Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Acting Chief Electoral Officer
on Elections Canada Main Estimates 2018–19
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
April 24, 2018
Check Against Delivery
Thank you Mr. Chair,
It is a pleasure to be back before the Committee today to present Elections Canada’s main estimates for 2018–19. This appearance also provides the opportunity to highlight the calendar of key activities that remain to prepare for the next general election, particularly in light of potential legislative change.
Today, the Committee is voting on Elections Canada's annual appropriation, which is $30.8 million and represents the salaries of some 360 indeterminate positions.
Combined with our statutory authority, which funds all other expenditures under the Canada Elections Act, our Main Estimates total $135.2 million.
Electoral Preparation Calendar
There are now at most 16 months left before the start of the next general election and fewer still for Elections Canada to achieve a full state of readiness, for which our target date is April 2019.
A strict calendar of activities serves to ensure that changes to the electoral process and its administration are well tested before they are deployed and used by some 300,000 election workers during the election.
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to explain key aspects of our readiness calendar. This is particularly important should legislative changes be introduced late in the electoral cycle.
There are 40 IT systems that are critical to the services that we provide to electors, candidates and political parties in the context of an election. A majority of these systems will either be new or will have gone through significant changes for the next general election. The importance of these changes is a reflection of the need to improve services for Canadians, to renew aging technology and to enhance cyber security.
Work on these systems is progressing well. Over this summer, we will be migrating 27 of these systems and associated databases to our new data centre, which is currently being built. The new data centre is necessary to provide the flexibility and security required to deliver the election in the current environment.
Starting September 1st, we will subject all systems to a full round of integrated testing that replicates the activities and transactions of a general election.
Through the fall and winter, we will perform necessary adjustments to our systems and rerun testing cycles until we are satisfied they are capable of sustaining the requirements, volumes and pressures of an actual general election.
In March 2019, we plan to hold a simulation of the election process in several electoral districts. The purpose of this exercise is to see how the business processes and technology that will be used at the next general election perform in a simulated setting, including interactions between local offices and headquarters.
By April 2019, we will also have designed, produced and largely assembled electoral supplies and material so that they can be progressively shipped to the 338 electoral districts.
In spring of 2019, we will then also have trained all returning officers and have completed and tested the training modules for the poll workers who will be hired for the general election.
The training program for returning officers is largely delivered online and must undergo a stringent quality assurance and testing process before it is rolled out to field administrators, over a third of whom are new.
This is our readiness plan under the current legislation.
Implementation of Potential Legislative Changes
As you know, following the last general election we made some 130 recommendations for legislative improvements and many have been endorsed by this Committee. The government has indicated that it broadly supports the recommendations and has put forward additional proposals for improvements. These are over and above proposals already contained in bills C-33 and C-50, which are currently before Parliament, not to mention private members' bills.
Considering the above, it is pressing for any legislative changes to be made without delay if they are to be implemented for the next general election.
When I last appeared in February, I indicated that the window of opportunity to implement major changes in time for the next general election was rapidly closing.
This was not a new message: both Mr. Mayrand and I had previously indicated that legislative changes should be enacted prior to April 2018.
This means that we are now at a point where the implementation of new legislation will likely involve compromises.
Let me explain.
Should legislative changes be enacted over the coming year, the agency will need to minimize changes to existing systems and applications. There are considerable risks in introducing last-minute changes to complex IT systems if there is not enough time to test them thoroughly. As indicated earlier, our window for integrated testing is September 2018. Therefore, there may not be sufficient time to automate new processes. Less optimal paper or manual solutions may have to be used instead.
Moreover, to the extent that legislative changes impact rules for political entities, there will only be a short window of time to complete the necessary steps for renewing all the manuals and consulting all the parties on the changes being made, as required by law.
The same is also true of instructions required for field personnel. Last-minute updates to poll worker training and manuals reduce time for quality control and testing in advance of the election.
Of course our mandate is to implement the changes Parliament decides to enact, and we will find ways to do that if and when legislation is introduced and passed.
However, it is also my responsibility to inform you that time is quickly running out. Canadians trust Elections Canada to deliver robust and reliable elections, and we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where the quality of the electoral process is impacted.
Should legislation be introduced, we will support the work of this Committee, including informing members of operational impacts and implementation strategies.
This concludes my remarks. My colleagues and I are pleased to answer your questions.