A core institution of democracy – The Chief Electoral Officer of Québec celebrates 70 years of service to Québec electors

June 1st, 2015

Today, the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec, Lucie Fiset, marks the 70th anniversary of an institution that is at the very heart of Québec democracy and has serviced Québec electors for seven decades. This event is an opportunity to recall the evolution that the institution has undergone, characterized by increased responsibilities and independence. In the past decade, thanks to the availability of various means of communication, the Chief Electoral Officer has also developed a closer relationship with electors, while access to voting has become highly diversified indeed.

From Chief Returning Officer… to Chief Electoral Officer

From 1945 to 1977, the responsibility for holding elections for members of the Legislative Assembly, subsequently renamed the Québec National Assembly, was assumed by the Chief Returning Officer. Until 1963, this person’s mandate was renewed by the executive power. From 1963 onward, the Chief Returning Officer was appointed by resolution of the Legislative Assembly, thus becoming an “appointee” of elected members. Judge François Drouin held the position during these first 32 years.

In 1977, the Chief Returning Officer became the Chief Electoral Officer, and Pierre F. Côté was the first bearer of the new title, which he held for 19 years. Henceforth, the Chief Electoral Officer would be appointed upon motion of the Premier seconded by a two-thirds vote of Members of the National Assembly.

Presidents of election, now returning officers, who were in charge of administering the vote in each of Québec’s electoral divisions, were also appointed by the executive power. From 1980 on, returning officers were to be appointed by the government upon recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer. Since 1983, however, they have been chosen and appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer on the basis of their competence following a public-recruitment competition.

Increasingly broader powers

As of 1978, and throughout the years, the Chief Electoral Officer has assumed increasingly broader responsibilities. That year, the National Assembly entrusted Mr. Côté, the new official, with the task of assisting municipal returning officers. (The Chief Electoral Officer was given the same role in 2002 for school elections.)

In 1978, he was also responsible for administering the first framework legislation pertaining to referendums, the Referendum Act. In addition, in 1980, the institution acquired a power of inquiry and a power to institute penal proceedings.

In 1983, the three main areas of activity of the electoral system, namely electoral operations, the financing of political parties, and the division of territory (establishment of the Québec electoral map), became part of the Chief Electoral Officer’s institutional responsibilities. The Commission de la représentation électorale was maintained as a separate entity, but the Chief Electoral Officer automatically became its chair and provides the Commission with the services of his or her personnel.

In 1995, the Chief Electoral Officer was entrusted with the mandate of preparing and administering the permanent list of electors (PLE). The basis for the PLE was the list of electors compiled by census (the last one done for Québec), carried out in view of the 1995 referendum. The Québec list of electors became a template to be used throughout Canada.

Access to voting and political financing reforms

During the mandates of Chief Electoral Officers Marcel Blanchet (2000-2010) and Jacques Drouin (2010-2014), a number of new mechanisms broadened access to voting, which was gradually extended to electors’ domiciles, a larger number of residential facilities, the office of the returning officer (for voting within and outside of the electoral division of one’s domicile), and educational institutions.

During Mr. Drouin’s mandate, a number of important political financing reforms were enacted, affecting the provincial, municipal and school levels. Henceforth, provincial political contributions would be made directly to the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec. The latter in fact administers increased public financing of political parties, currently representing 75% of their annual inflow. New access to donor tax information provides the Chief Electoral Officer with new tools for improving the efficiency of audits and inquiries with a view to sanctioning the infringement of electoral laws. The Chief Electoral Officer is thus better equipped to ensure that fairness and transparency reside at the heart of Québec’s electoral system.

In 70 years of existence, the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec has administered 19 provincial general elections, 130 by-elections, and 3 provincial referendums, respectively in 1980, 1992 and 1995. The institution has also acted as elections observer for a number of elections abroad, in particular in Africa and Latin America.

A new institutional signature (logo) will be used until the end of this year, and in the course of the coming month, the 70th anniversary will also be marked by the launching of an online commemorative window on the web site of the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec.

Categories : Divers, DGE

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