Skip to main content Start of content

House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

 
Search Term(s): Skip to Content 

 

 

The Chief Electoral Officer is an Officer of Parliament appointed by resolution of the House of Commons. As head of Elections Canada, an independent, non‑partisan agency, he or she is responsible for the administration of federal elections and referendums, and the registration of political entities and electors. This Officer also provides support to the independent electoral boundaries commissions which carry out the periodic readjustment of electoral boundaries.

The position of Chief Electoral Officer was created in 1920 with the adoption of the Dominion Elections Act.[185] The position was created largely to prevent political partisanship in the administration of elections (prior to 1920, election officials were appointed by the government of the day). The first incumbent of the position was specifically named in the Act: Oliver Mowat Biggar held the position of Chief Electoral Officer until 1927.[186] In 1927, when Mr. Biggar announced his intention to vacate the office, the Act was amended to remove any reference to a specific office holder and to establish that the Chief Electoral Officer would be appointed by resolution of the House rather than by the government of the day.[187] Since that time, the position has been independent of the government and political parties, with the incumbent reporting directly to the House of Commons. The Chief Electoral Officer communicates with the Governor in Council through a member of the Queen’s Privy Council designated by Governor in Council for that purpose.[188]

There have been six incumbents of this office.[189] With the exception of Mr. Biggar who was appointed by statute, all the incumbents have been chosen by way of a resolution of the House after consultations among the various parties in the House.[190] A motion setting out the appointment was moved by the Prime Minister in 1927 and 1949, after written notice appeared on the Order Paper.[191] A motion was moved by unanimous consent on behalf of the Prime Minister in 1966[192] and by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General in 1990.[193] In all four cases, the motion was debated only briefly and agreed to by all parties. In 2007, in accordance with new House rules, the name of the proposed appointee was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for consideration. After the Committee reported back to the House favourably on the nomination, the Government House Leader moved that the appointment be ratified by the House the same day. The motion was adopted without debate or amendment.[194]

The Chief Electoral Officer’s appointment is without term. He or she serves until the age of 65, unless he or she retires, resigns or is removed for cause by the Governor General following a joint address of the House of Commons and Senate.[195]

*   Responsibilities

The Chief Electoral Officer has the rank and power of a deputy head of a government department.[196] While the original focus of the job was the general direction and supervision of federal elections, today the Chief Electoral Officer also administers federal referendums,[197] provides support to commissions established to study the readjustment of electoral boundaries,[198] monitors election spending by candidates and political parties, examines and discloses their financial reports and reimburses their expenses.[199] The Chief Electoral Officer is also responsible for the registration of political entities and the establishment and maintenance of an automated register of Canadians who are qualified electors.[200] In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer oversees the work of the Commissioner of Canada Elections who ensures that all provisions of the Canada Elections Act and Referendum Act are complied with and enforced,[201] as well as that of the Broadcasting Arbitrator who allocates paid and free broadcasting time for political parties during a general election and for referendum committees during a referendum.[202] Finally, the Chief Electoral Officer implements public education and information programs on the electoral process and is empowered to undertake studies on electronic or alternate voting processes.[203]

The Chief Electoral Officer chairs an advisory committee composed of representatives of registered political parties and Elections Canada officials. The advisory committee is a forum for sharing information, fostering good working relationships and resolving administrative issues that do not require legislative change but that may have an impact on parties and candidates.

Responsibilities at Time of a General Election or a By-election

The Chief Electoral Officer supervises and directs the conduct of federal elections and by‑elections when vacancies occur in the House.[204] As soon as the election date is known, the Chief Electoral Officer issues a writ of election to each returning officer who is responsible for conducting the election within the electoral district.[205] The Chief Electoral Officer directs each returning officer to hire staff and prepare for an election. The Chief Electoral Officer also provides each returning officer with a preliminary list of electors for each polling division in the electoral district and publishes the number of names appearing in the revised list of electors for each district in the Canada Gazette seven days before polling day.[206]

Following polling day, when the Chief Electoral Officer receives the return of the writ of election of a Member from a returning officer, he or she enters it in a book kept for that purpose and immediately gives notice of the name of the candidate elected in either an ordinary or special issue of the Canada Gazette.[207] Furthermore, the Chief Electoral Officer sends the Clerk of the House the certificates of election for Members as they become available. The Chief Electoral Officer also provides the Clerk with a final certified list of Members elected to the House of Commons; the list is tabled in the House at the beginning of a Parliament.[208]

Within 90 days of the date set for the return of the writs, the Chief Electoral Officer prepares a narrative report to Parliament containing information on the conduct of the election.[209] The report is submitted to the Speaker of the House who tables it in the House.[210] The Chief Electoral Officer prepares a similar report within 90 days of the end of the calendar year covering all by-elections held during the previous year.[211]

The Chief Electoral Officer retains for at least one year all election documents and the returned writs; if an election has been contested, the documents are kept for one year following the resolution of the contestation.[212]

After each general election, the Chief Electoral Officer also prepares and publishes a report of official voting results. This report contains, poll by poll, the number of votes cast for each candidate, the number of rejected ballots and the number of names on the final list of electors together with any other relevant information.[213] A similar report is prepared for a by‑election within 90 days of the return of the writ.

