Montreal bishop elected metropolitan in first-ever E-lection

Bishop Andrew Hutchison, of the diocese of Montreal, is now Archbishop Hutchison after being elected metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada in what is likely the Anglican Communion’s first electronic election.

It took just one ballot for Bishop Hutchison’s election; out of 31 provincial council members eligible to vote, only three failed to do so, including one bishop who objected to the electronic process.

Archbishop Hutchison was elected Bishop of Montreal in 1990 and became Bishop Ordinary of the Canadian Forces in 1997; prior to becoming a bishop he served as dean of Montreal from 1984-1990. He also serves on the national church’s information resources committee, which oversees the work of the national church website, Anglican Journal, General Synod archives and other departments. 

The ecclesiastical (church) province of Canada, which includes the dioceses of Fredericton, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Montreal, Quebec, Western Newfoundland, Central Newfoundland and Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, needed to elect a metropolitan, or head bishop, after the February 2002 retirement of Archbishop Arthur Peters. While those elections normally take place at provincial synods, Canada did not have a scheduled synod until the fall. Canon rules call for the election of a metropolitan no more than six months after the retirement of the predecessor.

Technophile Rev. Alan Perry, a priest in Pierrefonds, Que., suggested an electronic election — where members could vote by e-mail or fax. He estimates the process saved some $20,000 in travel costs.

After the election, Mr. Perry said, “I’d say the process worked, with only three failing to vote. Where else do you get a 90 per cent participation rate?”

Bishop Donald Harvey, of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, was the lone episcopal holdout, having objected to the process as early as last fall, when the provincial council discussed, then voted for the electronic election method. He was concerned that the secret ballot, which he calls “sacrosanct” in the church’s democratic system, was being abandoned.

Voters had a window of two days to send their ballots by e-mail or fax to two scrutineers; the voters’ e-mail addresses and fax numbers were verified prior to the election. Only the two scrutineers would know the results of the individual ballots. The result was announced — by e-mail, of course — to council members in late afternoon, May 9.

While he applauds Bishop Hutchison’s election (and even publicly endorsed the Montreal bishop at the same time last fall as he argued against the election process) Bishop Harvey says he had to stand up for the principle of secrecy.

“I didn’t mind who knew whom I was supporting,” said Bishop Harvey, who said he couldn’t think of a better candidate for metropolitan. “But I thought if I was serious about it, I had better stand up for my beliefs.”

Bishop Harvey says he does not question the integrity of the scrutineers, one of whom was Ronald Stevenson, a retired New Brunswick Supreme Court judge and the chancellor of General Synod. He is concerned that once one electronic election has taken place, it may become the norm for episcopal elections, primatial elections (which elect the primate, or head of the church) or even votes on contentious issues, like sexuality.

He agreed that travel costs made an electoral synod impractical, but suggested that the election could have been held using traditional “snail mail” — with a double envelope system so that ballots could still remain secret in their inner envelope.


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