Summary – Elections Canada Audit Follow-Up
What we examined
In 2015, the Commissioner of Official Languages (the Commissioner) published an audit report containing nine recommendations for Elections Canada with respect to its obligations under the Official Languages Act (the Act). The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages followed up on these recommendations to assess the measures taken by Elections Canada to implement them.
Why this is important
Audit follow-ups are as important as the audits themselves. Follow-ups are used to assess the extent to which an audited institution has made the changes recommended in the audit reports, or to confirm that the institution is committed to making the changes.
What we found
The audit follow-up showed that Elections Canada is more strongly committed to fulfilling its official languages obligations. However, although the institution has made progress in some respects, few improvements have been made in terms of official languages. Significant shortcomings remain with respect to Canadians’ ability to exercise their right to vote at the federal level in the official language of their choice. Overall, the nine recommendations put forward by the Commissioner in 2015 have been only partially implemented.
A disagreement persists with respect to the interpretation of the Act. The Commissioner maintains that Elections Canada’s obligations apply nationwide, whereas Elections Canada believes that its obligations apply only in areas where there is significant demand.
Conclusion – Unsatisfactory progress on official languages within this essential service
Part IV of the Act is indeed particularly demanding of Elections Canada, and the Commissioner has noted positive progress from the institution in terms of how it interprets its obligations. However, focusing specifically on preparations for the upcoming election in terms of official languages, the audit follow-up shows that the institution still seems to be in the general preparation phase. Elections Canada must act quickly because, nearly four years after the audit, progress on the official languages front is still unsatisfactory. It is now time for Elections Canada to put its words into action and fulfill its language obligations. Official languages must be central to the electoral process, and all related measures must be planned from the outset in light of Elections Canada’s unique structure.
The Commissioner has the utmost respect for the expertise and professionalism of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, election officers and their teams in organizing free and transparent democratic elections in the second largest country in the world by area. However, voting is one of the most important ways citizens have to influence a government’s decision-making process. As a symbol of Canadian democracy, Elections Canada must do more to respect the constitutional right of electors to vote in their preferred official language. The Commissioner therefore expects the institution to continue to tackle its shortcomings head-on. Canadians cannot wait another four years for progress to be made.
Nevertheless, the Commissioner would like to highlight Elections Canada’s collaboration during this follow-up and the institution’s apparent willingness to continue to move forward in a positive direction. Therefore, the Commissioner intends to pursue his work with Elections Canada in order to achieve the ultimate goal: for Canadian citizens to be able to exercise their right to vote in the official language of their choice, wherever they are in Canada.
Hiring and recruiting
- Elections Canada has only partially addressed the key problem of hiring and recruiting bilingual returning officers, field liaison officers and election officers and workers. The institution has stated that it will continue to consider bilingualism an asset when appointing the majority of returning officers and liaison officers.
- Elections Canada has not yet demonstrated that it has determined which positions must be designated as bilingual, nor has it developed a plan for staffing key positions with bilingual candidates. Without a clear picture of what is required or a hiring plan, the institution will not be able to remedy the situation.
- The Commissioner noted significant improvement with respect to computer-based tools, which will better equip returning officers to prepare recruitment plans and understand the linguistic makeup of their electoral district.
- The institution has also developed new tools for assessing official languages proficiency during the recruitment process.
Collaboration with official language minority communities
- The institution has begun to collaborate with official language minority communities to identify potential pools of bilingual candidates, but it still has no permanent mechanism in place for this collaboration.
- However, the fact that the institution encourages returning officers to hire a community relations officer – official languages / ethnocultural is a step in the right direction.
Active offer and service delivery
- There are still shortcomings in the official process for making the active offer and providing electors with service of equal quality in both official languages. An active offer without actual availability of service is merely a superficial measure.
- Elections Canada continues to provide services to electors using tools that are not of equal quality in both official languages, and although the institution asserts that these are last-resort options, that message is not reflected in front-line training manuals and guides.
Formal monitoring mechanism
- Elections Canada took certain initial measures for the 2015 general election to verify that returning officers’ offices had bilingual capacity and could provide service by telephone.
- However, a formal, structured monitoring mechanism for ensuring the availability and quality of in-person bilingual services in the field at all locations where electors go to exercise their right to vote has yet to be established.
Governance documents and structure
- Elections Canada appointed a new official languages champion, created an official languages steering committee and developed a more thorough action plan on official languages during the 2015 general election.
- The institution has yet to formalize certain core documents, such as its official languages accountability framework, its official languages action plan for the 2019 general election and its official languages policy for field staff.