Elections in Canada
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Canada holds elections for legislatures or governments in several jurisdictions: nationally (federally), provincially and territorially, and municipally. Elections are also held for self-governing First Nations and for many other public and private organizations including corporations and trade unions. Formal elections have occurred in Canada since at least 1792, when both Upper Canada and Lower Canada had their first elections.
National voting is available to all Canadian citizens aged 18 or older. Other elections may have citizenship, residency, and/or ownership requirements (some municipalities allow both residents and non-resident landowners to vote).
The Parliament of Canada has two chambers: The House of Commons has 308 members, elected for a maximum five-year term in single-seat constituencies, and the Senate has 105 members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. Senators are given permanent terms (up to age 75) and thus often serve much longer than the prime minister who was primarily responsible for their appointment.
National elections are governed by the Canada Elections Act. Using the plurality voting system, Canadians vote for their local Member of Parliament (MP), who represents one specific constituency in the House of Commons. Generally, the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the prime minister. Although most MP's are members of a political party, candidates may stand for election as independents unaffiliated with any political party. In addition, after they are elected, sitting members of parliaments are also permitted to "cross the floor" and switch from one party to another without having to first resign and stand for office. Some sitting members may also be dismissed from their party and forced to sit as independents. Because of this, the distribution of seats by party affiliation often fluctuates in between elections.
Although several parties are currently represented in parliament, Canada has two dominant political parties. Historically, these were the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada, both of which have had turns at governing the country since 1867. As of May 2, 2011, the Liberal Party's place was taken by the New Democratic Party, making this the first time in Canadian history the Liberals have not been a dominant party in Canada.
If a government loses a non-confidence motion, traditionally the prime minister will ask the governor general to call an election and the governor general follows that advice. However, the viceroy's compliance is not assured; the governor general also has the right to seek out another party leader who might be able to command the confidence of the House and ask him or her to form a government. This happened in 1926 and is referred to as the King-Byng Affair.
The five-year time limitation is strictly applied to the life of the parliament or assembly in question—this body is not deemed to have been formed until the return of the writs and ceases to exist the moment it is dissolved. It is therefore possible to run slightly longer than five years between election days, as was the case between the 1930 and 1935 elections. Although the law has allowed for a five-year gap between elections, there have in fact only been two five-year gaps in the last 50 years: between 1974 and 1979 and between 1988 and 1993, and there have in fact been five general elections since 2000.
It is also possible for a general election to be delayed should Canada be embroiled in a war or insurrection. This provision was enacted to allow Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden to delay a federal election for about a year during World War I. Since then, the provision has only been used twice, both times by provincial governments—Ontario delayed an election for a few weeks in the year following the Armistice in 1918. Saskatchewan was the only jurisdiction to delay a general election by more than a year, due to World War II, but held an election in 1944, six years after the previous vote.
The most recent election was held on May 2, 2011.
Although, under Section 4 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, each parliament has a maximum term of five years after the return of the writs of the last election, on November 6, 2006, the Parliament of Canada passed Bill C-16, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act. It requires that each general election is to take place on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with October 19, 2009.
Nevertheless, the law does not curtail the power of the governor general to dissolve parliament at any time, meaning the prime minister may advise such a move whenever he or she feels is prudent. In the provinces and territories, the maximum life of a legislature is also fixed by the constitution, although some provinces have local laws that require elections to be even earlier.
By-elections and Referenda
By-elections can be held between general elections when seats become vacant through the resignation or death of a member. The date of the by-election is determined by the Governor General, who must call it between 11 and 180 days after being notified of the seat vacancy by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
The federal government can also hold nation-wide referenda on major issues. The last federal referendum was held in 1992, on proposed constitutional changes in the Charlottetown Accord. On occasion, one particular issue will dominate an election, and the election will in a sense be a virtual referendum. The most recent instance of this was the 1988 election, which was considered by most parties to be a referendum on free trade with the United States.
