CANADA

An election primer

The voting machinery moves into high gear

MARY JANIGAN April 21 1997
CANADA

An election primer

The voting machinery moves into high gear

MARY JANIGAN April 21 1997

An election primer

CANADA

The voting machinery moves into high gear

The signs are unmistakable. From the talk in Ottawa, to President Bill Clinton openly joking with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in Washington last week about an early election, it seems clear that Canadians will go to the polls this spring. Government sources say the date will almost certainly be June 2, well before the G-7summit (plus Russia) on June 20 to 22 and the visit of Queen Elizabeth beginning on June 23. That would mean an election call on the weekend of April 26, which is the day that Elections Canada will likely announce that voter enumeration is complete. But much remains to be done before Canadians actually go to the polls. Maclean’s offers a short guide to the election countdown :

ENUMERATION

From April 10 to 16, Elections Canada, under Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, will conduct its last door-to-door enumeration in its bid to compile a permanent list of registered voters. Officials will contact Canadians in every province except Alberta and Prince Edward Island—where Elections Canada will rely on voters lists from recent provincial elections. If no one is at home, they will try again; after a second unsuccessful attempt, they will leave a mail-in registration form. That data will constitute the preliminary list. Voters who have been overlooked or who find that their name or address is inaccurate may register or correct the list by calling the returning officer for the riding during the 36-day campaign. The preliminary list of voters will go to the parties 31 days before polling day. The deadline for revisions to the list is 6 p.m. on the sixth day before the election.

Even if voters are left off the list, they can still vote if they go to a designated polling station with identification on election day. Voters may decide to cast their ballots in advance polls, which will be held on the 10th, ninth and seventh days before the election. Anyone who cannot vote on those days or on election day itself may register for a socalled “special mail-in ballot” at a Canadian diplomatic mission or returning office. Those ballots may be cast on any day during the campaign, but must arrive in Ottawa be-

fore 6 p.m. on election day—if they are cast abroad—or before the close of polling day if they are cast within Canada.

CANDIDATES

Redistribution has expanded the current 295-seat House of Commons to 301 seats. The boundaries of only 31 ridings remain unchanged. But during the election, voters

will receive a card that lists their polling station—and the name of their riding. Voters may also call the Elections Canada hotline, 1-800-INFO-VOTE, to discover the name of their riding. There were 2,004 candidates in the 1993 election and 14 registered parties. To be registered—which allows a party to issue tax receipts to donors and to be eligible for the reimbursement of some expenses—a party must field at least 50 candidates in the election. There are now 13 registered parties—plus seven, including the Communist Party of Canada, which have applied for registration.

Prospective candidates must submit their nominations at least 21 days before the election. The fee is $1,000. That deposit is returned if the candidate receives at least 15 per cent of the valid votes. Campaign spending limits on local candidates are primarily based on the number of voters: from the moment the writ is dropped, which marks the official start of the campaign, they may spend $1 for each of the first 15,000 names on the preliminary voters list; 50 cents each for the next 10,000 names; and 25 cents for each additional name. That averages out to about $65,000 per candidate—although candidates in far-flung ridings may be allowed additional expenses for travel.

Spending limits on national parties are based on the number of ridings in which they are fielding candidates. In 1993, that amounted to $10.53 million each for the Tories and the Liberals; $10.49 million for the New Democrats; $7.5 million for the Reform party; and $2.7 million for the Bloc Québécois. The federal government pays a portion of that tab—$8 million in 1993—if a party receives two per cent of the total vote, or five per cent of the votes in those ridings in which it has run candidates. In total, including enumeration, taxpayers picked up a tab of $166 million for the 1993 election.

THE ELECTION

Once an election is called, parties may not advertise until 30 days before election day. The blackout is reimposed at midnight on the second day before the vote: that is, midnight Saturday if an election is slated for Monday. Individual candidates may advertise whenever they wish. In 1993, the major parties asked their candidates to comply with the general ban on party ads. So far, there is no similar agreement for the next campaign—so voters could be deluged with local ads right up to the moment that the polls close. This year, voting hours will be different in different regions—9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. in eastern time, for example, compared with 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Pacific time. Ottawa wants to ensure that the polls are not closed in Central Canada—and the election perhaps effectively decided—before most voters in Western Canada have even cast their ballot.

There is a publication ban in each region on results until the local polls close, but western voters with cable or satellite TV can usually find out the eastern Canadian results anyway. In every region, the polls will be open for 12 hours. On the sixth day following the election, barring recounts, the returning officer certifies the winner in each riding. The new MP is off to Ottawa.

MARY JANIGAN