Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Acting Chief Electoral Officer
on Elections Canada Interim Estimates 2018–19
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
February 27, 2018
Check Against Delivery
Thank you Mr. Chair,
I welcome this opportunity to appear before the Committee today to present Elections Canada's interim estimates as well as to update members on the status of our preparations for the 2019 general election.
Today, the Committee is voting on Elections Canada's interim supply, which totals $7.7 million. This represents the salaries of some 350 indeterminate positions for the first quarter of the fiscal year beginning April 1st, 2018. It does not include any of the agency's other expenditures, which are funded from a statutory appropriation.
Progress on Elections Canada's Strategic Priorities
In addition to supporting Parliament in its review of legislative changes, you will recall from my appearance on the Main Estimates last spring that Elections Canada has been pursuing two strategic priorities since the last general election.
The first priority is to modernize our electoral services through a range of initiatives such as the introduction of electronic poll books to improve the process at the polls, and other projects regarding services to voters and political entities.
The second strategic priority relates to the replacement and improvement of key infrastructure assets that are required for the delivery of elections, such as our data centers, IT networks, telecommunications services and the pay system for poll workers.
To be ready for the next general election, we need to have completed our transformation projects by September 2018 in order to begin integrated testing of all IT-enabled projects.
This timeline implies that final decisions regarding the scope of our transformation initiatives have already been made or will be made in the next few months.
In this regard, I would like to briefly highlight the progress made on key improvement initiatives.
Modernization of Electoral Services
I am pleased to report that a company was selected last fall through a rigorous procurement process to provide electronic poll books at the next election. This will allow us to automate a number of record-keeping transactions at the polls. Ballots will continue to be marked and counted by hand.
For the next general election, electronic poll books will be deployed in some 225 electoral districts for advance polls only, which can be done under the current legislation. Deployment of this technology in advance polls will address the most critical challenges experienced in the last election in terms of wait times in urban and semi-urban districts. The use of electronic poll books at ordinary polls will be considered only after the next general election, if changes are made to the legislation.
In rural areas, where the main challenge for voters is the travel distance to the polls, returning officers will be provided with new IT tools to inform the creation of polling divisions and improve the proximity of polling places to electors.
We are also working on the first release of an online portal for political entities. Our objective through this service is that parties, candidates and official agents will be able to complete and file various documents online, including nomination papers, if so enabled by legislative change. We have engaged the Advisory Committee of Political Parties throughout the development of this project.
Other key projects related to voting services include the expansion of voting on campus opportunities from 40 post-secondary institutions to some 110. This summer, returning officers will be reaching out to university and college administrations to make the necessary arrangements.
Returning officers will also begin working with remote Indigenous communities this spring to improve registration and voting services.
Renewal of Infrastructure, Systems and Services
We have also made significant progress in renewing infrastructure systems and services. In December, the agency selected a new data-hosting service provider to support many of the systems used to deliver electoral services, as the current contract expires later this calendar year. A schedule is being finalized to ensure a seamless transition to the new Canadian hosting site.
By the end of summer 2018, the agency will have finalized the development of a new system and processes for its various contact centres in order to provide Canadians, election workers and political entities more timely and relevant information.
This spring we will also complete the procurement of field telecommunication services for local offices and will have updated a key component of the system used to pay poll workers.
Finally, the agency is making progress in renewing the system used by political entities to file financial returns electronically, in order to provide additional capabilities and make it more convenient to users.
As the agency enters the final phase of its preparations for the next general election, I see two main challenges ahead.
The first relates to cybersecurity and the broader issue of disinformation.
The Communications Security Establishment estimates that multiple groups will very likely deploy cyber capabilities in an attempt to influence the democratic process during the 2019 federal election.
In response, Elections Canada is taking a number of steps to further strengthen its security posture. For example, the security design of our IT network has been improved and our new data-hosting service will offer a range of additional protections. The agency is also commissioning an independent audit of its IT security controls, which should be completed this spring.
Upgrading the agency's technological infrastructure to meet the requirements of the new security environment does, however, require considerable investment.
The incremental costs required to improve and maintain this infrastructure are funded from our statutory appropriation. These costs will be reflected in the agency's expenditures beginning this fiscal year.
With respect to the broader issue of disinformation, we are working with the Commissioner of Canada Elections, and our integrity program is keeping abreast of developments. Our main role is ensuring that Canadians have the correct information on where, when and ways to register and vote.
The second challenge for the agency relates to the implementation of legislative changes as we get closer to the general election.
At this time, two bills introducing changes to the Canada Elections Act remain before Parliament, and the introduction of further reform, as indicated by the government, is expected. We are hopeful that it will include several of the important changes that this Committee has recommended.
Having said that, the window of opportunity to implement major changes in time for the next general election is rapidly closing.
We will continue to support parliamentarians as they examine new electoral legislation to inform them of the impacts of the changes and the timelines for their implementation, keeping in mind the imperative of ensuring that processes, systems and training necessary for the delivery of the election are well tested and ready to be deployed without risk to the election.
In conclusion, I am pleased to report that Elections Canada is progressing as planned on its improvements and is now entering the final phase of its preparations for the next general election.