Every Canadian citizen 18 years of age or older has the right to vote except for the Chief Electoral Officer and the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer. In the Canada Elections Act, inmates serving a sentence of at least two years were prohibited from voting, but on October 31, 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Sauvé v. Canada that such a law violated the section 3 of the Charter, and was rendered of no force or effect.
The federal National Register of Electors is updated to reflect various changes in the Canadian population, including address changes, reaching voting age, naturalization, and death. Every year, about 3,000,000 address changes are processed by Elections Canada from information obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada Post (via the National Change of Address service), provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent voters lists. Every year, about 400,000 Canadians reach voting age and 200,000 Canadians die, resulting in changes to the National Register of Electors based on information obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency, provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent voters lists. Additionally, 120,000 individuals a year become naturalised Canadians, and are added to the National Register of Electors by Elections Canada based on information obtained from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Length of election campaigns
The length of election campaigns can vary, but under the Elections Act, the minimum length of a campaign is 36 days. There is no explicit maximum length for a campaign, although section 5 of the Charter requires that the Parliament sit at least once every twelve months, and thus a campaign would have to conclude in time for returns to be completed and parliament to be called into session within twelve months of the previous sitting. The federal election date must be set on a Monday (or Tuesday if the Monday is a statutory holiday).
The longest election campaign was the 1926 election following the King-Byng Affair which lasted 74 days. Prior to the adoption of the minimum of 36 days in law, there were six elections that lasted shorter periods of time. The last of these was the 1904 election which occurred many decades before the time limit was imposed.
In practice, the Prime Minister will generally keep a campaign as brief as is legal and/or feasible, because spending by parties is strictly limited by the Elections Act, a law which contains no provisions that would allow for increased spending in a lengthy campaign. The 1997, 2000 and 2004 elections were all of the minimum 36 days in length which has led to a common misconception that elections must be 36 days long. However, prior to 1997, elections averaged much longer: aside from the 47 day campaign for the 1993 election, the shortest election period after World War II was 57 days and many were over 60 days in length.
Much speculation had surrounded how long the campaign for the 39th federal election would be in 2006, especially as it became certain the election would be called in the weeks preceding Christmas 2005. The government of Joe Clark, which fell on December 12, 1979, recommended a campaign of 66 days for the resulting election, and nothing legal barred a similarly lengthened campaign. In the end, the 2006 election was called on November 29, 2005, for January 23, 2006 — making a 55-day long campaign.
Provincial and Territorial
Currently, each of Canada's ten provinces as well as the Yukon Territory, uses the same plurality voting system used in federal elections. Elections are monitored and organized, however, by independent provincial election commissions, and a province may legally change their electoral system should they wish to do so, without requiring permission from the federal government.
Since 2001, most Canadian provinces, as well as the Northwest Territories, have passed laws establishing fixed election dates, in most cases calling for elections every four years on a specific day and month.
All Canadian provinces and the Yukon, have electoral systems dominated by major political parties. In most provinces the leading parties are the same parties prominent at the federal level. However, the provincial party may or may not have an official affiliation with the federal party of the same name. Thus, names of provincial parties can sometimes be misleading when associating a provincial party with a national party, although the respective ideologies are usually fairly similar.
The federal Conservative Party of Canada has no provincial wings and none of the current provincial Progressive Conservative Parties are formally linked with the federal party as they all predate the 2003 establishment of the federal party, which resulted in the formal disbanding of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Some provincial parties (such as Alberta) formally broke off links with the federal party prior to the merger.
In British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec the provincial Liberal parties are wholly emancipated from the federal Liberal Party of Canada, while in the other provinces, the provincial Liberal parties are autonomous entities that retain formal links with the federal party.
All provincial wings of the New Democratic Party are fully integrated with the federal party, and members of the provincial party are automatically also members of the federal party.
The following table summarizes the results of the most recent provincial and territorial elections. A link to complete lists for each province and territory is below. The winning party is indicated in bold and by the coloured bar at the left of the table. The table does not show the current state of the parties within the legislative bodies; refer to the articles on the individual houses for the current state.
