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Report on the 2017  by-elections

1. The 2017  by-elections

This section provides a description of activities related to the federal by-elections in 2017. Where notable trends or events were observed, text boxes are used.

1.1 Launching the By-elections

Issue of the writs

By-elections were held in April, October and December of 2017 to replace members of Parliament in 11 electoral districts.

By-election date Electoral district Reason for issue of writ Writ issue date
April 3, 2017 Calgary Heritage Resignation of the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper (Conservative Party of Canada) February 22, 2017
Calgary Midnapore Resignation of the Hon. Jason Kenney (Conservative Party of Canada) February 22, 2017
Markham–Thornhill Resignation of the Hon. John McCallum (Liberal Party of Canada) February 22, 2017
Ottawa–Vanier Death of the Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Liberal Party of Canada) February 19, 2017
Saint-Laurent Resignation of the Hon. Stéphane Dion (Liberal Party of Canada) February 22, 2017
October 23, 2017 Lac-Saint-Jean Resignation of the Hon. Denis Lebel (Conservative Party of Canada) September 17, 2017
Sturgeon River–Parkland Resignation of the Hon. Rona Ambrose (Conservative Party of Canada) September 17, 2017
December 11, 2017 Battlefords–Lloydminster Resignation of the Hon. Gerry Ritz (Conservative Party of Canada) November 5, 2017
Bonavista–Burin–Trinity Resignation of the Hon. Judy Foote (Liberal Party of Canada) November 5, 2017
Scarborough–Agincourt Death of Arnold Chan (Liberal Party of Canada) November 5, 2017
South Surrey–White Rock Resignation of Dianne Watts (Conservative Party of Canada) November 5, 2017

Opening local Elections Canada offices, hiring and training election workers

Shortly after the writs were issued for the 2017  by-elections, Elections Canada opened 15 local and satellite offices across the 11 electoral districts.

Returning officers hired 9,067 election workers for the 2017  by-elections. Most of them applied through the Elections Canada website and the rest were hired locally. In addition to Elections Canada's website, returning officers use various recruitment options for election workers, including posting on job boards on local university and college campuses and reaching out to ethnocultural organizations, Indigenous Friendship Centres, seniors organizations and other groups. Returning officers must also ask for a list of potential poll workers from the registered political parties whose candidates finished first and second in the previous election. If the various sources cannot provide enough workers, the returning officer can ask permission from the Chief Electoral Officer to recruit outside of their electoral district. In last year's by-elections, 10 out of 11 returning officers sought this special permission.

Of note is the higher than average number of election workers in Bonavista–Burin–Trinity due to the distribution of its population in a large number of communities. This electoral district required three additional local Elections Canada offices and a larger proportion of central polling supervisors and additional support in some rural areas.

Please see Table 1 in Appendix 2 for the list and number of positions occupied for the 2017 by-elections.

Elections Canada provided a wide range of training materials for staff in electoral districts, including video presentations, manuals and a range of online resources.

Poll worker training programs have been refined with each by-election since the 2015 general election. They employ a more hands-on approach, which gives poll workers a chance to practice their key job functions before voting day. At the same time, while the content of the training materials remained the same, the by-elections presented an opportunity to work more closely with training officers to improve the consistency of training program delivery across the 11 electoral districts.

The lessons learned from this experience will contribute to a more efficient and effective training program for poll workers for the 2019 general election.

Working with political entities

Candidates and registered political parties

Under the Canada Elections Act (CEA), a political party must be registered before it can present a candidate under its banner. There were 16 registered political parties eligible to field candidates for the 2017  by-elections. Refer to Appendix 1 for the list of these political parties.

As stipulated in the CEA, prospective candidates had to file nomination papers by 2:00 p.m. on the 21st day before election day.

For the 2017  by-elections, a total of 10 registered political parties nominated candidates in the 11 electoral districts involved. However, only three registered political parties ran candidates in all 11 by-elections. There were also six independent candidates. Table 2 in Appendix 2 lists the confirmed candidates and their party affiliation at the close of nominations for each electoral district.

While by-elections do not always predict what will happen in a general election, there was a slight increase in the number of candidates in the December by-elections–the first elections held after the removal of the $1,000 deposit requirement. Three out of the four electoral districts saw slightly more candidates stand for office compared to the number of candidates in the same districts in the 2015 general election. This is an area that Elections Canada will be monitoring. See the table below for more details.

