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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 37th General Election Held on November 27, 2000

II. The November 2000 General Election

This section of our report describes the 37th general election, and outlines the work done by Elections Canada and returning officers to carry out our mandate.

The launch

For Elections Canada, the 37th general election began on Sunday, October 22, 2000, when Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signed a proclamation ordering the Chief Electoral Officer to issue the writs of election. A "writ" – from the Old English for writing – is simply a legal order: in this case, an order from the Chief Electoral Officer to each of Canada's 301 returning officers, instructing them to conduct the election of a member of Parliament.

Even before the writs were printed and signed by the Chief Electoral Officer, he faxed all returning officers to authorize them to begin hiring staff and to open their offices because of the tightly scripted 36-day election calendar.

Local offices set up

At this point, returning officers and assistant returning officers were trained, and they had already identified potential locations for their offices and level access polling stations. Each returning officer would need an average staff of 500 by the end of the election, filling 50 different positions. Within 24 hours, the first staff to be hired were starting to set up some of the office equipment needed for the election. Eventually, each office would receive an average of nearly two tonnes of supplies, such as forms, signs and equipment. Nationally, for example, we distributed 3 631 000 sheets of special paper to print ballots, 64 000 ballot boxes and 63 645 voting screens. By the end of the election, some 166 000 staff were working for Elections Canada in the local offices, nearly all of them hired with little advance notice, and requiring training and supervision during the 36-day campaign. For the first time, returning officers each had a training officer to help train registration and poll officers.

One person in each local office – the automation coordinator – did not require further training, because all 301 had taken a five-day course at Elections Canada during the summer before the election. The automation coordinator was responsible for supporting the office's computer applications, and for managing the data processing of updated elector information and the production of the various voters lists during the election.

This was the first election during which returning officers were authorized to appoint liaison officers to work with communities with special needs, including ethnocultural communities and Aboriginal and homeless electors. Liaison officers could be appointed in ridings with one or more shelters for the homeless, in ridings where Aboriginal or ethnocultural communities represented at least 10 percent of the total population, and in ridings with one or more First Nations reserves or other concentrations of Aboriginal Canadians, such as Métis or Inuit settlements and First Nations communities not classified as reserves.

Some 135 ridings met at least one of these criteria, including several that were entitled to more than one type of liaison officer, or to more than one of the same type. A total of 81 liaison officers were appointed: 52 officers for Aboriginal communities (out of 114 eligible ridings), 7 for ethnocultural communities (out of 27 eligible ridings), and 22 for homeless electors (out of 65 eligible ridings). In a number of ridings, the liaison work was carried out by the returning officer, the assistant returning officer or another local staff member.

All systems activated

Post-mortem evaluations of the 1997 general election by returning officers led us to undertake an in-depth study of the business processes and the use of information technology in the offices of returning officers. In preparation for the 2000 election, we began to develop and introduce improvements. The installation of local computer networks in each office and the contracted technical support both went smoothly in most electoral districts, with further support provided by the help desk at Elections Canada for the duration of the election. In some cases the delivery of equipment was delayed, affecting the production of voter information cards by the local office. Within five days of the issue of the writs, several thousand pieces of electronic equipment were distributed and operational, and 7 000 telephone lines were installed. Because of bad weather and airport bottlenecks in some areas, we chartered aircraft for emergency deliveries of some supplies, especially in the North.

Once the equipment was ready, automation coordinators installed the main computer applications for managing the election in each riding. Returning officers were required to use the Event Management System daily to report electronically on the progress of activities in their offices, to give senior managers at Elections Canada an overview of any unforeseen problems, and to help them identify trends that might require decisions before difficulties emerged. Once the revision of the voters lists began (the time during an election when the preliminary voters lists are brought up-to-date and voters can register), the Elector Search Utility allowed revising agents to confirm electors' former residences outside the riding, saving those who had moved from having to supply identification documents before they could register to vote. Revisions to the voters lists were entered on the REVISE system, which also produced voters lists for the riding. During and after the election, local office staff used the Returning Officers Payment System to record information for paying election workers and suppliers, and to generate the necessary forms and documentation. The Event Results System was used to tabulate results for all polling stations on election night and send them to Ottawa, where they were posted on the Elections Canada Web site.

