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 Canadian citizens aged 18 or older who reside in Canada or have been abroad for shorter than five years. Other elections may have citizenship, residency, and/or ownership requirements (some municipalities allow both residents and non-resident landowners to vote).
- 1 National elections
- 2 Provincial and territorial
- 3 Municipal
- 4 Senate nominee (Alberta)
- 5 Reforms
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
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 and administered by an independent agency, Elections Canada. 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.
Changes to the Canada Elections Act in 1970 gave party leaders the power to approve party candidates and control party nominations. "Canada is the only Western democracy where party leaders, by law, have a veto over party candidates and the power to replace a local electoral district associations." 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 (1867-1942) 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.
|Party||Party leader||Candidates||Seats||Popular vote|
|2008||Dissol.||2011||% Change||% seats||#||# Change||%||pp Change|
|New Democratic||Jack Layton||308||37||36||103||+178.38%||33.44%||4,508,474||+1,993,186||30.63%||+12.45pp|
|Bloc Québécois||Gilles Duceppe||75||49||47||4||−91.84%||1.30%||889,788||−490,203||6.04%||−3.93pp|
|Independent and no affiliation||61||2||2||—||−100%||—||72,731||−22,113||0.49%||−0.19pp|
|Christian Heritage||James Hnatiuk||46||—||—||—||—||—||19,218||−7,257||0.13%||−0.06pp|
|Marxist–Leninist||Anna Di Carlo||70||—||—||—||—||—||10,160||+1,595||0.07%||+0.01pp|
|Progressive Canadian||Sinclair Stevens||9||—||—||—||—||—||5,838||−22||0.04%||−0.00pp|
|Canadian Action||Christopher Porter||12||—||—||—||—||—||2,030||−1,425||0.01%||−0.01pp|
|Animal Alliance||Liz White||7||—||—||—||—||—||1,451||+924||0.01%||+0.01pp|
|Western Block||Doug Christie||4||—||—||—||—||—||748||+553||0.01%||+0.00pp|
|First Peoples National||Will Morin||1||—||—||—||—||—||228||−1,383||0.00%||−0.01pp|
|Source: Elections Canada (Preliminary results)|
- 1. André Forbes of Manicouagan was nominated as a Liberal, but lost party support after being nominated, and continued to run as an independent; he is listed here as a Liberal rather than an independent, as he was listed as a Liberal on the ballot.
- 2. The Rhinoceros Party contested the previous federal election under the name Neorhino.ca.
- 3. People's Political Power Party of Canada failed to run candidates in the 2011 election and was deregistered by Elections Canada on April 13, 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 nationwide 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, over 150,000 individuals a year become naturalized Canadians, and are added to the National Register of Electors by Elections Canada based on information obtained from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Canadian citizens abroad
Although Section Three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that "every citizen of Canada has the right to vote", in practice only those citizens 18 years of age or older, and who reside in Canada or have been abroad for fewer than five years, may vote. Exemptions to the five-year limit exist for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, employees of the federal or a provincial government who are abroad, employees of certain international organizations, and their cohabitants. The five-year limit was originally enacted as part of Bill C-114, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act, in 1993; these amendments extended the special ballot to certain prisoners, and Canadians "living or travelling" abroad. In September 2005, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, then the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada for 15 years, explicitly recommended in his official report that Parliament remove the five-year limit by amendment, but no action was taken.
In May 2014, a court decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice invalidated the five-year limit as an unconstitutional restriction on the right to vote, in violation of Section Three, leading to a period of fourteen months during which all Canadian expatriates could apply to be on the register of electors. However, the decision was reversed 2-1 on appeal at the Court of Appeal for Ontario on July 20, 2015, in a judicial opinion citing Canada's history of using a residence-based electoral district system and a justification based on social contract theory, which held that the five-year limit was a permissible limitation of the constitutional right to vote under Section One. As of August 2015, Elections Canada has implemented changes to its registration process to comply with the latest court ruling, and will require expatriates already on the register to declare an intended date of return.
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 1872 election was both the second shortest and the longest campaign in history. The first parliament was dissolved on 1872-07-08, while the writ was dropped on 1872-07-15. Voting occurred from 1872-07-20 to 1872-10-12. Therefore, the campaign started to close 12 days after dissolution and five days after the writ, and concluded was 96 days (13 weeks plus five days) days after dissolution and 89 days after the writ.
Every subsequent election has occurred on a single day. Of these elections, the longest election campaign, in terms of days from dissolution to election day, was that of 1926 election, following the King-Byng Affair, which lasted 74 days.
In terms of days from writ to election day, the longest campaign was that of 1980 election, which lasted 66 days. The 2015 election, currently taking place, is 78 days long from writ to election day, making it the longest campaign for a one-day election, exceeding in length only by that of 1872.
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 minimum 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. The maximum spending by each party is increased by 1/37th of the maximum for each day that the campaign exceeds 37 days. 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
Canada's ten provinces and the Yukon Territory use 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 and 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 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 independent of 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 Green Party has provincial counterparts that are directly affiliated but do not share membership or organizational structure and support.
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.
This table shows the party standings as a result of the most recent election, and not the current representation in legislatures; refer to the articles on the individual houses for the current state.
|Province or territory||Date of most
|Progressive Conservative||Liberal||New Democrat||Green||Other|
|Alberta||May 5, 2015||10||12||54||21 (Wildrose Party)
1 (Alberta Party)
|Prince Edward Island||May 4, 2015||8||18||1||27|
|New Brunswick||September 22, 2014||21||27||1||49|
|Ontario||June 12, 2014||28||582||21||107|
|Quebec||April 7, 2014||702||30 (Parti Québécois)
22 (Coalition Avenir Québec)
3 (Québec Solidaire)
|Nunavut||October 28, 2013||221||22|
|Nova Scotia||October 8, 2013||11||33||7||51|
|British Columbia||May 14, 2013||492||34||1||1 (Independent)||85|
|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|
|Manitoba||October 4, 2011||19||1||37||57|
|Northwest Territories||October 3, 2011||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 officially 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
- "Restore Canada’s Parliament by returning power to MPs" (PDF).
- "Booted Liberal candidate still in the race". TheSpec.com. April 11, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
- "Controversial Quebec Liberal to remain in race". CBC News. April 11, 2011. Retrieved April 12, 2011.
- "Deregistration of People's Political Power Party of Canada". Elections Canada. April 13, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
- "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.
- "Constitution Act, 1982, Part I: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Canada Elections Act". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca. Section 222. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- Canada, Elections. "A History of the Vote in Canada: Chapter 4 (The Charter Era, 1982–2006)". Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Completing the Cycle of Electoral Reforms – Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 38th General Election". Elections Canada. 2005-09-29. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 41st general election of May 2, 2011". Elections Canada. 2011-08-17. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Frank et al. v. AG Canada, 2014 ONSC 907". Canadian Legal Information Institute. 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Frank v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 ONCA 536". www.ontariocourts.ca. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- Fine, Sean (2015-07-20). "Long-term Canadian expats denied right to vote, court rules". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Voting from abroad". Elections Canada Online. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
- "Length of Federal Election Campaigns". Parliament of Canada. Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
- "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