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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the November 15, 1999 By-elections Held in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal, Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, York West

The by-elections: Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal, Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar and York West

On May 31, 1999, Chris Axworthy, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, resigned his seat in the House of Commons.

On August 3, 1999, the Honourable Sergio Marchi, Liberal Member of Parliament for York West, resigned his seat in the House of Commons.

On August 10, 1999, the Honourable Sheila Finestone, Liberal Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

On September 10, 1999, the Honourable Marcel Massé, Liberal Member of Parliament for Hull–Aylmer, resigned his seat in the House of Commons.

On October 10, 1999, the Governor in Council announced that by-elections to fill the vacancies in the four electoral districts would be held on November 15, 1999.

Following this announcement, the Chief Electoral Officer issued writs to the returning officers of the four electoral districts, directing them to conduct the by-elections. Table 1 provides an overview of the important milestones during the period from the issue of the writs to their return.

Table 1

Key dates for the November 15, 1999, by-elections in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal, Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar and York West
Date   Election calendar day Event
October 10 Day 36 Issue of the writ; preparations made to open the
office of the returning officers
October 10 to 16 Days 36 to 30 (midnight) Advertising blackout period for political parties
October 13 Day 33 Revision of lists of electors begins
October 14 Day 32 Proclamations published – candidates may file
October 18 Day 28 Targeted revision begins
October 20 to 22 Days 26 to 24 Notices of Confirmation of Registration mailed to all
registered electors
October 25 Day 21 (2:00 p.m.) Nominations close
November 4 Day 11 Revised lists of electors distributed
November 5, 6 and 8 Days 10, 9, 7 Advance polls
November 9 Day 6 (6:00 p.m.) Revision and special ballot registration end
November 12 Day 3 Official lists of electors distributed
November 14 and 15 Days 1 and 0 Advertising blackout period for political parties
November 15 Day 0 Election day
November 16 Day -1 Official addition
November 23 Day -8 Writs returned

Communicating with electors

An important part of Elections Canada's task in the four by-elections, as in all electoral events, was to generate awareness – among the general public, political parties, candidates, and the media – of the by-elections and of the key dates in the election period.

The principal means of communicating with the general public was the "householder", a pamphlet sent to all residences in the electoral districts within days of the issue of the writs. Substantially redesigned in appearance for these by-elections, it provided information such as the name and phone number of the returning officer, information about the National Register of Electors, and details of how to have names added to, or corrected on, the list of electors. It also gave information on deadlines for voting by special ballot and the return of special ballots, key dates for advance polls, procedures for registering and voting on election day, and the residency requirements for voting in a by-election. The pamphlet stressed the importance of keeping the notice of Confirmation of Registration until election day.

The notice, which arrived several days after the householder, provided details of where and when electors could vote, including several alternatives that Elections Canada provides for electors unable to go to their polling stations on election day.

All public information was produced in both official languages, as well as in Chinese, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, where census data indicated this was appropriate. Key information was made available on request in alternative formats, including Braille, large print, and audio-cassette.

During the November 15 by-election, a test was conducted in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar to assess the effectiveness of using radio advertising to inform electors that the householder would arrive in their mail. A telephone survey conducted after the ads were aired showed that they had prompted 23 percent of respondents to look for the householder in their daily mail.

Print advertisements were placed in daily and community newspapers in the final days of the election period to remind electors that their polling station location was printed on their notice of Confirmation of Registration, and that they could register to vote at the polls. The advertisement was based on the approach used at the last general election.

Elections Canada worked closely with local media to ensure that electors had the necessary information. It provided a media information kit with the launch news release, an electoral district profile, and a calendar of key dates. The kit included background information on several topics, ranging from the electoral process and the role of Elections Canada, to the Special Voting Rules, the National Register of Electors, and election expenses and contributions guidelines for candidates and parties.

Over the course of the 36-day campaign, Elections Canada issued ten news releases highlighting key dates, election day reminders, and clarification of what the media could and could not report on the weekend preceding election day.

A special by-elections segment was posted on Elections Canada's Web site. The lists of official candidates, the electoral district maps, and the addresses and telephone numbers of the offices of the returning officers were included in this segment, along with general information on the voting process and voting by special ballot. On election night, results were posted on the Web site as they became available.

