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A short history of the institution

Before 1945

During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, electoral powers were under the jurisdiction of the Executive, namely the governor, the premier and the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. At that time, the governor called elections and drew up the electoral map.

The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, who was responsible for polling administration, carried out this task in addition to his usual duties. However, his electoral functions were very limited, and he was not required to prepare a detailed election report until 1868. With the reform of the Election Act in 1875, his responsibilities increased significantly.

Returning officers, who often held public office and were notably sheriffs, were appointed by the governor.

1945 - a key year

Marked by the appointment of the first Chief Returning Officer by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, namely the executive power, the year 1945 constituted an important step in the development of Québec’s electoral system.

Hence, in 1945, the Chief Returning Officer became the first person to exclusively oversee the enforcement of legislation and administer elections on a permanent basis. At that time, his mandate essentially concerned electoral operations.

In 1945, the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council appointed returning officers in each electoral division.From 1963 onward, the Chief Returning Officer was appointed by resolution of the Legislative Assembly and thereupon became a person appointed by the National Assembly. He has been accountable to the legislative branch of government since that year.

In 1977, the title of Chief Returning Officer was changed to directeur général des élections. Henceforth, appointments to that office would be made upon motion of the premier, seconded by a two-thirds vote of members of the National Assembly.

New responsibilities

In 1978, the directeur général des élections was given responsibilities in two new sectors of activity. He was entrusted with the power to make recommendations and give assistance to municipal returning officers. In addition, he was responsible for administering the Referendum Act, the first framework legislation pertaining to referendums.

In 1980, the legislator entrusted the directeur général des élections with the training of electoral officers and granted him the power to formulate instructions. Henceforth, the directeur général des élections would be required to render all information pertaining to the enforcement of the Election Act accessible to the public. The directeur général des élections also acquired a power of inquiry, such that any elector who believed that his rights had been denied could seek a remedy.

Appointment of returning officers

In 1980, a first step was taken toward depoliticizing the manner in which returning officers were appointed. They would from then on be appointed by the government upon the recommendation of the directeur général des élections. Following a public competition, the directeur général des élections would recommend the names of three persons for each of the positions to be filled. Hence, in 1981, for the first time in the history of elections in Québec, 122 returning officers were recruited by public competition. Their term of office was then set at five years and was renewable.

Returning officers have been entitled to vote since 1980. Formerly, they could exercise this right only in the case of a tie vote by making a casting vote. The abolition of this type of vote helped ensure greater neutrality in the position since the returning officer no longer was required to publicly decide the outcome of an election. The Chief Electoral Officer (the new name for the directeur général des élections introduced in 1984) obtained the right to vote in 1989.

1983 - the year of integration

On January 1, 1983, the three main areas of activity of the electoral system, namely electoral operations, the financing of political parties and the division of territory, were integrated into the institution of the Chief Electoral Officer. The Commission de la représentation électorale was maintained as a separate entity. The Chief Electoral Officer, who became automatically Chairman of the Commission de la représentation électorale, provided the Commission with the services of his personnel.

As of January 1, 1983, to ensure complete neutrality in the process of appointing returning officers, future returning officers would be chosen and appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer on the basis of their competence following a public-recruitment competition. In 1989, their term of office was set at ten years.

Special mandates and other responsibilities

Over the years, several special mandates have been entrusted to the Chief Electoral Officer and his predecessors. For instance, in 1982, the Chief Electoral Officer assumed responsibility for holding polls for the Caisses d’entraide économique. In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer provided assistance to the Inuits of New Québec for a referendum in 1987 and an election in 1989, acted as personal representative of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), coordinated the OAS’s observation mission to Haiti in 1990, and performed a feasibility study concerning the establishment of a permanent list of electors in 1992. Finally, in June 1998, the Chief Electoral Officer assumed responsibility, on a selective basis, for the administration of school elections.

Since 1992, the Act has authorized the Chief Electoral Officer, along with the authorization of the government, to provide electoral assistance and cooperation to other countries and international organizations, particularly at the material, professional and technical levels. In order to structure its international cooperation activities, the Chief Electoral Officer adopted, in 2003, a policy of international cooperation. Since the first steps in Haiti in 1987, more than 400 international activities have been carried out, as reflected by the numerous assistance and electoral observation missions and by having welcomed many foreign delegations who wished to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Québec's electoral system. The main international partners of the Chief Electoral Officer are the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) for missions carried out in Africa and the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas (COPA) for missions undertaken in Latin America. Since 2011, the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec has also been the secretary general of the Network of Francophone Electoral Skills (RECEF).

A feasibility study concerning the establishment of a permanent list of electors was undertaken in 1992. The Chief Electoral Officer has been responsible for preparing and administering the permanent list of electors since 1995. This list was first used for the municipal elections of November 1997.

In June 1998, the Chief Electoral Officer assumed responsibility, on a selective basis, for the administration of school elections. In 2002, the institution was given powers and responsibilities in respect of school elections that are similar to its municipal powers.

The Chief Electoral Officer maintains audit, investigation and prosecution powers for alleged offenses under the school, municipal, and provincial laws. In respect of his inquiries, the Chief Electoral Officer or any person designated by him is vested with the powers and immunity of commissioners appointed under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions, except the power to order imprisonment.

Finally, to ensure fairness and transparency with regards to party finances, Québec legislation imposes, in particular, limits on election expenses, a framework for private contributions and provides significant state financing to the political parties.

Election officers in Québec since 1867

Clerk of the Crown in Chancery Starting date
Louis-H. Huot In office in 1867
H.-Cyrias Pelletier October 8, 1872
Louis-H. Huot June 5, 1875
Louis-H. Huot et Louis Delorme October 1, 1887
Louis Delorme December 9, 1887
Eugène Rouillard October 22, 1892
Louis-Georges Desjardins April 22, 1895
Louis-P. Geoffrion December 23, 1911

Secretary of the Chancery Starting date
Antoine Lemieux 1942


Chief Returning-Officer Starting date
François Drouin June 7, 1945


Chief Electoral Officer Starting date
Pierre-F. Côté May 25, 1978
François Casgrain (interim) July 16, 1997
Jacques Girard July 13, 1998
Jean Jolin (interim) April 21, 1999
Francine Barry (interim) November 3, 1999
Marcel Blanchet May 3, 2000
Jacques Drouin January 1, 2011
Lucie Fiset (interim) July 12, 2014
Pierre Reid July 12, 2015

To learn more, consult the history done at the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the institution. (in French)