Thank you again, Mr. Chair, and good morning to all members.
I'm very happy to have this opportunity to appear before the committee today to discuss my report entitled “Responding to Changing Needs”. This refers to the evolving needs of both electors and political entities.
Maintaining a healthy democracy requires an electoral process that responds to societal changes while continuing to foster accessibility, trust, and efficiency. Over the past few years my office has undertaken a series of administrative improvements to the electoral process. Nevertheless, greater flexibility is required under the Canada Elections Act to better respond to changing needs.
My recommendations cover three key areas: the electoral process, political financing, and the governance of Elections Canada. The report also contains a number of technical recommendations. In my letter to the committee dated September 22, 2010, I presented one additional technical recommendation dealing with the definition of leadership and nomination campaign expenses, and I would appreciate the committee's review of this recommendation as well.
I will now highlight a few recommendations related to the three key areas I just mentioned, starting with the electoral process. I refer you to the document entitled “Mapping of the Chief Electoral Officer's Recommendations”. It was distributed to the committee, I believe.
On the electoral process, our objective is to enhance services to electors by making it more accessible, while fostering trust and improving efficiency. I'm proposing that the Chief Electoral Officer be authorized to set up and conduct pilot projects during by-elections and general elections. This authority already exists in the Canada Elections Act for the testing of electronic voting. The opportunity to conduct pilot projects on various aspects of the electoral process would allow us to test other initiatives and better assess potential consequences before making recommendations for legislative amendments.
One example would be testing new approaches to the voting process at polling sites, with the aim of improving services to electors and simplifying the tasks of poll workers. Another example might be testing modified voting procedures to allow students to vote on campus.
I further propose legislative changes to address challenges experienced in recruiting poll workers. I am recommending that electoral district associations, rather than candidates, provide the names of suitable persons to the returning officer of their electoral district. I also suggest that this be done no later than 28 days before election days. These changes would provide an additional 10 days to returning officers for recruitment, appointment, and training of the approximately 650 poll workers needed in each riding to carry the vote.
To further improve accessibility, it is important that the Canada Elections Act be changed to reflect the evolving needs of Canadians. Today an increasing number of electors and political entities want to do business electronically with Elections Canada. They are accustomed to interacting with other organizations electronically every day. However, the act sets out requirements on signatures and production of paper documents, and these restrain us from providing a full suite of electronic services.
I'm therefore recommending that the Chief Electoral Officer be authorized to allow appropriate means of identification other than a signature. Among other things, this would enable new electors, including youth, to register online, and political entities to make electronic transactions, such as electronic transmission of financial returns.
The second area of recommendations relates to political financing. Over the years, successive reforms have affected the coherence of the political financing regime and increased the regulatory burden imposed on various political entities. Amendments are needed to reduce this burden and promote greater accountability. My recommendations seek to balance two key objectives here: trust and efficiency.
To increase trust in the management of public funds, I am recommending greater transparency in the review process for the electoral campaign returns of political parties. If requested by the Chief Electoral Officer, parties would be required to provide explanations or documents to support their election expenses returns. This change would bring the requirements applying to parties more in line with the requirements that are applied to candidates and leadership contestants.
I also note that in all provincial jurisdictions in Canada, parties may be required to produce supporting documentation for their election expenses. As you know, the current regime relies almost exclusively on criminal sanctions, which are not always the most effective approach to compliance. I am therefore proposing new measures that I believe would increase compliance. I am recommending that a candidate who files an electoral campaign return late forfeits a portion of the nomination deposit, and that the amount of the election expenses reimbursement of a candidate or party that has exceeded the election expenses limit be reduced dollar for dollar.
The most important change that I am recommending to reduce the administrative burden relates to the unpaid claims regime affecting candidates. Here my recommendation is to extend to 18 months the period during which candidates may pay their campaign debts without the need to obtain an authorization from the Chief Electoral Officer or a judge—an unnecessary burden. However, at the end of the 18-month period, there should be more stringent disclosure requirements regarding the status of unpaid claims, and a requirement to provide supporting documentation. I am also proposing to reduce the administrative burden related to the end-of-campaign weekly reporting of leadership contestants' contributions, particularly in the case of contestants who raised little funding and incurred few expenses. These recommendations seek to streamline the administrative requirements while ensuring greater transparency.
The report also includes a number of recommendations related to the governance of Elections Canada, to ensure greater clarity and efficiency. Elections Canada has long cooperated with electoral agencies in other Canadian jurisdictions. However, under the current legal framework, we have a limited capacity to implement joint initiatives—for example, as regards the joint development of public education and outreach tools. This situation could be remedied by explicitly authorizing the Chief Electoral Officer to enter into service agreements and common supply arrangements with other Canadian jurisdictions. This would help us serve Canadians more effectively.
Finally, I am asking for further clarity regarding our role in providing technical assistance to other countries with the development of their electoral processes. These activities are currently funded by the Government of Canada through ad hoc transfer payments. However, a clear legal framework is required. I am therefore recommending that the Chief Electoral Officer be granted the authority to commit transferred funds, at the request of the Government of Canada, for such activities. I also seek the explicit authority to cooperate on electoral matters and share information with international organizations and electoral agencies.
These are just some of the highlights of my report. It includes 50 recommendations which I believe are important to improve our electoral framework. These recommendations were developed by my Office in consultation with the Advisory Committee of Political Parties and, in some cases, government departments. They build on the experience of the last two general elections and aim to respond to Canadians' changing needs, while preserving the integrity of the electoral process.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Committee for taking the time to consider my report. We would be pleased to answer any of your questions. Thank you.