Before the systems were up and running, we had distributed the electronic versions of each riding's preliminary voters lists to the local offices. Using the National Geographic Database and our Electoral Maps and Reports Production system, we had also sent out some 75 000 polling division maps and 140 000 related documents such as street indexes and poll keys. Throughout the campaign, we produced more than 2 million maps for distribution to political parties, local riding associations, candidates and election administrators.

Expanded staff

In Ottawa, Elections Canada staff expanded dramatically: from 200 to 900, almost overnight. Simply hiring enough qualified people was no easy task, given the low unemployment rate, the need for bilingual workers, and the conditions of work for these short-term positions (long hours, shift work and a stressful environment). Before the election, we had pre-screened applicants to build up an inventory of potential temporary staff, with help from the Public Service Commission of Canada and the provincial electoral offices.

Enquiries from electors

Many of the temporary staff were trained, at various skill levels, to be enquiries officers, ready at their rows of telephones and computer terminals to answer calls from the public seven days a week, from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., Eastern standard time. For this election, the toll-free 1 800 INFO-VOTE lines were first answered by an interactive voice response system providing different messages tailored to important dates on the election calendar. At any time, a caller could speak to an enquiries officer to get answers to questions about whether the caller was on the voters list, what riding he or she lived in and, if the caller still needed to register, the location of the office of the returning officer in that riding.

For the first two weeks, there were difficulties hiring and training sufficient staff. The Enquiries Unit staff still answered an average of more than 5 000 calls daily. Then, on November 8, the volume of calls nearly quadrupled. Our householder pamphlet and television ads had suggested electors phone us if their voter information cards had not arrived by that date. We brought in and quickly trained additional staff from local post-secondary educational institutions, and from our government partners: the Government Enquiries Centre and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency both provided major assistance. Statistics Canada and the House of Commons also provided staff. Some 650 additional staff members gradually came on board, and by mid-November, the standards of service had improved.

During the election period, we answered more than 529 000 calls, of which some 460 000 required the involvement of an enquiries officer. On election day, we had a total of 951 people in two shifts answering questions from 53 000 callers.

We were also prepared to answer questions by e-mail. Our team of 12 agents and 5 writers received some 13 300 e-mail messages, which they either answered directly or forwarded to appropriate specialists within Elections Canada.

Redesigned Web site

The Web site had been redesigned in September, with certain election-specific features. Visitors could research information on previous elections, by-elections and referendums, check results and learn about the Canadian electoral system in general. The site included the full text of the Canada Elections Act, a variety of background information, and data on the expenses of the parties and candidates in the last general election, on the contributions they received and on the sources of those contributions. An innovation allowed users to set up their own personal screens to view election results as they came in, after all the polls were closed. They could customize their screens to show past and live results by political party, by electoral district, by city or any combination the user wanted to see.

Supporting the media

Recognizing the important role that the print and broadcast media play in keeping Canadians informed, Elections Canada's media relations staff worked extended hours throughout the election, and set up a network of media relations representatives covering 11 regions. The Media Guide for the 37th general election, available in print and CD-ROM versions and posted on our Web site, gave background information on our media services for the general election, Elections Canada's role, the election calendar, changes to the electoral law, the electoral system, voters, voting, candidates and political parties, third parties, enforcing the Canada Elections Act, broadcasting, and electoral statistics – in short, almost everything that a journalist would need.

On the day the election was called, we sent out news releases on the launch, media contacts, new rules for third parties, and an important announcement about mail-in ballots for Canadians abroad. Throughout the campaign, more than 40 releases kept journalists up-to-date on key events and evolving electoral issues. Reporters were present when the Chief Electoral Officer signed the writs on October 25, and he held his first interviews with Radio-Canada and CBC television the following day. Several other interviews would follow.