Number of candidates who ran in the December 2017  by-elections compared to the 2015 general election
Electoral district December 11, 2017,
by-elections
2015 general election
Battlefords–Lloydminster 5 5
Bonavista–Burin–Trinity   5 4
Scarborough–Agincourt 7 5
South Surrey–White Rock 7 6

Soon after the close of nominations in the 2017  by-elections, returning officers held meetings with confirmed candidates and their representatives on their obligations and responsibilities under the CEA. The returning officers also made several information tools available, including handbooks, tutorials, multimedia kits and customized software for filing their returns.

Election expenses limits

At the same meetings mentioned above, returning officers explain the political financing rules and the expenditure limits that apply to their electoral district. The final election expenses limits are based on the number of names on the preliminary lists of electors or on the revised lists of electors, whichever is greater, and are established in accordance with the CEA. The CEA also places limits on advertising expenses by registered third parties.

Table 3 in Appendix 2 shows the election expenses limits for candidates and political parties for each electoral district and the average for each day of by-elections.

Information campaign for electors

Objectives of the campaign

In the run-up to the by-elections, Elections Canada used its "Ready to Vote" information campaign, the same one used in the 2015 general election. The campaign is designed to inform Canadians about the electoral process, the voter registration procedures and the accepted forms of identification they will need to present at their polling station.

Communications tools used in the 2017  by-elections included a multimedia advertising campaign, social media messages, several webpages on elections.ca, electronic and print information products, direct mail, and outreach to specific groups of electors.

These communications efforts were synchronized to the various phases of the by-election calendar: voter registration, mailing voter information cards, voting at advance polls and voting on election day.

To address real and potential voter confusion caused by a concurrent municipal election in Sturgeon River–Parkland, some radio spots and social media messages, were tweaked to distinguish information related to the federal by‑election.

Multimedia advertising campaign

Elections Canada launched a multimedia paid advertising campaign in all 11 electoral districts using print, radio and online ads. The campaign included non-traditional advertising channels, such as Tims TV and social media, including Facebook, Twitter and, for the first time in October 2017, Instagram, which continued to be used in the December 2017  by-elections.

Social media

Elections Canada used social media to monitor the public environment and share information and digital products about registration and voting. The Elections Canada Twitter and Facebook accounts were also used to respond to questions from the public. During the October and December 2017  by-elections, Elections Canada posted messages on its Instagram account and used its YouTube channel to share electoral district–specific informational videos. Facebook Events were piloted in the December 2017  by-elections to provide election day reminders and more regionally-targeted election messages to voters in those electoral districts.

Website

As in past elections, the Elections Canada website prominently featured two online services to help electors find the information they needed to be ready to vote. The Voter Information Service showed electors where and when they could vote and provided information on the accessibility of their polling place. The Online Voter Registration Service allowed them to register or check if they were registered. The website also provided information about voter eligibility and identification requirements for voting. All told, 56,110 people visited the website during the by-election campaigns.

Live election results were published on the website as ballots were counted. On election night, there were 23,411 visits to the website to view the by-election results and 22,001 visits the next day.

Enquiries from electors

Electors could check or update their registration status online and also obtain information on the location of their polling place, voting procedures and other topics directly from the local Elections Canada office or by calling the national or local Elections Canada office toll-free numbers. During the 2017  by-elections, agents at the Public Enquiries Unit responded to 2,970 enquiries, while local and satellite offices across the 11 electoral districts responded to 10,895 enquiries from electors. This volume was consistent with previous by-elections.

Direct mail

Elections Canada mailed 813,524 voter information cards (VICs) to electors whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors. The VIC tells electors when and where they can vote at advance polls and on election day, describes other voting options, gives them information on the accessibility of their polling place and tells them how to contact their local Elections Canada office.

Shortly before advance polls, the agency also sent all households in each electoral district a reminder brochure with information about voter eligibility, registration, identification requirements and ways to vote. It also prompted electors to contact Elections Canada if they did not receive a VIC. A total of 440,560 reminder brochures were sent out for the 2017 by-elections.

The distribution of the VICs and the reminder brochures was delayed in two electoral districts during the December 2017  by-elections. In South Surrey–White Rock, delays in the confirmation of polling stations postponed the mailing of the VICs throughout the electoral district until November 20 (the date prescribed in the CEA was November 17). In Battlefords–Lloydminster, the VIC and the reminder brochure were delayed by one day due to an error in the voting hours. These events generated higher than usual VIC-related public enquiries from electors, as well as one complaint from an elector.

Community relations and outreach

For the 2017  by-elections, 17 community relations officers (CROs) were hired to liaise with and provide information to various target groups of electors. The returning officer determines whether a CRO is required for a specific target group based on their local knowledge, the demographics and the needs in their electoral district. The CROs set up kiosks, made presentations, hosted discussion groups, distributed information products, and liaised with the administrators of relevant organizations or facilities.