This table does not show the current state of provincial legislatures, but rather the party standings as a result of the most recent election.
|Province or territory||Date of most
|Progressive Conservative||Liberal||New Democrat||Other|
|British Columbia||May 14, 2013||492, 3||34||1 (Green Party)
|Quebec||September 4, 2012||502||54 (Parti Québécois)
19 (Coalition Avenir Québec)
2 (Québec Solidaire)
|Alberta||April 23, 2012||61||52||4||17 (Wildrose Party)||87|
|Saskatchewan||November 7, 2011||9||49 (Saskatchewan Party)||58|
|Yukon||October 11, 2011||2||6||11 (Yukon Party)||19|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||October 11, 2011||37||6||5||48|
|Ontario||October 6, 2011||37||532||17||107|
|Manitoba||October 4, 2011||19||1||37||57|
|Northwest Territories||October 3, 2011||191||19|
|Prince Edward Island||October 3, 2011||5||22||27|
|New Brunswick||September 27, 2010||42||13||55|
|Nova Scotia||June 9, 2009||10||11||31||52|
|Nunavut||October 27, 2008||191||19|
For lists of general elections in each province and territory, see the infobox at the bottom of the article.
1Note: Nunavut does not have political parties, and political parties in the Northwest Territories were disbanded in 1905. MLAs in both territories are elected as independents and the legislatures function under a consensus government model.
2Note: Provincial Liberal parties that are not affiliated with the federal Liberal Party of Canada.
Municipal elections are held in Canada for the election of local governments. Most provinces hold all of their municipal elections on the same date. Candidates are elected through either ward or at-large systems, every two, three or four years, depending on the province. A minority of locations in Canada have local political parties or election slates, while most locations elect only independents.
Senate nominee (Alberta)
Reforms and attempted reforms are outlined below.
2005 Single Transferable Vote referendum
In this referendum 57.7% of British Columbians voted in favour of the Single Transferable Vote system, however a vote of 60% was required to pass, therefore the motion was defeated.
2005 Prince Edward Island referendum
2007 Ontario Mixed Member Proportional Representation referendum
2008 New Brunswick referendum
A referendum on the issue was proposed for 2008, however the Progressive Conservatives were defeated in the September 2006 election and the new Liberal government cancelled the referendum.
2004 Quebec Proposed Electoral Reform
The Liberal government of Quebec proposed electoral reform in 2004, which was scheduled to be passed in the fall of 2006 without a referendum. The project was postponed due to divergent views on how to improve it.
2009 British Columbia Single Transferable Vote referendum
A referendum for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system was held on May 12, 2009. The adoption of STV was defeated, with 39.09% of voters preferring STV over First Past The Post (FPTP).
- Canadian electoral calendar
- Canadian electoral system
- Electoral calendar
- Electoral system
- Electronic voting in Canada
- Federal political financing in Canada
- Fixed election dates in Canada
- List of Canadian federal electoral districts
- List of Canadian federal general elections
- List of elections in the Province of Canada (pre-Confederation)
- List of federal by-elections in Canada
- List of political parties in Canada
- Past Canadian electoral districts
- Referendums in Canada
- Timeline of Canadian elections
- Voter turnout in Canada
- "Fixed election dates in Canada". Election Almanac. Retrieved May 19, 2008.
- Parliament of Canada (November 6, 2006). "Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved August 31, 2008.
- Elizabeth II (July 27, 2008). "Canada Elections Act". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved August 30, 2008.
- "Description of the National Register of Electors". Elections Canada. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "Length of Federal Election Campaigns". Parliament of Canada. Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
- A full list of past election periods can be found on the Parliament of Canada website
- Elections Canada
- CBC Digital Archives—Voting in Canada: How a Privilege Became a Right
- CBC Digital Archives—Campaigning for Canada
- Canadian Governments Compared
- U.S. State Department estimates of Canadian elections