Compendium of Election Administration in Canada: A Comparative Overview
Each jurisdiction in Canada conducts the election of members to its Legislative Assembly or Parliament within its own framework of election law and administrative practice.
The Compendium of Election Administration in Canada: A Comparative Overview is a comprehensive summary of the federal, provincial and territorial electoral frameworks. It is based on the legislation in force and does not include administrative practices not mentioned in the law with the exception of the section concerning advisory committees of political parties. The Compendium covers most major elements of the electoral process, including the redistribution of electoral boundaries, the administration of elections, the registration of electors, the voting process, the nomination and registration of political entities, election financing and advertising, enforcement of the legislation, and referendums, plebiscites, recalls and initiatives.
However, the reader should be aware that Elections Canada is not responsible for the completeness or accuracy of the information herein provided. This information is provided for convenience only. In interpreting or applying the Acts, the reader should refer to the official texts or obtain the services of a legal expert. This document is up to date as of August 30, 2015.
Terminology often varies between jurisdictions. Therefore, in tables, the sections on specific jurisdictions preserve the terminology of the legislation.
Eight jurisdictions produce legislation in both English and French: Canada, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. For French and English equivalences of terminology in those jurisdictions, please refer to Appendix C and Appendix D. Italicized terms in the appendices are used in the federal legislation.
The following is a brief explanation of equivalent terms. For ease of reference, this general terminology is employed in the summaries at the beginning of each section as well as in table titles.
Chief Electoral Officer
The appointed official who oversees the administration of elections in each jurisdiction is known as the Chief Electoral Officer.
For electoral purposes, every jurisdiction is divided into geographic units, each of which elects one member to the legislative body. In Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta, these geographic units are known as electoral divisions; in Saskatchewan and Nunavut, they are known as constituencies. In Canada and in all other provinces and territories, they are electoral districts. Informally, they are often called ridings.
Also known in Ontario as political advertising, election advertising means the transmission to the public by any means during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party or candidate. In Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, it is known as campaign advertising, while it is only advertising in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon. In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the term campaign material is used.
This is the process by which electors are registered during an electoral period (known as confirmation of electors in Prince Edward Island).
The legislative body to which members are elected in Canada is Parliament, or more specifically, the House of Commons. It is the Legislative Assembly in all provinces and territories, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia, where it is the House of Assembly, and Quebec, where it is the National Assembly.
Lists of electors
Before they can vote, electors must be registered on a list of electors for their polling division. As soon as possible following the issuance of the election writs, preliminary lists of electors are generated from a register of electors (or from an enumeration of electors) and are sent to the political parties or to candidates, as is the case in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These lists are revised and corrected during the revision period and are used to produce the official lists of electors. A list of electors is called a voters list in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, a polling list in Ontario and a list of voters in British Columbia.
Political parties may have local associations in electoral districts where they are active. In Canada and Nova Scotia, such a local political unit is called an electoral district association, and in Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick, a district association. In Quebec, it is a party authority, while in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, it is a constituency association. Prince Edward Island and Yukon make no reference to such associations in their electoral legislation. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have no use for local associations as they do not recognize political parties.
In Canada and New Brunswick, when a political party organizes a nomination contest for the selection of a candidate in an electoral district, the nominee is called a nomination contestant, also known as a nomination candidate in Nova Scotia and a potential candidate in Saskatchewan. Nomination contestants in Canada, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan need to appoint a financial agent, an official representative or a business manager, respectively. Financial activities in Nova Scotia are managed by the political party. It is worth noting that the legislation in Ontario specifically excludes nomination contestants, and there is no reference to nomination contestants in the legislation for the remaining provinces. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have no use for nomination contestants as they do not recognize political parties.
Official agent (candidate)
Candidates in all jurisdictions must appoint a person to look after financial and administrative matters related to the campaign and regular matter. In most cases, this person is known as the candidate's official agent. In Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario, it is the chief financial officer; in Saskatchewan, the business manager; in British Columbia and Nunavut, the financial agent. In Quebec, either official representative or official agent is used depending on the responsibilities at hand and on whether the candidate is independent or affiliated with a political party. In New Brunswick, the official agent authorizes all election expenses while the official representative of the registered political party, registered district association, or registered independent candidate as the case may be solicits the necessary contributions to finance the election campaign.
Official agent (leadership contestant)
In certain jurisdictions, a leadership contestant needs to appoint an official agent to manage contributions and expenses during the leadership contest for a party. In Canada and British Columbia, this person is a financial agent. In New Brunswick, he or she is an official representative. In Quebec, he or she is a financial representative. In Ontario and Alberta, the term is chief financial officer, and in Manitoba, official agent. There is no reference to this position for Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Yukon, while in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, this position is not required for leadership contestants. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have no use for official agents as they do not recognize political parties.