1.2 Voter Registration Services

The National Register of Electors

Elections Canada maintains the National Register of Electors (the Register), a database of Canadians who have established their eligibility to vote in federal elections. It is regularly updated between and during elections, using administrative data received through agreements with federal, provincial and territorial agencies. Specifically, agreements are held with the Canada Revenue Agency; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; most provincial/territorial agencies responsible for driver licensing and vital statistics; and provincial/territorial electoral management bodies.

When an election is called, the agency uses data from the Register to produce the preliminary lists of electors, which are provided to registered political parties and to the returning officers, who provide them to the local candidates. The preliminary lists are also used to produce the VICs, which are mailed to electors to inform them on when, where and the ways to register and vote.

Coverage, currency and accuracy of the Register

The quality of the Register is key to ensuring that all electors receive a VIC. It is also important to political parties and candidates who wish to engage with electors. Quality is a function of three factors: coverage, currency and accuracy.

Coverage is the proportion of eligible electors who are registered to vote. Historically, national coverage has varied between 91 and 94 percent. In the 2017  by-elections, the coverage of the preliminary lists ranged from 84 percent in Battlefords–Lloydminster to 99 percent in Ottawa–Vanier and Saint-Laurent.

Currency is the proportion of eligible electors who are registered at their current address. Historically, the national currency has varied between 81 and 86 percent. In the 2017 by-elections, the currency of the preliminary lists ranged from 77 percent in Battlefords–Lloydminster to 94 percent in Lac-Saint-Jean.

Accuracy is the proportion of registered electors who are listed at their current address. These electors are correctly registered and can vote without taking extra steps. Accuracy is calculated by dividing the currency estimates by the coverage estimates. Historically, national accuracy has varied between 88 and 92 percent. In the 2017 by-elections, the accuracy of the preliminary lists ranged from 85 percent in Sturgeon River–Parkland to 98 percent in Bonavista–Burin–Trinity, which is comparable to the variations across these electoral districts in the 2015 general election.

Many factors may affect the quality of lists, including demographic changes and the timely availability of data. The occurrence of these factors may vary by region. However, revision activities carried out by returning officers and through online registration in the weeks prior to election day aim to improve the quality of lists.

Table 4 in Appendix 2 shows the coverage, currency and accuracy of the preliminary lists for each by-election.

Revision period

The revision period began on Day 33 (three days after the by-elections were called) and ended at 6:00 p.m. on the 6th day before election day.

During the revision period, the local Elections Canada offices in each electoral district offer registration services in person and over the phone. Also, revising agents are sent out to verify the accuracy of the lists of electors in high-density, highly mobile or new residential neighbourhoods. Throughout the 2017 by-elections, electors could also go online to check whether they were registered, update their address or complete their registration.

Table 5 in Appendix 2 provides details on changes made to the lists of electors during the revision periods for the 11 electoral districts involved in the 2017  by-elections.

1.3 Voting Services

Polling places

Elections Canada makes significant efforts to ensure that voting locations are fully accessible and uses 35 criteria, of which 15 are mandatory, to identify the accessibility of a polling place. The VIC informs electors of their polling place's level of accessibility; this information is also available on Elections Canada's website. Of the 575 polling places in the 2017  by-elections, 530 (or 92.17 percent) met all of Elections Canada's mandatory accessibility criteria. While 45 (7.82 percent) did not meet one or more of the 15 mandatory criteria (and could not be modified to comply), 100 percent of polling places offered level access.

For the 2017  by-elections, returning officers established 158 polling stations at 107 polling places for advance polls, and 2,125 polling stations at 559 polling places on election day. A total of 65 mobile polling stations visited 183 establishments.

In addition, returning officers reached out to First Nations to establish polling places on reserves for election day, where applicable.

Table 6 in Appendix 2 provides a detailed breakdown of the number of polling stations and polling places for each electoral district.

A concern was raised in Parliament regarding the absence of advance polls in Indigenous communities in Battlefords–Lloydminster*. While the level of advance voting services in this electoral district was no different from the last general election and there was no reduction in services, this is an area of improvement for the next general election, as the expectations of Canadians regarding advance polls continues to evolve. In particular, we will be engaging remote Indigenous communities this spring to work with them to define voting services for their communities.

Tablenote * The returning officer in Battlefords–Lloydminster had engaged all 11 communities shortly before the election and did not hear any concerns as to the lack of nearby advance polls.

