Chief Electoral Officer

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, the Chief Electoral Officer is primarily responsible for standing ready at all times to administer a vote.

The position of Chief Electoral Officer was created in 1920 with the adoption of the Dominion Elections Act.190 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 1927.191 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.192 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 minister designated by the Governor in Council for that purpose.193

There have been six incumbents of this office.194 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.195 A motion setting out the appointment was moved by the Prime Minister in 1927 and 1949, after written notice appeared on the Order Paper.196 A motion was moved by unanimous consent on behalf of the Prime Minister in 1966197 and by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General in 1990.198 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.199

The Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by resolution of the House of Commons to hold office during good behaviour for a non-renewable term of 10 years. However, he or she may resign or be removed for cause by the Governor General on address of the Senate and House of Commons.200


The Chief Electoral Officer has the rank and power of a deputy head of a government department.201 While the original focus of the job was the general direction and supervision of federal elections, today the Chief Electoral Officer also administers federal referendums202 and the monitoring measures set out in the Act, provides support to commissions established to study the readjustment of electoral boundaries after each decennial census,203 examines and discloses their financial reports, and reimburses their expenses.204 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.205 In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer, after consulting with the registered political parties represented in the House of Commons, appoints the Broadcasting Arbitrator, who allocates paid and free broadcasting time for political parties during a general election and for referendum committees during a referendum.206 The Chief Electoral Officer may implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to students at the primary and secondary levels. The Chief Electoral Officer is also empowered to undertake studies on alternative voting processes with the approval of the committees of the Senate and the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters, and to devise and test electronic voting processes with the approval of the Senate and the House.207

The Chief Electoral Officer also chairs an advisory committee composed of two representatives of each registered political party. The purpose of the committee is to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with advice and recommendations on all matters relating to elections and political financing.208

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

The Chief Electoral Officer supervises and directs the conduct of general elections and by-elections.209 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.210 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.211

Following polling day, the returning officer writes the name of and information about the winning candidate on the back of the writ of election and returns it to the Chief Electoral Officer. The latter enters the result in a book kept for that purpose and gives notice of the name of the candidate elected in the Canada Gazette.212 Furthermore, the Chief Electoral Officer sends the Clerk of the House the certificates of election for Members as they become available and a final certified list of Members elected to the House of Commons. This list is tabled in the House at the beginning of a Parliament.213

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.214 The report is submitted to the Speaker of the House, who tables it in the House.215 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.216

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.217

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; the number of names on the final list of electors; the number of additions of names, corrections of information and deletions of names that were made on polling day; the conclusions of the auditor’s report; and any other relevant information. A similar report is prepared for a by-election within 90 days of the return of the writ.218

As soon as possible after a general election, the Chief Electoral Officer must also prepare a report for transmittal to the Speaker recommending amendments to the Canada Elections Act that he or she believes are desirable.219

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.220 The Chief Electoral Officer and his staff provide the Committee with technical assistance and, at the Committee’s request, suggest possible amendments to the Canada Elections Act,221 the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act222 and the Referendum Act. The Chief Electoral Officer also appears before the Committee at its invitation to discuss the main estimates of Elections Canada223 and the reports on general elections.224