Official agent (political party)
A position similar to that of the candidate's official agent is filled on an ongoing basis (i.e. not limited to campaign periods) for political parties by each party's chief agent or registered agent in Canada; its chief financial officer in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Alberta; its official agent in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Quebec; its chief official agent in Saskatchewan; its financial officer in Manitoba and its financial agent in British Columbia. In New Brunswick, each party's chief agent and official representative may be the same person. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have no use for official agents as they do not recognize political parties.
Official agent (third party)
A registered organization or individual that is not related to a candidate or a political party may have to appoint a financial agent (Canada, Nova Scotia and Manitoba) or a chief financial officer (New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta) to incur expenses for election advertising for the campaign of a candidate or a political party. Although the British Columbia legislation mentions advertising sponsors (also known as third party advertisers), there is no obligation to appoint an official agent. There is no mention of third parties in the remaining jurisdictions.
This is the last day of the electoral period and the main day designated for receiving the votes of electors. It is known as polling day in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories; election day in Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Nunavut; ordinary polling day in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick and general voting day in British Columbia.
For voting purposes, each electoral district is divided into smaller units, each of which is organized to take the votes of the electors who live within its boundaries. These units are most commonly known as polling divisions. In Quebec and Alberta, they are polling subdivisions. In Manitoba and British Columbia, they are known as voting areas. There are no polling divisions in Nunavut.
Each polling division has one or more locations where electors cast their ballots. These are polling stations everywhere but in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon, where they are known as polling places and in Manitoba and British Columbia, where they are voting stations.
The appointed official who oversees the administration of elections and referendums in each electoral district, under the direction of the Chief Electoral Officer, is known as the returning officer everywhere but in British Columbia, where the title is district electoral officer.
Also known as representative in Canada, Quebec and Nunavut; candidate's representative in Saskatchewan; agent in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Yukon; and polling agent in the Northwest Territories. This is an elector appointed to represent a candidate at a polling station. In some jurisdictions, he or she may also be present when the vote is being counted or during the recount. In the Northwest Territories, there are both polling agents and representatives.
A.2 Overview of major legislative changes (September 2014August 2015)
Bill C-43 A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures (Royal Assent December 16, 2014)
This Act came into force on various dates. It amends the Northwest Territories Act to provide that, if the election period for the first general election under that Act would overlap with the election period for a federal general election, then the maximum duration of the first Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories under that Act may be extended until five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at the last general election under the former Northwest Territories Act.
Bill C-47 An Act to correct certain anomalies, inconsistencies and errors and to deal with other matters of a non-controversial and uncomplicated nature in the Statutes of Canada and to repeal certain provisions that have expired, lapsed or otherwise ceased to have effect (Royal Assent February 26, 2015)
This Act came into force on various dates and makes certain terminological changes to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Most notably, it amends the English version of the Act by replacing "chairman" with "chairperson" in a number of provisions.
Bill C-586 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms) (Royal Assent June 23, 2015)
This Act comes into force on various dates. It amends the Canada Elections Act to provide that the chief agent of every party is to report, in writing, to the Chief Electoral Officer the names of the person or persons authorized by the party to endorse prospective candidates. It also amends the Parliament of Canada Act to establish processes for the expulsion and readmission of a caucus member, the election and removal of a caucus chair, leadership reviews and the election of an interim leader, and to provide that these processes apply to party caucuses that vote to adopt them.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Bill 25 An Act to Amend the Elections Act, 1991 (Royal Assent November 20, 2014)
This Act came into force on November 20, 2014. It amends the Elections Act, 1991 to confirm the validity of writs issued for by-elections in the electoral districts of Trinity-Bay de Verde and Humber East on November 3, 2014, despite the fact that the proclamations respecting those by-elections were not published in the Gazette until November 4, 2014.
Bill 42 An Act to Amend the Electoral Boundaries Act (Royal Assent January 23, 2015)
This Act came into force on January 23, 2015. It amends the Electoral Boundaries Act to:
- require the electoral boundaries commission to report upon the delimitation of the province into districts in 2015 rather than 2016
- reduce the number of one-member districts in the province to 40 from 48
- make consequential amendments to the appointment process to provide for a commission report in 2015
Prince Edward Island
Bill No. 15 An Act to Amend the Electoral Boundaries Act (Royal Assent July 10, 2015)
This Act came into force on July 10, 2015. It amends the Electoral Boundaries Act to extend the time period for establishing an electoral boundaries commission after the 2015 general election, and also after every third general election following it, from within ninety days to within one year.
