Commissioner of Canada Elections Annual Report 2020
I am very pleased to present the 2020 annual report for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE).
We can’t look back on 2020 without acknowledging the world events that had a profound effect on our lives, our work, and our democratic systems over the course of the year. Canadians, and indeed people across the globe, have faced unprecedented health and economic difficulties as a result of the pandemic, and, in far too many cases, the tragedy of having lost loved ones to COVID-19.
At the Office, we had to address a number of pandemic-related difficulties. The work of our Investigations Branch was particularly affected by the changes, especially in the first half of the year: face-to-face interviews could not be conducted as before and investigators were unable to travel. We had to adapt and devise new ways to interact with potential witnesses, and collect the information needed to advance investigations. Thanks to the creativity of our people and the acquisition of new IT tools, we did adjust. At the end of 2020, our productivity on the investigations side was essentially back to where it had been before. And the shift to working almost exclusively from home certainly went much more smoothly than I had anticipated.
Looking ahead to 2021, one of the challenges will be to deal with recent referrals from Elections Canada. We will be doing this through various means. One is to make full use of the power we now have to impose administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) for certain violations. This allows us to deal quickly with cases that, before, were extremely resource-intensive and took a lot of time to resolve, such as illegal voting and late filing of reports. As I have advised members of the Advisory Committee of Political Parties on more than one occasion, it is important that candidates and electoral campaign workers be aware that, with the advent of the AMPs regime, the enforcement regime has changed significantly.
We will also be more selective about whether or not to deal with certain cases that have less of an impact on the integrity of the electoral process, or opt to address them differently (for example, through caution letters). This is precisely what we did throughout 2020: establishing priorities, closing less significant files, and pursuing the more serious ones.
In a minority-government context, a general election can be called at any time. A priority for me is to ensure that the office is ready when the call is made. This requires us to prepare and train our personnel to ensure they have a solid understanding of the numerous contraventions contained in the Canada Elections Act. This also requires us to be aware of threats and events which have taken place in other jurisdictions, both here at home and around the world. To that end, we have spent a great deal of time over the past year reaching out to those jurisdictions where elections have taken place to gain a greater understanding of enforcement issues – including those that may be specific to elections during a pandemic. We have continued to strengthen ties and maintain ongoing dialogues with Canadian security and intelligence partners. We have also continued to work hard with social-media platforms to ensure we have solid protocols in place to interact with them during the next campaign.
I referred to the AMPs regime above. There is an important point I would like to make about the current regime: it is not as broad as, in my view, it should be. For example, it does not apply to some types of contraventions that frequently occur during campaigns and for which we should have the tools to manage quickly (e.g., failure to give access to political canvassers during campaigns; failure by employers to give their employees the required time to vote, etc.). I will have more to say about this when our recommendation report comes out later this year, but I thought it was important the point be made here.
I would like to underscore the truly excellent work carried out by our colleagues at Elections Canada who support us in many different areas. This year again, they provided us with an outstanding level of service, and we are deeply grateful for all they did, and continue to do, for us.
In spite of trying times, I believe it has been a successful year for our team. The success of our Office has been, and continues to be, the result of its people and the culture of excellence they work hard to maintain. But it also extends beyond their work and indeed, for several years now, I’ve been proud of the extremely positive results we have received on the Public Service Employee Survey. This is due to the ongoing efforts of everyone on the team who make it a priority to foster an environment built not only on professionalism, but integrity, inclusivity and respect. This has never been more evident than this year and it continues to be my privilege to lead this impressive group.
Yves Côté, QC
Commissioner of Canada Elections