Staff of the Elections Canada Enquiries Unit were available through the 1 800 INFO-VOTE telephone line and the Internet to answer some 400 requests for information. In answer to those requests, 944 pieces of information related to the four by-elections were provided to electors.

Communicating with candidates, official agents and auditors


To help candidates, official agents and auditors understand and comply with the financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act, Elections Canada presented seminars in Mount Royal on October 21 and 22, 1999, in Hull–Aylmer and York West on October 22, 1999, and in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar on October 23, 1999. Instruction was given on how to complete the Candidate's Return Respecting Election Expenses and a demonstration of the Electronic Candidate Returns was provided.

Revising the lists of electors

For the fourth time since its establishment in 1997, data from the National Register of Electors were used to produce the preliminary lists of electors for the by-elections. Returning officers for the four electoral districts reported 10 959 additions, removals and changes during the event to the information in the preliminary lists of electors. This number represents 4.8 percent of the 225 982 electors on the preliminary lists and demonstrates the growing reliability of the information in the National Register of Electors.

Of the 10 959 revisions performed during the event, 7 094 took place during the actual revision period,1 which lasted from Day 33 to Day 6. An additional 3 865 revisions were performed as a result of registrations at polls on election day.

The breakdown of revisions by transaction type shows 6 332 electors added to the lists, 2 965 electors removed, and 1 662 records corrected. Of the 6 332 additions to the list, 2 892 (or 45.7 percent) were requested on election day. Table 2 shows the details of revision transactions for each electoral district.

1 This and the following figures take into account the minor changes brought to the three lists of electors registered to vote under group 1 of the Special Voting Rules. You can also refer to Table 4.

Table 2

Lists of electors revision transactions
Calendar Revision transactions Total Cumulative totals
Day 33
Day 11
Preliminary list   69,420  
Additions 830    
Corrections 208    
Deletions 976    
Total 2,014    
Day 10
Day 6
Revised list   69,274  
Additions 434   1,264
Corrections 31   239
Deletions 380   1,356
Total 845   2,859
Election day Official list   69,328  
Additions 775   2,039
Corrections 60   299
Deletions 210   1,566
Total 1,045   3,904
Final list   69,893  

Revision transactions
Calendar Revision transactions Total Cumulative totals
Day 33
Day 11
Preliminary list   62,055  
Additions 787    
Corrections 297    
Deletions 592    
Total 1,676    
Day 10
Day 6
Revised list   62,250  
Additions 275   1,062
Corrections 52   349
Deletions 150   742
Total 477   2,154
Election day Official list   62,375  
Additions 506   1,568
Corrections 28   377
Deletions 40   782
Total 574   2,727
Final list   62,841  

Revision transactions
Calendar Revision transactions Total Cumulative totals
Day 33
Day 11
Preliminary list   45,262  
Additions 548    
Corrections 151    
Deletions 222    
Total 921    
Day 10
Day 6
Revised list   45,588  
Additions 244   792
Corrections 107   258
Deletions 254   476
Total 605   1,526
Election day Official list   45,578  
Additions 1,155   1,947
Corrections 330   588
Deletions 77   553
Total 1,562   3,088
Final list   46,656  

Revision transactions
Calendar Revision transactions Total Cumulative totals
Day 33
Day 11
Preliminary list   49,245  
Additions 272    
Corrections 128    
Deletions 27    
Total 427    
Day 10
Day 6
Revised list   49,490  
Additions 50   322
Corrections 59   187
Deletions 20   47
Total 129   556
Election day Official list   49,520  
Additions 456   778
Corrections 211   398
Deletions 17   64
Total 684   1,240
Final list   49,959  

Voting in the by-elections

Voter turnout

In total, 64 485 of 229 350 electors cast their ballots in the four by-elections. The majority voted on election day, November 15, 1999, at one of the 683 polling sites located throughout the electoral districts. All polling stations in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal and York West were open for 12 hours from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., local time. The polling stations in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar were also open for 12 hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., local time.

Voter turnout was 25.5 percent in Hull–Aylmer, 27.5 percent in Mount Royal, 33.7 percent in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, and 27.4 percent in York West. The turnout at the most recent by-election before November 15 (Windsor–St. Clair, in April 1999) was 45 percent. At the 1997 general election, the voter turnout was 70.4 percent in Hull–Aylmer, 78.7 percent in Mount Royal, 59.9 percent in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar and 61.0 percent in York West.

