Canada maintains a fair, secure and transparent electoral process free of undue influence
A trusted election is one that is fair, secure and transparent. Elections Canada's 100 years of expertise in electoral management has ensured the highest standards of accountability, integrity and security in the electoral process. A key indicator of Elections Canada's success in this area is the percentage of electors who had a positive perception of the agency's administration of the election.
Overall, 90% of survey respondents in the National Electors Study felt that Elections Canada ran the election fairly. This result is similar to previous general elections.
Key areas of accomplishment
As part of its efforts to uphold trust in the electoral process, Elections Canada worked to ensure electoral processes were both fair and secure. Additionally, the agency implemented legislative changes relating to the new pre-election period, candidate and party expenses, privacy policies for political parties, and the regulation of third parties.
During preparations for the 43rd general election, the agency endeavoured to ensure trust in the electoral process, including by:
- Modernizing and strengthening Elections Canada's security posture.
- Ensuring the integrity of the electoral process and its outcomes.
- Providing support and guidance for political parties and candidates on their political financing obligations.
- Implementing new requirements for third parties.
Modernizing and strengthening Elections Canada's security posture
For the 43rd general election, Elections Canada put in place a comprehensive security strategy and was prepared to identify and address false or misleading information about where, when and the ways to register and vote.
As part of efforts to integrate security safeguards into the agency's day-to-day business, all Elections Canada employees and field staff received training on how to safeguard information and practise good cyber hygiene. Elections Canada also collaborated with key partners and the Government of Canada's lead security agencies to modernize and secure its information technology infrastructure, protect electoral services and systems and improve its overall security posture.
In addition, the agency established a dedicated Social Media Monitoring Unit, enhancing its capacity to detect and respond to incidents and developments across the country that might have interfered with electors' ability to vote.
Elections Canada provided reliable information on the electoral process through the national Voter Information Campaign and developed an online repository of its official advertising and communication products. Electors could verify the authenticity of information about the election by checking the repository.
As outlined in the statutory report, the integrity of the vote was maintained from a cybersecurity perspective. The following findings were identified in Elections Canada's review of its security performance:
No security incidents detected.
Elections Canada did not detect any security incidents that affected the administration of the electoral process.
Polling location choice supported security.
According to the Survey of Election Officers, 91% of poll staff felt the building where they worked was suitable for holding an election. Of those poll workers who felt the building was not suitable, 3% identified that the building was poorly secured to protect election materials and 4% identified the location itself as unsafe.
Elections Canada pays close attention to the security environment and will adapt as required to address new and emerging threats. The agency supports the security of the electoral process and will continue to:
- Maintain partnerships with lead security agencies to protect the agency's digital assets and monitor the information environment for threats and incidents that could affect the administration of the election.
- Strengthen our cybersecurity posture to remain well positioned to anticipate, detect and respond to emerging security concerns related to the administration of elections.
- Monitor the environment for integrity threats and refine mitigation and response activities.
Ensuring the integrity of the electoral process and its outcomes
There are many safeguards in place to protect the secrecy of the vote and the integrity of Canada's federal electoral process. For example, electors vote using paper ballots that are later counted by pairs of trained election officers in the presence of observers. Canadians trust the electoral process and have confidence that they can rely on Elections Canada to conduct fair and secure elections with accurate and reliable results.
Elections Canada implements guidelines and procedures, aligned with the Canada Elections Act, to support electoral integrity and maintain Canadians' trust in the electoral process and the results of the election.
Procedures at the polls followed.
The independent audit on the performance of election officers concluded that on all days of advance polling and on election day, election officers properly exercised the powers conferred on them and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Canada Elections Act.
List of electors was the most up to date ever.
The National Register of Electors contains records for close to 27 million Canadians who are at least 18 years old and eligible to vote. In anticipation of the 43rd general election, the agency's efforts to improve the Register placed a particular focus on identifying and removing non-citizens from the list of electors and increasing registration rates among youth and Indigenous electors. Elections Canada staff conducted face-to-face outreach events across the country focusing on early registration and closing registration gaps for youth. These efforts enabled the agency to achieve the highest proportion of registered voters since the Registry's inception in 1997. Coverage of preliminary lists increased from 92.7% to 96.4% between 2015 and 2019, and from 71.9% to 78.9% for 18–24-year-olds.
Elections Canada viewed as the official source of information.
Elections Canada has a wealth of authoritative information that is of great value and benefit to Canadians. Ninety-one percent of electors in the post-election survey of the National Electors Study agreed that Elections Canada is the most trusted source of information about the electoral process.
Special ballot process perceived as secret.
Virtually all (99%) of respondents to the Survey of Special Ballot Voters agreed that the secrecy of their ballot was protected during the voting process, with 94% stating that they strongly agreed. Only 1% of respondents disagreed that the secrecy of their ballot was protected during the voting process.
To maintain integrity in the electoral process, Elections Canada will build on established practices, and will continue to:
- Refer potential contraventions of the Canada Elections Act to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for investigation.
- Establish a more robust regulatory policy function, including an electoral integrity policy framework.
- Maintain the National Register of Electors and refine its processes, and collaborate with various electoral management bodies, federal departments and agencies, and other key partners with the goal to have elector information that is as current and accurate as possible in advance of an election.
- Implement and optimize processes for the Register of Future Electors in order to provide more opportunities to reduce the registration gap in the National Register of Electors for 18–24-year-olds—the group with the lowest registration rates.
Providing support and guidance for political parties and candidates on their political financing obligations
The Canada Elections Act imposes financial and reporting requirements on political entities to ensure a level playing field among political participants and accountability and transparency for Canadians. These requirements contribute to a fair and transparent electoral process free of undue influence.