As soon as possible after a general election, the Chief Electoral Officer may also prepare a report for transmittal to the Speaker, recommending amendments to the Canada Elections Act that he or she believes are warranted.[214]

Relationship with Members

The Chief Electoral Officer provides advice and assistance to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is responsible for reviewing and reporting on matters relating to the election of Members.[215] The Chief Electoral Officer and his staff provide the Committee with technical assistance and, at the Committee’s request, assist in the drafting of amendments to the Canada Elections Act[216] and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.[217] The Chief Electoral Officer also appears before the Committee at its invitation to discuss the main estimates of Elections Canada[218] and the reports on general elections.[219]

Top of Page



[185] S.C. 1920, c. 46, ss. 18 and 19. Prior to 1920, the Dominion Elections Act, 1874 (S.C. 1874, c. 9, ss. 64 to 67) assigned to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery some of the duties now carried out by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery was always present at the Table of the House of Commons at the commencement of a new Parliament to hand to the Clerk of the House the roll or return book containing the list of Members elected. He issued writs for elections, submitted certificates to the House of the return of Members and performed other functions relating to elections. For further information on the role of the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, see Bourinot, 4th ed., pp. 188‑9.

[186] Dominion Elections Act, S.C. 1920, c. 46, s. 19.

[187] An Act to amend the Dominion Elections Act, S.C. 1927, c. 53, s. 1. See also Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 13(1). The Senate plays no role in the appointment.

[188] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 15(4). The designated Minister is currently the Government House Leader.

[189] Oliver Mowat Biggar (1920‑27), Jules Castonguay (1927‑49), Nelson J. Castonguay (1949‑66), Jean‑Marc Hamel (1966‑90), Jean‑Pierre Kingsley (1990‑2007), and Marc Mayrand (2007 to present).

[190] Debates, April 12, 1927, pp. 2313‑5; April 14, 1927, p. 2499; October 4, 1949, pp. 489‑91; June 6, 1966, pp. 6049‑51; February 16, 1990, pp. 8453‑6; February 21, 2007, p. 7134.

[191] Journals, April 14, 1927, p. 560; October 4, 1949, p. 61.

[192] Journals, June 6, 1966, p. 615.

[193] Journals, February 16, 1990, p. 1234.

[194] Journals, February 9, 2007, p. 987; February 21, 2007, pp. 1042-3. The government motion was seconded by representatives of the three opposition parties (Debates, February 21, 2007, p. 7134). Pursuant to Standing Order 111.1, whenever the government intends to appoint an Officer of Parliament, the name of the proposed appointee is deemed referred to the appropriate committee and the committee may consider the appointment if it so chooses. Not later than 30 days following the tabling of the biographical notes, the government places a motion to ratify the appointment on the Notice Paper under Routine Proceedings, whether the committee has reported back to the House or not. In 2007, the ratification motion was placed on notice by the Government House Leader the same day that the nominee’s biographical notes were referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (Order Paper and Notice Paper, February 12, 2007, p. III). The nominee appeared before the Committee on February 20, 2007 to answer questions (Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings, February 20, 2007).

[195] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 13. In the event of the death, incapacity or negligence of the Chief Electoral Officer when Parliament is not sitting, a substitute may be appointed by the Chief Justice of Canada. The appointment is effective until 15 days after the beginning of the next session of Parliament (s. 14(1) and (2)).

[196] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 15(1). His or her salary is equivalent to that of a judge of the Federal Court (s. 15(2)).

[197] Referendum Act, S.C. 1992, c. 30.

[198] Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, R.S. 1985, c. E-3.

[199] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, Part 18.

[200] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 44(1) and 366. The Chief Electoral Officer also maintains a registry of political parties (s. 374).

[201] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 509. The Commissioner is appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer.

[202] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 332. The Arbitrator is appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer after consultations with representatives of registered political parties.

[203] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 18 and 18.1.

[204] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 16.

[205] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 24(2) and 58. See also ss. 112 to 115.

[206] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 93(1) and 105(2). The number of names appearing on the preliminary list of electors is also published in the Canada Gazette.

[207] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 317.

[208] See, for example, Journals, April 3, 2006, pp. 1-7.

[209] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 534(1).

[210] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 536. See, for example, Journals, March 19, 2001, p. 186; October 21, 2004, p. 129; May 12, 2006, p. 169. The report is then referred permanently to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (Standing Orders 32(5) and 108(3)(a)(vi)).

[211] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 534(2). See, for example, Journals, March 28, 2007, p. 1169.

[212] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 540(1).

[213] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 533. This report can be found on the Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca.

[214] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 535. See, for example, Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada following the 37th General Election entitled “Modernizing the Electoral Process”, tabled in the House by the Speaker on November 27, 2001 (Journals, p. 855); Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada following the 38th General Election entitled “Completing the Cycle of Electoral Reforms”, tabled in the House by the Speaker on September 29, 2005 (Journals, p. 1061). See also the Thirteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on June 22, 2006 (Journals, pp. 344-5) and the government response tabled on October 20, 2006 (Journals, p. 558).

[215] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vi). See, for example, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings, April 27, 2006, Meeting No. 3; September 13, 2007, Meeting No. 63.

[216] See, for example, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, October 3, 1995, Issue No. 52, pp. 30‑1; Minutes of Proceedings, November 15, 2007, Meeting No. 4; December 4, 2007, Meeting No. 9.

[217] See, for example, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, March 24, 1994, Issue No. 6, pp. 7‑8; June 7, 1994, Issue No. 15, pp. 5‑6.

[218] See, for example, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, May 9, 1995, Issue No. 50, pp. 4‑5; Minutes of Proceedings, April 28, 1998, Meeting No. 22; May 5, 2005, Meeting No. 33; April 29, 2007, Meeting No. 46.

[219] See, for example, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings, November 20, 1997, Meeting No. 6; February 26, 1998, Meeting No. 14; October 26, 2004, Meeting No. 5; November 23, 2004, Meeting No. 10.

Top of Page