For those unable to vote on election day, advance polls were held on November 5, 6 and 8, 1999. Table 3 shows the details of polling station locations and accessibility by electoral district.

The voter turnout is always lower at a by-election than at a general election, but it was particularly low this time.

The national turnout at the last general election in 1997 was 67 percent, the lowest since 1925 (66.4 percent) and second-lowest since 1896 (62.9 percent, the lowest ever). During the 20th century Canada has held 28 general elections, and the average turnout has been about 73 percent. The highest national turnout since Confederation in 1867 was 79.4 percent, in the 1958 general election.

There was a total of 228 voting locations and all provided level access.

As is always the case during elections or by-elections, residents of an electoral district who were unable to vote at the advance or ordinary polls, and residents travelling or residing outside Canada temporarily, could vote by mail-in ballot under the Special Voting Rules. Canadians abroad could obtain information about how to cast their ballots from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, through its diplomatic missions and consular posts. Canadian Forces electors, whether based inside or outside Canada, were informed of their right to vote by the Department of National Defence (please see Table 4).

Table 3
Polling sites

Location of polling sites
Place Hull–Aylmer Mount Royal Saskatoon–
York West Total
No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
Residential (apartments) 2 3.08 8 17.39 1 1.39 9 20.00 20 8.77
Homes for seniors 9 13.85 3 6.52 12 16.67 0 0 24 10.53
Community centres 9 13.85 4 8.70 27 37.50 3 6.67 43 18.86
Educational facilities 26 40.00 15 32.61 25 34.72 25 55.56 91 39.91
Municipal buildings 1 1.54 1 2.17 1 1.39 0 0 3 1.32
Royal Canadian Legion facilities 0 0 0 0 2 2.77 0 0 2 0.88
Commercial premises 6 9.23 5 10.87 1 1.39 2 4.45 14 6.14
Hospitals 4 6.15 4 8.69 1 1.39 3 6.67 12 5.26
Recreation centres 2 3.08 0 0 1 1.39 0 0 3 1.32
Church halls 5 7.69 5 10.87 0 0 3 6.67 13 5.70
Other 1    1.54   1 2.17  1.39  3   1.32 
Total 65    100.00   46 100.00  72 100.00  45 100.00  228    100.00 

Types of polling stations
Electoral district Ordinary Mobile Advance Total
Hull–Aylmer 188 3 11 202
Mount Royal 172 1 11 184
Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar 136 2 7 145
York West 144 1 7 152

Polling stations with level access

Electoral district Total number of polling stations Polling stations with level access Percentage
Hull–Aylmer 202 202 100%
Mount Royal 184 184 100%
Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar 145 145 100%
York West 152 152 100%

Table 4

Registrations under the Special Voting Rules
Categories of electors asking to vote under the Special Voting Rules Number of ballots requested
Hull–Aylmer Mont-Royal Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar York-West
Group 11
Members of the Canadian Forces 231 20 112 43
Incarcerated electors 1 1 0 0
Electors temporarily residing outside Canada 275 113 3 12
Group 1 subtotal 507 134 115 55
Group 22
Electors temporarily outside their electoral districts 9 3 2 0
Electors voting in their electoral districts 215 149 127 46
Group 2 subtotal 224 152 129 46
Total number of registrations for voting by special ballot 731 286 244 101

1 The three lists of electors registered under group 1 of the Special Voting Rules are separate from the list that is revised during an event.
2 The electors registered under group 2 of the Special Voting Rules are also entered on the revised list of electors.

In Hull–Aylmer, a representative of the school board confirmed in writing that the schools were available as central polling places; however, many schools later refused the use of their facilities. Given the urgency of the situation, and the impossibility of finding adequate facilities for 59 polling stations, the returning officer had to locate all these stations in the Robert Guertin Arena to enable the electors to exercise their right to vote. This was the first time in Canada that such a large number of polling stations were gathered in the same place, and the situation did not produce a large number of complaints.