Voting

Election day and advance polls

In the 2017 by-elections, the vast majority–204,290 out of 255,734 voters, or 79.9 percent&ndashchose to cast their ballots at a polling station on election day. A further 46,966, or 18.4 percent, voted at advance polls. These turnout numbers are in line with election day and advance poll day results from the last general election and confirm a strong trend. However, turnout numbers decrease overall during byelections.

Voting by mail or at a local Elections Canada office

Under the Special Voting Rules (SVR) provisions of the CEA, electors can vote by mail or at any local Elections Canada office. Canadians temporarily outside their electoral district or living abroad can apply online for a special ballot voting kit.

A new voting service model was piloted in the December 2017  by-elections in the local Elections Canada offices of Battlefords–Lloydminster and Scarborough–Agincourt. The new voting service model simplifies the registration process for those voting by special ballot in a local Elections Canada office. Preliminary results indicate positive feedback from electors and local office staff.

Regardless of which electoral district a by-election is held in, Elections Canada communicates with its partners at the Department of National Defence (for Canadian Forces electors), Correctional Service Canada and Global Affairs Canada to disseminate information and registration materials to those electors whose address of ordinary residence is in the electoral district.

Across all 2017  by-elections, 4,478 electors voted by special ballot. This represents 1.8 percent of electors who voted compared to 3.5 percent in the last general election.

Table 7 in Appendix 2 provides a breakdown of voting by category for each electoral district. Table 8 provides a detailed breakdown of special ballot voting.

Voter turnout

For the 2017  by-elections, overall turnout was 31 percent of registered electors, ranging from 21.4 percent in Bonavista–Burin–Trinity to 41.6 percent in Lac-Saint-Jean:

Table 9 in Appendix 2 compares these turnout rates to those in the 2015 general election for each electoral district.

Adaptation

Under the CEA, the Chief Electoral Officer may, for the sole purpose of enabling electors to exercise their right to vote or enabling the counting of votes, adapt the CEA under subsection 17(1) to address an emergency, an unusual or unforeseen circumstance, or an error. Adaptations only apply during an election period or within 30 days after election day.

During the 2017  by-elections, the Chief Electoral Officer authorized one adaptation in the electoral district of Saint-Laurent.

The table below provides details on this adaptation.

Adaptation of the Canada Elections Act
Statutory provision Explanatory notes
Subsection 168(3) Purpose: To permit the returning officer to establish a second polling station in an advance polling district where the number of electors warrants

Explanation: In the by-election for the electoral district of Saint-Laurent, elector turnout was higher than expected at the advance polls. This led to significant wait times for electors seeking to vote at the advance polls. Section 168(3) of the CEA provides for the establishment of a single advance polling station in each advance polling district. The CEA was therefore adapted to add a section 168.1, which authorized the returning officer of the electoral district of Saint-Laurent to establish a second advance polling station, with the Chief Electoral Officer's permission, where warranted by the number of electors attending to vote in the advance polling district.

1.4 Concluding the By-elections

Election results

The candidates elected in each electoral district in the 2017  by-elections were:


House of Commons seat distribution at the call of and after the 2017  by-elections
Party April 3, 2017, by-elections October 23, 2017, by-elections December 11, 2017, by-elections
At call of After At call of After At call of After
Liberal Party of Canada 180 183 181 182 181 183*
Conservative Party of Canada 97 99 97 98 96 97**
New Democratic Party 44 44 44 44 44 44
Bloc Québécois 10 10 10 10 10 10
Green Party of Canada 1 1 1 1 1 1
Independent 1 1 2 2 2 2
Vacant 5 0 3*** 1 4 1

Tablenote * Three seats won in Bonavista–Burin–Trinity, Scarborough–Agincourt and South Surrey–White Rock by-election. Incumbent for Chicoutimi–Le Fjord resigned December 1, 2017.

Tablenote ** One seat won in Battlefords–Lloydminster by-election.

Tablenote *** The incumbent for Scarborough–Agincourt passed away shortly before the call for the October 23, 2017, by-elections. As a result, there were three vacant seats in Parliament during this period, but only two were filled by the October by-elections.

Validation of results and return of writs

Returning officers in each electoral district validate the results of a by-election as soon as possible after voting day. Once they determine that all ballots have been fairly and accurately counted, they issue a certificate indicating the number of votes cast for each candidate.

A returning officer must hold the writ for six days after the validation of the results to allow time for candidates and electors to request a recount. If there is no recount, the returning officer declares the candidate who received the most votes elected and returns the writ to the Chief Electoral Officer.

There were no recounts initiated in any of the 2017  by-elections.