As in every election, the agency provided support to political entities to facilitate their compliance with the Act.
Elections Canada had moderate success in supporting political parties and candidates before, during and after the election.
Elections Canada's guidance and training sessions well received.
According to the Survey of Candidates, most candidates (85%) found the agency's products to be useful in running their campaign. The Political Financing Handbook for Candidates and Official Agents was one of the most used products. Elections Canada also delivered training sessions across Canada on how to start and close a campaign. The training sessions on starting an electoral campaign addressed topics such as roles and responsibilities, financial administration, and fundraising and reporting requirements, while those on the closing of campaigns focused on how to fill and submit electoral campaign returns to Elections Canada. Overall, the vast majority (95%) of participants found the sessions to be very good or excellent.
New method for filing electoral campaign returns successfully implemented.
Elections Canada launched its Political Entities Service Centre nationally. This secure online portal offered candidates and political parties an alternative way of securely filing their electoral campaign returns and other financial documents. Overall, 44% of candidates used the portal to file all or part of their documentation, while 16% of registered parties used the portal to file their electoral campaign returns.
Online publication of electoral campaign returns was delayed as a result of the pandemic.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the timely publication of returns on Elections Canada's website was delayed. Among the reasons contributing to the delay was the extension granted to candidates for filing their returns until the end of June 2020. Close to 95% of candidate returns submitted to Elections Canada are now posted online.
New process for reimbursing electoral expenses successfully implemented.
To expedite the reimbursement of electoral expenses to eligible candidate campaigns prior to the completion of an audit, the agency put in place a new review process that allowed for those reimbursements to be issued within a year following the 43rd general election. As a result, the majority of eligible campaigns were reimbursed by October 31, 2020. Some campaigns did not receive accelerated reimbursements because their files were incomplete or required an in-depth review by an auditor.
New privacy rules successfully implemented.
Elections Canada works with political parties and candidates to ensure transparency and accountability, and will continue to:
- Deliver training and guidance material for parties and candidates to help political entities comply with the Canada Elections Act. This includes focusing on the ease of use of the new portal and providing information on how to file documentation electronically.
- Complete post-election audits of the campaign returns of the political parties and candidates that participated in the 43rd general election.
Implementing new requirements for third parties
Third parties are those that want to participate in an election by promoting or opposing a party, candidate or nomination contestant. In 2018, various changes were introduced to the provisions of the Canada Elections Act as they relate to third parties. New rules put into force for the 43rd general election covered a broader array of activities over a greater period of time than previous rules, including the establishment of new spending limits during the pre-election period and interim reporting requirements.
After the 43rd general election, Elections Canada sought to obtain data by introducing the Survey of Registered Third Parties to understand their experiences, opinions and attitudes about the political financing regime. However, the survey had a very low response rate of only 37% (55 responses).
Complexity of new rules for third parties created challenges.
Amendments to the Canada Elections Act increased the complexity of the legal framework, which now encompasses a broader range of third-party activities. Prior to these amendments, only advertising activities were regulated, but canvassing, electoral surveys and communicating with electors in formats other than advertising are also now regulated under the Act. Between December 2018 and November 2019, the agency received 425 enquiries seeking clarification on the correct application of the new rules. And although Elections Canada provided guidance to support third parties, in the Survey of Registered Third Parties, only 4 in 10 reported that it was clear which activities were regulated under the Act. Also, when asked about ease of reporting on regulated spending, only 4 in 10 surveyed agreed that it was easy to report correctly. Financial agents also reported that, despite contacting Elections Canada for assistance, it was still difficult to determine whether or not the new rules applied to their activities. A majority of respondents indicated consulting sources other than Elections Canada—in particular external legal counsel—to help them understand the correct application of the new rules.
New reporting requirements improved transparency but placed additional burden on third parties.
An important change for third parties came with the implementation of new interim reporting requirements. Depending on their situation, some third parties had up to four interim reports to file on specific dates prior to election day. According to the Survey of Registered Third Parties, the majority of respondents found the processes to prepare and file reports and electoral campaign returns to be burdensome and complex.
Political financing tools and resources were helpful.
In advance of the 43rd general election, the agency developed tools to increase awareness about the new third-party rules. The vast majority of respondents to the Survey of Registered Third Parties stated they were able to find the information they needed to comply with the rules. Several tools—such as the Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors and the related frequently asked questions—were popular and helpful. Other products, such as online training and videos, were less used.
Challenges with issue advertising.
advertisements that take a position on an issue that is clearly associated with a candidate or registered party without identifying the candidate or party in any way.
Although issue advertising during the election period has been regulated by the Canada Elections Act the same way for nearly 20 years, determining what constitutes issue advertising remains a common area of confusion. Outreach efforts during the campaign period aimed to alleviate confusion. According to the Survey of Registered Third Parties, about 60% of respondents undertook issue advertising during the 43rd general election and found it difficult to understand whether or not their ads were compliant with provisions of the Act. When asked if they had contacted Elections Canada for clarification about issue advertising, about half of financial agents indicated that they had. Most financial agents stated that they relied on external legal assistance to better understand the provisions of the Act. Among the pool of respondents who contacted Elections Canada with questions about advertising, half stated that they were satisfied and the other half said they were unsatisfied with assistance they received. The majority of those who were unsatisfied said it was because their questions were not adequately answered. It is important to note that Elections Canada's mandate towards third parties is a regulatory function and does not include providing detailed legal advice on how to conduct their activities.
Elections Canada supports transparency and fairness in the electoral process, and will continue to:
- Complete the post-election audits of the financial returns of third parties that participated in the 43rd general election.
- Enable third parties and their financial agents to meet their obligations under the political financing regime, including by updating the handbook with examples of questions posed during the 43rd general election.