Persons in institutions, including those in hospitals and inmates serving a sentence of less than two years in correctional facilities, could also vote in the by-elections under the Special Voting Rules. Registration and voting in acute care hospitals was held on November 8 and 9. To facilitate special ballot voting in correctional facilities, information kits were supplied to the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies.

Preliminary statistics on the number of ballots cast by all means are presented in Table 5.

Table 5

Preliminary statistics on the number of ballots cast and voter turnout, November 1999 by-elections
Number of
electors on
final list
Advance polls Special
Total votes
Total valid
Hull–Aylmer 69 893 16 040 1 490    257     17 787 144       17 643 25.5%
Mount Royal 62 841 15 569 1 568    173     17 310 110       17 200 27.5%
46 656 14 602 969    134     15 705 55       15 650 33.7%
York West 49 959 13 179 456    48     13 683 154       13 529 27.4%

The candidates and by-election results

The deadline for the nomination of candidates was 2:00 p.m., on October 25, 1999. The deadline for withdrawal or for making corrections to information on candidates' nomination papers was 5:00 p.m. that same day.

Of the 10 registered federal political parties, eight chose to nominate candidates in the Hull–Aylmer by-election: the Bloc Québécois, the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, The Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Natural Law Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and the Reform Party of Canada. There was also an independent candidate.

In the Mount Royal by-election, four registered federal political parties nominated candidates: the Bloc Québécois, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

In Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, five registered parties nominated candidates: The Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and the Reform Party of Canada. There was one candidate with no political affiliation.

In York West, six registered parties nominated candidates: the Canadian Action Party, The Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and the Reform Party of Canada.

Once nominations closed, the lists of official candidates were transmitted to Canadian diplomatic missions and consular posts by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and to Canadian Forces bases by the Department of National Defence. The lists were also posted on the Elections Canada Web site.

On election night, the Election Results System used in the electoral districts was linked to Elections Canada's central computer; as votes were counted, they were transmitted to the server in Ottawa for posting on the Web site.

Three Liberal candidates were elected in the November 15 by-elections: Marcel Proulx in Hull–Aylmer, Irwin Cotler in Mount Royal, and Judy Sgro in York West. In Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, the New Democratic Party candidate, Dennis Gruending, was elected.

In Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, it should be noted that 425 ballots (serial numbers 38051-38475) were reported missing to Elections Canada by the returning officer two days before election day. Since the disappearance of the ballots was discovered before election day, the poll to which this series of ballots had been assigned was assigned a new series. Deputy returning officers were instructed to make certain that their initials were on the ballots used by the electors and placed in the ballot boxes.

Once the official results had been announced and the time for requesting a judicial recount had elapsed, special authorization was given under section 196 of the Canada Elections Act to open the polling station material envelopes for the purpose of seeking the missing ballots. The missing ballots were not found. Having eliminated the possibility that the ballots might have been misplaced in the ballot envelopes, the Chief Electoral Officer asked the Commissioner of Canada Elections to inquire into the situation. The Commissioner reported that the investigation did not locate the 425 missing ballots. Neither is there evidence to suggest that any election officer working at the office of the Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar returning officer on November 12, 1999, is responsible for taking the ballots. Finally, no other avenue of investigation is available that would likely result in identifying a suspect or in sufficient and reliable evidence for a prosecution on the matter of the missing ballots.

The Chief Electoral Officer concluded that the missing ballots could not have affected the results of the by-election, given that the margin of victory was greater than 2 000 votes. Further, none of the election officers or candidates' representatives reported any irregularity on election day, and the number of electors who attended to vote equalled the number of ballots cast.

