June 16, 1970

LIB

Donald Stovel Macdonald (President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Macdonald (Rosedale):

A tariff of fees is established pursuant to clause 61(1) of the current bill. There is no fixed sum applicable to all returning officers; the amount depends upon the number of names on the electoral list and is determined during the course of each election. As to the second question, an attempt is made to appoint someone experienced in election procedures. The hon. member became a member of the House before I did, and no doubt he is familiar with the process on his side.

Topic:   CANADA ELECTIONS ACT
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PC

James Aloysius McGrath

Progressive Conservative

Mr. McGrath:

If that is an indication from the minister to make a recommendation to fill the vacancy in my constituency, I will gladly comply.

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NDP

Mark Willson Rose

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rose:

Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment to propose to clause 7(1). It proposes that returning officers should be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer rather than by the Governor in Council. I make this suggestion as a result of my interest in the matter as well as on the basis of an exchange which took place in one of the earlier meetings of the Committee on Privileges and Elections at Which I was present. I should like to quote from the Minutes of Proceedings No. 2, dated October 31, 1968, beginning at page 8.

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NDP

Mark Willson Rose

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rose:

My question is supplementary to something Mr. MacGuigan said. He said that you and your office do not appoint the returning officers; that is done by the government.

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Joseph-Alphonse-Anaclet Habel

Mr. Hamel:

That is correct.

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NDP

Mark Willson Rose

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rose:

You see, this brings up all kinds of interesting aspects of political patronage and that kind of thing in the appointment of these various returning officers, and I am interested in knowing what kind of recommendations you might have in this connection.

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Joseph-Alphonse-Anaclet Habel

Mr. Hamel:

I do not have any recommendations. If you go back, I think to about 1930, the Chief Electoral Officer was responsible for the appoint-

June 16, 1970

Canada Elections Act

ment of the returning officers. I do not think this would be efficient because I do not have the machinery, having my office in Ottawa, if at the beginning of an election a returning officer drops dead or decides not to take the job away out in British Columbia, Alberta or in Saskatchewan, to try to find a replacement.

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NDP

Mark Willson Rose

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rose:

Do I understand, then, that the returning officers are appointed by the province or some organization within the province?

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Joseph-Alphonse-Anaclet Habel

Mr. Hamel:

That I do not know.

Obviously, the Chief Electoral Officer has to reply officially. He does not know. The record continues:

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Joseph-Alphonse-Anaclet Habel

Mr. Hamel:

How they go about getting their names, I do not know.

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NDP

Mark Willson Rose

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rose:

It seem very strange, sir, that no one knows something as vital and as basic as this and I just cannot conceive its happening. It is like the answer we got yesterday concerning the political affiliations of appointees. I am not laying this at the door of any one political party, because I think this certainly has happened under both of the major political parties, but I think we could certainly look to some other kind of method for appointing these people, because I am convinced that not always are the best people appointed for this purpose and further, that there have been some very capable ones who have been replaced regardless of the changing of the boundaries.

This is the amendment which I am proposing, Mr. Speaker:

That clause 7 be amended by deleting subclause 1 and substituting therefor the following:

"(1) The Chief Electoral Officer shall appoint a returning officer for any new electoral district, and a new returning officer for any electoral district in which the office of returning officer becomes vacant, within the meaning of subsection 2. Such vacancy to be filled after the Chief Electoral Officer has publicly advertised the vacancy, invited applications, and held open competition for the position."

I believe our civil service operates on the basis that vacancies are regularly published as they occur in the government service. In my opinion, this is an admirable method of procedure and I do not see why it cannot be followed in this instance when it concerns the staff of the Chief Electoral Officer. I am surprised that the government has not thought it wise to ensure that these appointments are made without any hint of patronage. In the past, capable people were removed and their positions given to government supporters who were not necessarily the most competent among the applicants.

These appointments offer a small crumb to some people, but one wonders why the government has not seen fit to remove the taint of party advantage from an area which is of vital concern to everyone in our democracy. I am not moving this motion because I have been personally wronged by

any electoral officer, but I believe the government should show confidence in its Chief Electoral Officer's competence to make appointments of this type impartially.

