This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #30 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was elections.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marc Mayrand  Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada
Stéphane Perrault  Senior General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services Directorate, Elections Canada

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Mr. Zimmer, four minutes.

Noon

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Sir, thank you for coming today.

I think 30 million Canadians would agree that putting on a general election is one difficult task, to say the least. We heard that there were 70,000 polling stations, which certainly is admirable, and that errors will be made regardless of how good an effort is made—and any error is really one too many.

I would like to talk about something specific. We're hearing about deliberate acts that were attempting to dissuade voters from voting or were sending them to the wrong polling stations. I would suggest, though, moving to the non-deliberate acts. I think it was mentioned earlier that that there is 84% accuracy in terms of calling lists or voters lists, but that still leaves 16% in error. I guess most of us.... I was alarmed to see that number. You said that 700,000 were updated, but that still leaves 3.1 million in error.

Just for Canadians' confidence—and I know that's why you're here—can you relay your confidence in the system with that high an amount of error? Can you give Canadians a sense of confidence that we still have a good system? I'll go back to your numbers of four per riding in terms of calls, of complaints, of actual calls. We see quite a discrepancy in numbers there. A significant number of errors...it's 3.1 million as opposed to four per riding in terms of net complaints. There's quite a gap there, as you stated.

How can Canadians still be confident in the Elections Canada system?

Noon

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Canada's system is recognized worldwide as one of the better systems that exists—if not the best—especially in terms of registration of electors. Countries all over the world are coming to us to see how we manage the list of electors. It is a model around the world.

I'm not sure.... Again, we have to be careful with numbers here. I would point out that a single elector being misdirected from his poll is a serious offence at the end of day, and that's what investigations are about.

In terms of the impact on the system and how the system can be improved, yes, I think I've made a regular report to Parliament to suggest some improvements to the system, and I will continue to do that. I think we have to be careful not to mix the two—

Noon

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Right, and I guess I would—

Noon

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

—and I'm not suggesting you are, but....

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

No.

I would completely agree with you when you say that one is one too many. We absolutely agree that if it's done deliberately, or even non-deliberately—if it's an accident—that is unacceptable.

But I guess what I'm trying to get from you—and you've stated it—is that we can still have a high degree of confidence that our electoral system in Canada is among the best in the world.

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Yes, and we'll make sure it remains so—absolutely.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Right.

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Again, in terms of error, there's one thing I can assure every Canadian and the committee of: that calls made on behalf of Elections Canada are not errors. I'm sorry, but this is not error. This is a deliberate attempt—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Yes, and I—

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

—to thwart the right of an elector.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

I would agree with you there, but I guess what I'm referring to is that if ridings are given incorrect data and are responding to that data, and if Canadians are responding to that data and going to the wrong polling stations as a result of incorrect data.... Simply put, again, if there's one error, there's one too many. But I think all parties would agree that if it's a deliberate act, we'd absolutely want to get to the bottom of that, and we do.

That's not what I'm saying. I guess what I would ask you--

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you very much, Mr. Zimmer. I know that you would ask, but your time is up.

I have Mr. Hawn next on the list, but I know that Mr. Lukiwski wants a piece of it, Mr. Hawn. So you two work out sharing arrangements, will you?

March 29th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Well, he's had a couple of turns, so I'll go first. I'll save us some time.

Mr. Mayrand, thank you so much for being here.

I just want to repeat something you've said, because it's my biggest concern, frankly, in all of this. You said:

I find it troubling to hear sometimes sweeping and vague allegations of irregularities being made public many months after the election and not supported by specific facts. In some cases, the complaints are made to the media without any information being forwarded to Elections Canada. Such allegations cannot be verified, and merely undermine the trust of Canadians.

That's my biggest personal concern in all of this. It's that this circus—and it's a circus—is undermining, notwithstanding the legitimacy of the processes that need to be followed to get to the bottom of it, and nobody argues with that.... But this whole process, this circus aspect of this process, has served to do nothing but unfortunately degrade the trust of Canadians in our system. I've spent some time in Afghanistan, and more recently in Haiti, and I agree with you that our system is a model.

I'll ask one question first and then another one if I have time. Do you know of previous Canadian elections where we have had such a spate of late complaints coming out so many months after an election?

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

I'm not personally aware of that. We would have to do some research on that.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Does either of your colleagues have any knowledge of that?

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

No. And they have lots of experience.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

I've been involved in only four elections, and some here have been involved in many more, but this is the first time I can recall that we've had that.

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

We would have to go way back in time.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Looking forward, I would say technology is a two-edged sword. Technology is great, but if it's used for wrongful purposes by the wrong people obviously it can undermine the process.

What would be your quick view on things like suggestions that we should go to online voting, and things like those kinds of technological—I won't call them advances—changes? What would be your view of the risk or reward of some of those things?

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

That's something I've indicated repeatedly that I wish to bring back to this committee over probably the next two years so that we can agree on whether or not to pursue a pilot project for online voting.

There are risks associated with it. Whatever presentation I bring to this committee, the risks will be well identified. They will have been well assessed, and there will be measures to deal with them. It will be up to the committee to find whether or not they are satisfactory.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

I'd be concerned about that.

This is not at all meant to be disparaging, but apparently in the NDP leadership convention there was some manipulation of online voting, which would cause me concern if we applied that process to a larger election.

12:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Without getting into that, I'm sure the party will look into that.

I will point out, however, that here in Canada an increasing number of municipalities are running online voting. They have done it for almost a decade with no major issues. In fact they are becoming models around the world again. Other countries are looking into it.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Okay, thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Mr. Lukiwski, you have five minutes.