Table 6

Preliminary statistics on valid votes cast, by candidate, November 1999 by-elections
Candidate Political affiliation Valid votes obtained Percentage
Robert Bélanger Bloc Québécois  4 495     25.47%  
  Alain Cossette New Democratic Party 1 356     7.68%  
  Luiz Da Silva Reform Party of Canada 175     0.99%  
  Ron Gray Christian Heritage Party of Canada 176     0.99%  
  Jean-Claude Pommet Natural Law Party of Canada 103     0.58%  
  Marcel Proulx Liberal Party of Canada 9 532     54.02%  
  Richard St-Cyr Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 1 448     8.20%  
  John C. Turmel Independent 51     0.28%  
  Gail Walker The Green Party of Canada 307     1.74%  
  Total   17 643     100.00%  
Mount Royal
  Mathieu Alarie Bloc Québécois 385     2.23%  
  Noel Earl Alexander Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 648     3.76%  
  Irwin Cotler Liberal Party of Canada 15 820     91.97%  
  Serge Granger New Democratic Party 347     2.01%  
  Total   17 200     100.00%  
  Ace Cetinski No Affiliation 111     0.70%  
  Henry Dayday Liberal Party of Canada 2 448     15.64%  
  Rich Gabruch Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 2 242     14.32%  
  David Greenfield The Green Party of Canada 175     1.11%  
  Dennis Gruending New Democratic Party 6 353     40.59%  
  Jim McAllister Reform Party of Canada 4 321     27.61%  
  Total   15 650     100.00%  
York West
  Stephen Burega Canadian Action Party 242     1.78%  
  Elio Di Iorio Progressive Conservative Party of Canada 1 721     12.72%  
  Enzo Granzotto Reform Party of Canada 377     2.78%  
  Julia McCrea New Democratic Party 1 054     7.79%  
  Judy Sgro Liberal Party of Canada 10 034     74.16%  
  Henry Zeifman The Green Party of Canada 101     0.74%  
  Total   13 529     100.00%  

Special permissions

The week before election day, the Chief Electoral Officer made a ruling under subsection 9(1) of the Canada Elections Act, which allows him to adapt provisions of the Act in keeping with the intent of the legislation. This case concerned subsection 126(4), which permits transfer certificates for deputy returning officers and poll clerks working at polling stations other than the one at which they may vote, if they are appointed after the advance polls. The Chief Electoral Officer extended this provision to central poll supervisors, information officers, registration officers and their assistants, and persons responsible for maintaining order. These officials would otherwise have been deprived of their right to vote, as they may not leave the polling stations where they work.

Improving the administration of electoral events

As a result of discussions with the Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties, new identification cards for candidates' representatives and polling station personnel were tested at the Windsor–St. Clair by-election in April 1999. The results of the survey completed by all deputy returning officers and central poll supervisors regarding the new format were very positive. As a result, the new identification cards were again used for the four November by-elections.

The seating arrangements at the polls for representatives of candidates, which were also tested at the Windsor–St. Clair by-election, were found to be unsatisfactory. As a result, it was decided to test new seating arrangements for representatives of candidates at the November by-elections. Their chairs and tables (if available) were placed on either side of the table reserved for the deputy returning officer and poll clerk, ensuring that they had a clear view of the proceedings without obstructing the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk in their duties, or the electors in their voting.

All deputy returning officers and central poll supervisors were surveyed again to assess the usefulness and appropriateness of the new identification cards and seating arrangements. The results of this survey will be discussed with the Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties. Elections Canada will then decide whether or not these new measures should be implemented for the next general election.

Commissioner's report

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for ensuring compliance with and enforcement of the Canada Elections Act. At the time of writing, three allegations of offences have been brought to the Commissioner's attention in connection with the November 15, 1999, by-elections in Hull–Aylmer, Mount Royal, Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar and York West.

Following a report of 425 ballots declared missing before the November 15, 1999, by-election in Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, the Chief Electoral Officer, under section 257 of the Canada Elections Act, directed the Commissioner to inquire into the situation, particularly to identify possible offences under section 249 of the Act, such as taking packets of ballot papers without authority. The Commissioner has reported his findings to the Chief Electoral Officer. Two other complaints relate to advertising and prohibited activities in a polling station.

The six-month deadline for submitting written allegations of offences under the Canada Elections Act has not yet expired. On receipt of such an allegation, the Commissioner of Canada Elections studies it to determine if it is justified and whether an inquiry is warranted. The Commissioner does not investigate complaints of alleged offences under the Act committed by an election officer or of certain specific offences committed by any individual, except at the request of the Chief Electoral Officer.

No prosecution can be instituted under the Act without the Commissioner's consent, except one relating to peace and good order at elections.

The Commissioner consents to a prosecution only if he deems that, based on the evidence, it is in the public interest. The deadline for instituting a prosecution under the Act is 18 months after the commission of the offence.

Once a prosecution is authorized, charges are laid with the court of competent jurisdiction.