canadians should be allowed to pre-register when they are 16 or 17, so that their registration activates on their 18th birthday. This way, more youth would be registered to vote when an election is called.

Flexibility and effectiveness

Modernization

The second main theme is flexibility and effectiveness in election administration. In moving toward the 43rd general election, Elections Canada's goal is to modernize the voting services model to align with Canadians' evolving expectations. To do this, the voting process must be simpler, more efficient and more flexible for electors. It must also be easier for election workers to administer while maintaining key controls and safeguards that ensure the integrity of the process. A number of recommendations are made to achieve these goals.

Flexibility for CEO

The Act should continue to outline functions at polling places, but the activities and labour should be divided among staff according to instructions from the Chief Electoral Officer. The Act should also allow for the use of computerized lists to speed up processes and permit electors to vote at any table. Instructions to election workers would continue to be made public ahead of the election. The new process would make it easier to provide candidates and political parties information on who has voted.

From a voter's standpoint, these changes would result in faster service in a more modern and efficient environment. Also, having the flexibility to assign tasks to meet demands would improve working conditions for election workers.

Flexibility for ROs

It is also recommended that returning officers be permitted to hire staff from any source as soon as the writs are issued. While parties and candidates should be encouraged to continue to submit names of capable workers, returning officers should not have to wait until the statutory deadline for candidates to provide those names before they can explore alternative pools of workers. Since the vast majority of election workers are currently hired from outside the parties' roster of volunteers, this would increase training time for workers and flexibility for returning officers.

Fairness and integrity

The third and last main theme is fairness and integrity. This relates to the political finance regime and the importance of upholding compliance by means that are effective and proportionate.

Administrative Monetary Penalties

Any non-compliance under the Act is currently addressed using the criminal process. However, many contraventions would be better served by alternative mechanisms, such as administrative monetary penalties, which exist in modern regulatory regimes. The Commissioner of Canada Elections, who was consulted on this recommendation, fully agrees with this approach. Other recommendations are also made to strengthen the Commissioner's ability to investigate the most serious offences.

Conclusion

The 42nd general election was the third and last under my tenure. While by most measures returning officers and their staff delivered a successful election, there are clear areas, as I described, where the current electoral framework is under severe pressure. Legislative changes are required so that electors' evolving expectations can be met.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.