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Returning Officer Profile

Appointment and qualifications

Appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer for a 10-year period, a federal returning officer administers the electoral process in a federal electoral district. The work is varied, challenging and rewarding. It calls for broad management experience and strong skills: financial planning; material, human and financial resources management; contract negotiation; public relations; and office automation, to name a few. The returning officer must be both competent and efficient to complete all the tasks of an election or referendum within a very short and specific time period.

As the person responsible for ensuring the integrity and honesty of the electoral process within an electoral district, a returning officer must also clearly demonstrate certain personal qualities. Sound judgment, patience, tact, discretion and lots of energy are essential. Although returning officers receive specific instructions from the Chief Electoral Officer on how to administer the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act and carry out electoral procedures, they must make many important decisions based on local circumstances and conditions, and resolve many problems that can arise over the course of an electoral event.

The work is by nature impartial and non-partisan, and returning officers must conduct all business accordingly. They must abide by Elections Canada's Code of Professional Conduct for Election Administrators and abstain from all activities of a politically partisan nature, both during and between election and referendum periods.

Nature of the work

The work of returning officers is extremely demanding during an election or referendum. Returning officers work long hours, seven days a week, during the minimum 36-day electoral period (that is, from the date the writ ordering the election is issued until polling day) and for several days after polling day. A returning officer must be available all day, every day, during that time. Between electoral events, returning officers must be free to carry out intermittent or part-time tasks, such as pre-event planning assignments, and to attend training or briefing sessions, etc. 

To succeed, a returning officer must:

  • know his or her electoral district well, and be prepared to travel within it
  • work well under pressure
  • be available to work long hours, without notice, for the duration of an election or referendum period
  • be able to plan, manage and allocate resources effectively
  • respond with patience, good humour and discretion to numerous requests for information from electors and exercise tact and common sense when dealing with complaints from disgruntled voters and with party workers competing against each other during the campaign
  • hire and train hundreds of election or referendum workers (revising agents, deputy returning officers, poll clerks, registration officers and others)
  • possess basic public relations and office automation skills
  • have a good understanding of the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act
  • follow electoral regulations and procedures strictly, in terms of both duties and time constraints

Returning officers must comply with the Chief Electoral Officer's instructions about office hours. At a minimum, with few exceptions, returning offices must be open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday to Friday; from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturdays; and from noon to 4:00 p.m. Sundays.


The primary duty of returning officers is to run electoral events in their electoral districts. In addition to those many and varied tasks, during an electoral period, they must allow public inspection, on request, of a confirmed candidate's nomination papers. Following an election, they must also allow public inspection, on request, of candidates' election expenses reports for the six months after they become available.

Returning officers must also be free to participate in a variety of activities between electoral events. They receive briefings on any new legislation and training in new procedures. They also participate in special projects and consultations, as required by the Chief Electoral Officer, to help ensure better access to the electoral system for all electors.

You may also obtain a copy of the returning officer's job description here.

For more information: 

Elections Canada
30 Victoria Street
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0M6


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TTY 1-800-361-8935
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This publication is available in alternative formats.

December 2016