House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
Previous PageNext Page

4. The House of Commons and Its Members

Chief Electoral Officer

The Chief Electoral Officer is an officer of Parliament, appointed by resolution of the House of Commons, responsible for the administration of federal elections and referendums, and the registration of political parties and electors. This officer also provides support to the independent electoral boundaries commissions which carry out the periodic readjustment of electoral boundaries. The Chief Electoral Officer heads Elections Canada, an independent, non-partisan agency responsible, among other things, for the conduct of federal elections and referendums.

The position of Chief Electoral Officer was created in 1920 with the adoption of the Dominion Elections Act[104]  The post 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. [105]  In 1927, when Mr. Biggar announced his intention to vacate the office, the law 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. [106]  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 the Governor in Council for that purpose. [107] 

There have been five incumbents of this office. [108] With the exception of Mr. Biggar who was appointed by the government, all the incumbents have been chosen by way of a resolution of the House after consultations among the various parties in the House. [109]  A motion setting out the appointment was moved by the Prime Minister in 1927 and 1949, after written notice appeared on the Order Paper[110]  A motion was moved by unanimous consent on behalf of the Prime Minister in 1966 [111]  and by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General in 1990. [112]  In all four cases, the motion was debated only briefly and agreed to by all parties.

The Chief Electoral Officer’s appointment is without term. He or she serves until the age of 65, unless he or she retires or is removed for cause by the Governor General, following a joint address of the House of Commons and Senate. [113] 


The Chief Electoral Officer has the rank and power of a deputy minister. [114]  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, provides support to commissions established to study the readjustment of electoral boundaries, monitors election spending by candidates and political parties, examines and discloses their financial reports and reimburses their expenses, and is responsible for the registration of political parties and the establishment and maintenance of an automated register of Canadians who are qualified electors. [115]  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, [116]  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. [117] 

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. As soon as the election date is known, the Chief Electoral Officer issues a writ of election to each returning officer who is ultimately responsible for conducting the election within the electoral district. [118]  The Chief Electoral Officer directs each returning officer to hire staff and prepare for an election.

Following polling day, each time the Chief Electoral Officer receives a 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[119] 

Within 60 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 and recommendations for improvements to the electoral system. [120]  The report is submitted to the Speaker of the House who tables it in the House. [121]  It is then referred permanently to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. [122]  The Chief Electoral Officer prepares a similar report within 60 days of the date set for the return of the writ for any by-election. [123] 

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. [124]  A similar report is prepared for any by-elections held during the year. [125] 

When an automatic recount occurs, a candidate may apply to the Chief Electoral Officer for reimbursement of any costs incurred as a result of the recount. The Chief Electoral Officer determines the amount of the costs actually incurred by the candidate and submits a certificate showing the amount of the costs to the Receiver General who reimburses the candidate out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. [126] 

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. [127]  The Chief Electoral Officer and his staff provide the Committee with research material and, at the Committee’s request, assist in the drafting of amendments to the Canada Elections Act [128]  and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act[129]  The Chief Electoral Officer also appears before the Committee at its invitation to discuss the Main Estimates of Elections Canada [130]  and the reports on general elections. [131] 

Top of documentPrevious PageNext Page