Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Elections Canada’s Main Estimates 2023–2024
May 18, 2023
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Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the Committee today about Elections Canada’s 2023–2024 Main Estimates.
I will also briefly update the Committee on some of our priorities for this year.
Elections Canada’s Main Estimates
Elections Canada is funded under two distinct authorities: an annual appropriation, which covers the salaries of indeterminate staff, and an ongoing statutory authority for all other expenses. This funding model ensures Elections Canada’s independence by allowing it to access the funds required to plan and deliver elections, which may occur at any time.
The Committee will vote today on the annual appropriation, which amounts to $49.7 million and represents the salaries for some 530 indeterminate positions.
Planned spending under the statutory authority is reported annually to Parliament for transparency and accountability. For the 2023–2024 fiscal year, $155.1 million has been earmarked. This includes $69 million for the agency’s operating expenses, $45.6 million for election readiness activities to ensure that we maintain a minimum level of capacity in case an election is called, and $30 million for infrastructure modernization and service improvement initiatives.
Also, a number of by-elections will be held this year, and I would like to remind the Committee that, because we cannot predict whether or not there will be by-elections in a given year, expenses related to those events are not included in the Main Estimates.
An important aspect of our election readiness activities this year relates to electoral boundaries redistribution. As you know, a Representation Order with a new map of federal electoral boundaries is expected to be proclaimed early this fall. Elections Canada will then have seven months to prepare for an election using the new boundaries. Any election called after that point would take place under the new map.
Because of the minority government context, Elections Canada is faced with the unprecedented situation of having to pursue its preparations for an election under two different sets of maps and be ready to switch instantly from one to the other. This is no small undertaking.
Returning officers will need to be appointed for each of the two maps and make preparations for both. IT systems and databases required, for example, to produce voter information cards, to pay poll workers and to publish election night results, will also need to reflect and operate under the different maps. In the spring of 2024, if no election has been called during the seven-month period after the proclamation of the Representation Order, we will need at that point to be able to pivot overnight and be ready to hold an election based on the new map.
I know that redistribution also creates uncertainty for political parties and electoral district associations as they prepare for the next general election, and Elections Canada will continue to support them as they too realign themselves with the new boundaries.
As we prepare for the next general election, we are planning to improve and modernize our services.
A key element of modernization is the introduction of electronic lists of electors that will allow voters to be served at any table in their designated polling location. This will reduce wait times and help address the very serious challenges created by a diminishing workforce.
We plan to introduce electronic lists in a way that is prudent and gradual, ensuring at all times the security and reliability of the voting process. A software solution has been developed by Elections Canada. Data will be stored on a secure database in Canada and accessed through a secure private network. Importantly, voting will continue to be paper-based and the count will be manual.
We plan to deploy the e-list in a by-election this fall, and then to use the technology in several polling locations should a general election take place in 2024, or more broadly if a general election takes place on the fixed election date in 2025. Longer term, e-lists could enable most electors to vote anywhere in their district, should Parliament decide to allow this.
As well, we will continue to focus on removing barriers to electoral participation for Indigenous electors, students living away from home and electors with disabilities.
Elections Canada is working with post-secondary institutions to offer voting services on campus and improve services to Indigenous communities, including by increasing voting opportunities at advance polls in remote communities.
I also plan to return to the Committee later this year to seek approval for a pilot project to include Indigenous languages on the ballot in Nunavut. Finally, in the longer term, we are pursuing a review of our services to Indigenous electors, and I aim to report on the results to this committee next year.
I would be pleased to answer your questions.