At six o'clock the committee took recess.

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AFTER RECESS The committee resumed at 8 p.m.


LIB

James Hugh Faulkner (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Liberal

The Chairman:

Order. House again in committee of the whole on Bill C-215, an act respecting the franchise of electors and the election of members to the House of Commons.

When the committee rose at six it was considering clause 7, subclause 1 and the following amendment moved by the hon. member for Fraser Valley West:

That clause 7 be amended by deleting subclause 1 and substituting therefor the following:

"(1) The Chief Electoral Officer shall appoint a returning officer for any new electoral district, and a new returning officer for any electoral district in which the office of returning officer becomes vacant, within the meaning of subsection 2. Such vacancy to be filled after the Chief Electoral Officer has publicly advertised the vacancy, invited applications, and held open competition for the position."

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LIB

Donald Stovel Macdonald (President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Macdonald (Rosedale):

Mr. Chairman, when the hon. member for Fraser Valley West brought this amendment forward he referred at some length to an exchange that took place in the Standing Committee between himself and the Chief Electoral Officer, which seems to me probably the most effective answer to the points he was making at the time. As the Chief Electoral Officer pointed out, though I hesitate to quote him without reading his actual remarks, the system here appears to produce the most efficient way of appointing returning officers. It was also indicated at the time that up until about 1929 or 1930 they were appointed in the manner suggested by the hon. member. Then the House, nearly 40 years ago, changed the procedure so that they would be appointed by the Governor in Council and ever since that time this particular proposal has been in effect.

I understand it was the statement of a former Chief Electoral Officer, who operated under the older system, that the reinstitution of the system which in effect got him into controversy in a particular constituency by choosing the returning officer, would be a resigning matter as far as he was concerned. In other words, the law was changed specifi-

June 16, 1970

cally because of unhappy experience with the exact procedure that the hon. member is suggesting in this regard.

One other aspect of the hon. member's amendment which seems to me to be a good reason for recommending that the committee reject it is that there are other provisions in the statute-in particular subsection 5 of clause 7-for the purpose of the early filling of a vacancy, so there will not be a delay, and providing that the returning officer shall be appointed within 60 days. The procedure put forward by the hon. member, however, is a lengthy one with regard to which there can be no assurance whatever that within 60 days, or at any particular time, a vacancy would be filled. In other words, in order to carry out the procedure proposed by the hon. member, a particular constituency could find itself several weeks before an election campaign without a returning officer, and because of the restrictions that he imposes, without the ability of appointing one at an early date.

On that basis, Mr. Chairman, both because Parliament long ago rejected the proposal and because it will not provide, to adopt a term that has been used, for the efficiency of appointment, I recommend to the committee that it reject this amendment.

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PC

Heath Nelson Macquarrie

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macquarrie:

Mr. Chairman, I think it is of the essence that every way we can find to reduce even the suggestion of partisan input into our election procedures should be welcomed. I am somewhat attracted to the proposal of the mover of this amendment. I notice that in several sections of the bill steps have been taken to put beyond question or reproach even any slight suggestion of partisanship. In the holding of an election, surely any distinction between a party in power and a party seeking power must be removed just as completely as is possible in all practical circumstances. I think it is well that we consider ways and means to reduce even the possibility of accusing a group in power of using the fact that they are in power for purposes other than the best purposes.

I am not suggesting that in our day and age elections have not been well conducted in this country, though in an earlier day that was not the case. I remember reading of an experience in the nineteenth century when nominations were made at an open meeting. The sheriff of one county did not tell the opposition party where the meeting was going to be held, and there was no one there to nominate the opposition candidates. As a result, there was an acclamation. However,

Canada Elections Act

things have been much better in recent times. If we could move toward de-politicizing-if I may use a terrible expression-our election campaigns to this extent, it would be a very good idea. When enumerators are appointed, the whole matter is carefully looked into; you have one designated by one party and one by another, so there is an assurance that you have reduced to the minimum any possible suggestion of partisanship. If we could do this with the returning officer, I think it would be a very good idea.

