Hollick retires after long tenure as Returning Officer for Prince Albert riding

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Barry Hollick, pictured with the electoral map behind him, retired as Returning Officer for Prince Albert in October 2023.

After seven elections as the Returning Officer for the federal constituency of Prince Albert, Barry Hollick has retired.

Hollick, who is the former chair of the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division Board of Education, decided that after a longer term than he imagined, it was time to retire in late 2023.

“I’m retiring from Elections Canada after now 21 and a half years in the position and this is a much longer term than I ever anticipated,” Hollick said.

“I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the work. I’ve always been interested in politics and, as a young person, I worked on campaigns as a partisan supporter of a party. The difference was that when you are a Returning Officer you have to be neutral and cannot even be in a hotel where a partisan event for any party is happening. Someone might see you and think, ‘oh, you’re a supporter of a certain party.’ You have to be non-partisan.”

Hollick took on the Returning Officer role after a staff member for former longtime Liberal MP Ralph Goodale suggested it. He had just retired from teaching and was thinking about travelling, but instead accepted the returning officer role.

“Now I knew what a returning officer did because I had worked for many years on the political side, working in campaigns, so we required the services of the returning officer, but I didn’t know the scope of the job,” Hollick remembered.

“My staff was incredible,” he added. “I want to acknowledge the staff. I did seven elections and I’ve had some people five or six times, and they (determine) how successful you are going to be.”

He got the call about the appointment in January of that year from the Minister in charge of Order in Council, which was how Returning Officers were appointed at the time.

At the time the party in power selected the Returning Officer by Order in Council and then approved by the Parliament. It has now become an Elections Canada responsibility.

“I said to them, ‘I don’t know that much about the job so send me some information,’” Hollick said. “That was a mistake. My fax machine started rolling out page after page after page. I said, ‘just said send me a file.’”

After reading over the documents Hollick decided to take the job.

” I didn’t realize the scope of the job and I didn’t realize that it was more than just election times. You are working between elections,” he said.

Hollick was a returning officer for five minority parliament elections in seven elections, the five minorities were 2004, 2006, 2008, 2019 and 2021. The only majority parliaments were in 2011 under Stephen Harper and 2015 under Justin Trudeau.

Hollick said all the minority parliaments had him always waiting for when the next writ would drop.

“With those minority governments, you’re in a state of readiness all the time,” he explained. “The government could fall anytime, as Paul Martin’s did by surprise in 2006. He got elected in 2004 and within a year and a half we were back at the polls.”

Hollick said he thought he would do a couple of elections at the time he took the position and since the Liberal Party had been in power since 1993 the natural thing would be a new government would replace him.

Former Chief Electoral Officer Jean Pierre Kingsley, who Hollick says was amazing and respected, had the idea to make Returning Officers no longer political appointments.

“He wanted to see that the returning officers were directly employed by Elections Canada,” he said.

The change happened in 2007 and now Returning Officers are appointed or re-appointed every 10 years when the redistribution happens.

With the recent redistribution in 2023 Hollick thought it would be a great time to leave. New Returning Officer Alana Kewley was appointed in October 2023.

“I had been asked to stay on after the 2004 and 2006 elections by Elections Canada,” he said. “It’s always merit-based. If you do a good job, they ask you to come back. However, your appointments are 10-year appointments.”

Hollick worked through redistributions in 2003, and 2013 before retiring.

“They’ve now come up with a new map, which will probably be approved by Parliament in April, and that means any election coming after that we’ll have the new boundaries,” Hollick said.

“I thought, well, this is a good time to go. Ten years, I would never have worked 10 more years and I thought there’s going to be so many changes on the map.”

Hollick wanted to retire on June 30, 2023, but that did not work out. The person he recommended for the role was not hired as his replacement and he stayed on until the end of October 2023.

The returning officer does not have to live in Prince Albert, but the office is here because it’s the biggest centre in the constituency.

Hollick said one reason he wanted to draw attention to his retirement was so people would know to call someone else when the next federal election gets underway.

“I thought I might as well let people know that I’m not on the end of that call and that they will have to look at the Elections Canada website to get the contact information from the returning officer,” Hollick said. “If they’re looking for employment, they can certainly do so at that time by phoning.”

Hollick said Returning Officers are always in recruitment mode looking for election volunteers. People are expected to work a minimum of six to eight weeks in the office for the election. He relied on retired residents and they made his job easier.

He said the work can be arduous, but all of his workers were incredible.

“You know that they’re doing a good job, and it makes the election, a success” Hollick said.

“There’s a lot of work after the polls close and they work in the office for days packing up everything. I’ve really been well served by my election workers.”

Hollick said the last time he could think of a Returning Officer may have served as long as he did dates back to the stretch where the Liberals under Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent were in power for 22 years.