Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's a pleasure for me to be here, especially since we are in the new building. It's the first time I've been in here.
I welcome this opportunity to appear before the committee today to present Elections Canada's supplementary and interim estimates and update you on our preparations for the general elections.
Today, the committee is voting on Elections Canada's 2018-19 Supplementary Estimates “B” as well as its 2019-20 Interim Supply.
The supplementary estimates are related to budget 2018 measures, which rebalance Elections Canada's expenditures between its parliamentary and statutory authorities. This allows Elections Canada to increase the number of its permanent employees, thereby avoiding higher contracting expenditures. While there is an increase of $1.3 million to the appropriation in 2018-19, this results in a net decrease of $26,000 to the fiscal framework over the same period.
In other words, casual, fixed-term or contractual resources that we had and that we paid on an ongoing basis in accordance with the statutory authority will now be indeterminate resources paid under the parliamentary appropriation on which the committee is voting, which is appropriate. So it's simply a transfer of money from one credit to another.
Today, the committee is also voting on Elections Canada's Interim Supply for 2019-20, which totals $9.8 million. This represents the salaries of some 440 indeterminate positions for the first quarter of the fiscal year, beginning April 1, 2019. It does not include other agency expenditures, which are funded from a statutory appropriation.
Elections Canada is now entering the final stretch of its preparations for the next general election. Chief among these is the implementation of the recent legislative changes enacted by Parliament under the Elections Modernization Act. While the act provides for a general implementation period of six months, it allows me to bring provisions into force earlier if the necessary preparations are completed. My intention is to bring provisions of the law into force as soon as that is the case. As of January 19, certain provisions for which little or no preparation was required are already in force through posting in the Canada Gazette.
I am pleased to report that our IT systems have been updated to reflect C-76 modifications and will have been rigorously tested by the end of this month.
Changes to the political financing regime will be implemented in consultation with political parties through the established opinions, guidelines and interpretation notes process. Changes will be in place for the pre-writ period beginning June 30.
We are also reaching out to potential third parties—they are not known—and online platforms to inform them of their new obligations under the law.
Our general preparations for the election are progressing as planned and local election administrators are fully mobilized. A key focus for returning officers has been improving the selection of poll sites from the elector's point of view, considering accessibility, travel distance and familiarity.
For this election, we are also increasing the number of educational institutions where electors can vote by a special ballot, from 39 campuses in the last election to 115. This is part of our general efforts to assist voters who are away from home during the election. As in the past, returning officers will also deliver voting services for those who may be hospitalized, living in long-term care facilities or at remote work camps.
Returning officers have also increased the number of advance polls and advance polling locations. One of the benefits will be reduced travel distances in rural areas. Combined with other improvements, electors can also expect faster services when they vote at the next election. With the completion of Bill C-76 changes scheduled for this month, our IT infrastructure will be fully ready to be deployed to support a general election, both at headquarters and in the field.
This spring the agency is conducting an election simulation in Gatineau and in five local offices representative of a variety of settings across the country. This exercise is an opportunity to test our business processes and our IT systems in a setting that closely resembles an actual general election. As part of this, election workers will be hired, trained and will participate in simulated voting exercises. This will allow us to evaluate the quality of our training material and manuals and to make any necessary adjustments.
Finally, work continues to improve the coverage and currency of the national register of electors. We have been conducting regular mailings to invite electors who just turned 18 in the past year to register, with more than 50,000 added as a result. This spring, through our pre-writ communications campaign, we will also focus on increasing the number of electors in the register and updating information for those who have recently moved. In addition, the register will continue to benefit from regular updates from provincial jurisdictions and federal and provincial data partners.
In this regard, the provision of Bill C-76 that authorizes Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to share with Elections Canada information on non-citizens is now in force, as of January 19. I am looking forward to finalizing arrangements this spring to access data, which will contribute to improving the integrity of the national register of electors.
A key aspect of our preparation focuses on electoral security. In the current environment, securing the next election requires efforts of many institutions. Protecting the election is a vital challenge for all participants in a democratic process. Political parties, media, digital platforms, civil society groups, and Canadians all must play a role. Over the last few years we have made important improvements to the security of our IT infrastructure and are providing IT security training to all our personnel at headquarters and in the field.
In the spring, and as we get closer to the election, we will be launching a major information campaign to give Canadians accessible information on how to register and vote. We will also be monitoring the environment, including social media, to detect inaccurate information about the voting process and quickly correct it.
Finally, we continue to work with the commissioner of Canada elections and security and intelligence agencies. Together we are conducting exercises using multiple scenarios to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear, and that proper governance is established to coordinate our actions, should it be required. Overall, these efforts will both reinforce our protections and increase our resilience to possible attempts to disrupt the election.
With only months before the start of the 43rd general election, I believe that Elections Canada is where it needs to be in terms of its preparations. Canadians can continue to count on Elections Canada to ensure the electoral process remains accessible, convenient and secure, and to provide them any information they may require to exercise their right to vote.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. We are here to answer questions that members may have.