Table 10 in Appendix 2 lists the number of valid votes obtained by each candidate in each electoral district.

The official voting results were published on Elections Canada's website at elections.ca > Resource Centre > Reports > Elections Canada's Official Reports > Official Voting Results.

Table 11 in Appendix 2 shows the dates on which results were validated and writs were returned for each electoral district.

Complaints

During and after general elections or by-elections, Elections Canada receives, reviews and responds to complaints from electors. Complaints may relate to a wide range of issues, from long lines, to campaign financing irregularities to accessibility problems in polling places.Footnote 1 Electors could register complaints by telephone, mail, email or through a special form available on elections.ca. They also had the option of lodging a complaint at a local Elections Canada office or at their polling place.

Elections Canada received 149 complaints related to the 2017  by-elections:

Elections Canada follows up on all complaints received. Complaints that are related to a potential offence under the CEA are referred to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for further investigation. Complaints impacting the right to vote are given highest priority and they are often replied to directly by the appropriate unit within the agency. Feedback received through complaints is analyzed and used to improve our services.

For a summary of complaints for each electoral district, see Table 12 in Appendix 2.

Cost of the by-elections

As of February 1, 2018, the total estimated cost for the 11 by-elections is $10,048,000, including $1,020,000 projected to be paid to candidates for the partial reimbursement of their election expenses and the subsidies to candidates' auditors. The cost per registered elector is estimated at $12.14, which is 9 percent higher than the historical averageFootnote 3 of $11.13 per registered elector. While there are many factors that affect the cost of a by-election, this increase is predominantly driven by an increase in fees paid to election workers and the addition of a fourth day of advance polls, which came into effect in 2014 with Bill C-23.

The following table provides the cost breakdown of the by-elections.

Estimated cost of the 2017  by-elections Footnote 4
Activity Estimated costs ($ thousands)
April 3 by-elections* October 23 by-elections** December 11 by-elections*** Total
Conducting the by-election – Includes expenses related to fees and allowances to returning officers and election staff, printing ballots and lists of electors, leasing local offices and polling places, shipping election material, running communications campaigns, hiring temporary staff and deploying IT infrastructure and telecommunications $3,813 $1,777 $3,438 $9,028
Reimbursing election expenses to candidates and subsidies to candidates' auditors $490 $220 $310 $1,020
Total estimated cost $4,303 $1,997 $3,748 $10,048

Tablenote *Calgary Heritage, Calgary Midnapore, Markham–Thornhill, Ottawa–Vanier, Saint-Laurent

Tablenote **Lac-Saint-Jean, Sturgeon River–Parkland

Tablenote ***Battlefords–Lloydminster, Bonavista–Burin–Trinity, Scarborough–Agincourt, South Surrey–White Rock

Poll worker compliance with voting day procedures

The CEA requires Elections Canada to arrange for an independent audit of poll workers' performance for each election. Following a competitive procurement process, the Chief Electoral Officer commisioned PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to conduct the audits and report on whether certain categories of poll workers (deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers) performed the duties and functions imposed on them under specific sections of the CEA. PwC was also tasked with determining the degree to which the established administrative controls, including manuals and training material, supported poll workers in performing their duties. The audit samples included polling places designated as urban or rural dispersed across the electoral districts and resulted in PwC auditing approximately 710 electoral interactions.

The audits' findings are in line with those in the Retrospective Report on the 42nd General Election of October 19, 2015. The audits concluded that election staff properly exercised their powers and properly performed their duties when processing electors who arrived at the polls already registered and with documentary proof of identity and address. The audits reached the same conclusions regarding election staff's processing of electors who required special procedures, such as those who registered at the polls or had to take an oath. However, for the latter group, the audits noted that some of the administrative procedures (e.g. record keeping) were not performed consistently. The audits also concluded that training programs and their delivery were effective. While there were some inconsistencies in the completion of the Statement of Electors who Voted and the timeliness of marking an elector as voted by poll workers, these errors were not pervasive.

View the audit reports for the April, October and December 2017  by-elections.




Footnote 1 The agency defines a complaint as an expression of dissatisfaction with the products or services provided by Elections Canada, the way in which services were provided to Elections Canada, or the inappropriate conduct of a person or group in the electoral process.

Footnote 2 Some accessibility complaints addressed more than one issue at a time.

Footnote 3 The historical average is based on the actual expenditures of 16 by-elections from 2012 to 2016.

Footnote 4 Estimated cost as at February 1, 2018. Actual cost will not be known until Elections Canada has received and processed all outstanding invoices for goods and services, and received and audited all candidates' election expenses reports.