If I remember history correctly, I think at the time of the plebiscite that Mr. Mackenzie King called there was a procedure whereby in odd numbered polling divisions the deputy returning officer was the nominee of the government party, and in even numbered polling divisions he was the designate of the second running party. These are devices whereby you establish a good, proper, non-political basis which is of the essence in our electoral process. This is my point of view, and I support the amendment.

The minister was dilating this afternoon about the value of experience in the office of returning officer. Before we proceed further with this clause I wonder whether he could tell us how many of the returning officers who were appointed in the aftermath of the 1960 legislation are still functioning, because I agree with him that there is value in the experience of good people.

[DOT] (8:10 p.m.)

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LIB

Steven Otto

Liberal

Mr. Otio:

Mr. Chairman, before we become involved in the de-politicizing, or whatever the term is, let me make some comments in the privacy of this House. I see we have complete privacy because there is no one to report us. Let us consider what the result of this amendment would be. The Chief Electoral Officer would be very careful not to choose anyone with political ideals either Conservative, Liberal or NDP. This would automatically eliminate about 80 per cent of the people who know something about politics and about the running of elections. The Chief Electoral Officer would look for someone who had never been involved in political activity of any nature and who did not know a poll sheet from any other document. Such a person would have to be trained. This is the type of person who would be a returning officer.

In addition, about five years ago the Prime Minister decided it would be a good idea to take patronage completely away from all appointments. Where did we turn? We could

June 16, 1970

Canada Elections Act

not go to the general field of economics or industry in order to find people, because they were involved politically with the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party or the NDP. It was decided that academicians of the universities would be suitable because no one could say that they were partisan. Eventually the various commission appointments were filled by academicians-good natured souls, mind you, but people who have very little experience in the outside world. So in their little Valhalla they set down rules which in theory are perfect but which in practice have no application at all. Why should we penalize anyone who has been involved in political activity? What has such a person done that would warrant his being eliminated entirely?

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An hon. Member:

No one suggested that.

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Mr. Oilo@

That is what an hon. gentleman across the way said. He said we should take politics away from these appointments. It was suggested that if a person is to be appointed as a judge, a commissioner, a returning officer, and so on, he should never take part in politics. In other words, the suggestion is: Never vote. Do not become involved. This is in fact what has been said.

I say it is time we reviewed this whole question. I see nothing evil in being involved with one political party or another. I can conceive of the Governor in Council obtaining an even better group of men from those who have been involved in politics than from those who have not.

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NDP

Douglas Charles Rowland

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rowland:

Mr. Chairman, I feel obliged to reply to the arguments put before the committee by the hon. member who has just spoken because he is drawing from this amendment a conclusion which should not be drawn. Such an interpretation has no place in our discussion of the amendment. The sole purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the most competent people are selected to fill the position of returning officer. For obvious reasons, this would not eliminate a person merely because he had been involved in politics. Indeed, I think any intelligent Chief Electoral Officer would consider intimate involvement in politics to be a "plus" factor in the selection of a returning officer.

This amendment does not in any way indicate that a person must be non-partisan. It simply indicates that he must acquire the position as a result of an open competition. What it does mean is that if there should be a Liberal government in office, all the returning

officers would not be former Liberals; and if there should be a Conservative government in office, all the returning officers would not be former Conservatives. Similarly, if an NDP government should be in office, all the returning officers would not be members of the New Democratic Party. It simply means that there would be a competition and the most competent applicant would fill the position. That is the point; anything else is totally irrelevant to the question. On that basis I urge the committee to adopt this amendment.

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PC

Heath Nelson Macquarrie

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macquarrie:

Mr. Chairman, I thank the hon. member for Selkirk for apologizing, on my behalf, for things I did not say and for interpretations I did not mean. No one is suggesting that the appointees be political neuters: they must become that, because the law does not allow them to vote when the poll is open. I was suggesting that politicizing be withdrawn from the appointing product rather than from the end product. I do not agree that one must be partisan in order to be competent. I can conceive of the independent voters managing the Elections Act, too.

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June 16, 1970