Commissioner of Canada Elections Annual Report 2015-2016
I am pleased to present the 2015-2016 annual report for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
As Canadians, we are particularly fortunate to live in a country where citizens can raise concerns andfile complaints when compliance issues arise during an election. The role of my office in this process – to address and deal with these concerns and complaints – is one that we take very seriously. Extensive planning and preparation in the lead-up to the October 2015 general election ensured that we were ready to manage the increased volume of complaints during the writ period.
2015 General Election
There are a few areas I would like to highlight with respect to the 42nd general election.
First, from a compliance and enforcement perspective, I believe that overall the campaign went well. Although there are a number of matters we are still looking into, it is fair to say that, at this point, no major issues affecting the integrityof the process have been identified. Interestingly, despite the campaign being almost twice as long as it was in 2011, we observed no significant growth in the overall number of complaints we received.
In addition to the overall conduct of the election, we noted – and appreciated – the positive collaboration we encountered in our dealings with political parties and candidates. Individuals and parties from across the political spectrum were generally receptive to interventions from our Office and were usually – though not always – quick to correct problems when they arose. This same willingness to comply was present in our dealings with third-party advertisers who participated in this election. For the most part, the third-party advertisers with whom we interacted were prompt to take corrective measures to comply with the Canada Elections Act (the Act).
Throughout this fiscal year, we have continued to foster what I consider to be an extremely productive relationship with Elections Canada. In particular, during the campaign, there were timely and useful exchanges of information – at all levels of our respective organizations – that made it easier for us to deliver on our mandate.
Finally, it became clear during the election that the shift towards the use of social media, both by political and non-political entities, is beginning to give rise to issues that the Act is not currently designed to accommodate. Among the issues identified this year was the sharing of photos of marked ballots on social media. Under the legislation as it currently exists, this is not an offence (except in the rare circumstances described in greater detail later in this report). If the secrecy of the vote is to be maintained, the Act will have to be amended.
Compliance and Enforcement Activities
In 2015-2016 our Office entered into 17 compliance agreements and laid charges against one individual. The decisions with respect to which compliance or enforcement tool was most appropriate in each particular case were made in accordance with the criteria set out in our Compliance and Enforcement Policy, which is accessible to the public on our Web site.
Compliance agreements can be an efficient tool to deal with certain types of non-compliance. Compared with a prosecution, they are relatively quick to complete. The fact that they are made public and published in the Canada Gazette provides a significant degree of transparency and acts as an important deterrent against future offences. However, as I noted in my 2012-2013 Annual Report, compliance agreements would be even more effective if the legislation made it possible to negotiate broader terms and conditions (for example, the payment of monetary penalties to the Receiver General).
We expect to receive, in the early part of 2016-2017, the first wave of referrals stemming from Elections Canada's auditing of financial reports submitted by parties, candidates and third parties. As they have in the past, these referrals will form the basis of much of our investigative work over the next several years.
I note also that the Minister of Democratic Institutions was given the mandate to "introduce amendments to the Act to make the Commissioner of Canada Elections more independent from Government." As we have in the past, our Office will do all it can to support Parliament in its examination of any legislative proposals it may be called upon to consider.
It has been a busy year for our Office and, although there is still work to be done with respect to the 2015 general election, I am very pleased with the results we have achieved this year. In 2015-2016, our colleagues at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada provided us with excellent financial, human resources and corporate services that were critical to ensuring we had adequate resources in place both during and after the election period. I am thankful to them for their assistance. Finally, and importantly, my most sincere thanks go out to my colleagues for their continued dedication and professionalism, and especially for all of the extra time and effort that they devoted to the general election.
Yves Côté, Q.C.
Commissioner of Canada Elections