Bill No. 83 An Act to Amend Chapter 5 of the Acts of 2011, the Elections Act (Royal Assent May 11, 2015)
With the exception of sections 87 and 102, which came into force on June 16, 2015, this Act comes into force on proclamation or on January 1, 2016, if not proclaimed in force before that day. It amends various sections of the Elections Act and includes the following notable changes:
- It makes a number of terminological changes. For example, it adds the definitions of "elector's agent," "electronic" and "scrutineer" and amends the definitions of "election expenses," "organization," "election officer," "prospective candidate" and "legal name".
- It extends the time for early voting opportunities by allowing an elector to apply for a write-in ballot from the 27th day before election day up to 6:00 p.m. on the third day before election day in a district where the elector is not resident, or up to 3:00 p.m. on election day in the district where the elector is resident.
- It permits electors to register their names online or by telephone.
- It allows the Chief Electoral Officer to use prescribed information to verify the identity of an elector registering online or by telephone.
- It requires identification from an elector at the time of voting. Where the elector is unable to show identification, it requires the elector to attest to his or her name, address and eligibility, before being delivered a ballot.
- It raises the minimum age of an elector's agent (the person assisting an elector to vote) from 16 to 18.
- It prohibits anyone from using an electronic device in a polling station unless so authorized by the Act or the Chief Electoral Officer, and makes it an offence to take a photograph of a ballot with any electronic device.
- It permits scrutineers to photograph or copy and convey information with respect to electors who have voted, without disturbing the conduct of the election.
- It adds a new subsection to allow a candidate to receive employment remuneration, subject to certain conditions.
- It amends the rules so that whether a candidate is entitled to a return of the deposit does not depend on the number of votes he or she receives.
- It removes the ban on election day advertising.
- It adds a new subsection to require electoral district associations to provide supporting documentation with their annual financial reports, including bank statements.
Bill 14 An Act Respecting Responsible Governance (Royal Assent March 27, 2015)
This Act came into force on March 27, 2015. It repeals the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act, which required political parties to provide a costing of election commitments prior to each general election. The Act also repeals the Taxpayer Protection Act, which required a referendum to be held prior to the introduction of a bill to add a new tax or toll, or raise the HST. It also repeals a section of the Elections Act that required candidates, if they were elected but subsequently left their original political party's caucus, to sit as an independent member in the Legislative Assembly. The Act amended a number of other Acts, including the Political Process Financing Act, in consequence of repealing the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act and the Taxpayer Protection Act.
Bill 26 An Act Respecting Leadership Contestants and Nomination Contestants (Royal Assent June 5, 2015)
This Act came into force on June 5, 2015. It amends the Elections Act and the Political Process Financing Act by adding provisions for the registration of party leadership contestants and nomination contestants in an electoral district. In addition, it requires contestants to file financial returns with Elections New Brunswick and specifies that such returns will be posted on the agency's website for public viewing.
Bill 47 An Act to Amend the Electoral Boundaries and Representation Act (Royal Assent June 5, 2015)
This Act came into force on June 5, 2015 and amends the Electoral Boundaries and Representation Act. An electoral boundaries commission must ensure that the number of electors in each electoral district is as close as reasonably possible to the electoral quotient. The maximum permissible deviation is raised from 5% to 15%; in "extraordinary circumstances," the maximum deviation is 25%. A commission must consider the effective representation of the English and French linguistic communities in establishing electoral districts. The Act now specifies that a deviation to allow for such representation falls under "extraordinary circumstances." As before, a commission must also consider communities of interest; municipal and other administrative boundaries; the rate of population growth in a region; effective representation of rural areas; geographical features, including the accessibility, size and shape of a region; and any other considerations that the commission considers appropriate.
Bill 31 An Act to extend the term of the person designated to temporarily act as Chief Electoral Officer (Royal Assent December 5, 2014)
This Act came into force on December 5, 2014. It provides that the term of office of the person designated on July 12, 2014, to temporarily act as Chief Electoral Officer is extended until a Chief Electoral Officer is appointed or until July 11, 2015, whichever occurs first. This is true despite the six-month time limit specified in section 483 of the Election Act.
Bill 1 An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta (Royal Assent June 29, 2015)
This Act came into force on June 15, 2015. It amends the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and includes the following changes:
- It makes certain terminological changes, most notably by adding the definitions of "Alberta employee organization," "Alberta trade union," "prohibited person or entity" and "unincorporated association or organization" and by amending the definitions of "employee organization," "person" and "trade union" under section 1.
- It provides that only individuals ordinarily resident in Alberta can make a contribution to a registered party, registered constituency association, registered candidate or registered leadership contestant.
Bill 20 Election Amendment Act, 2015 (Royal Assent May 28, 2015)
This Act came into force on May 28, 2015. It amends various sections of the Election Act and includes the following changes:
- It eliminates references to the 60-day pre-campaign period.
- It starts the closed period for general registration sooner, on the day after an election is called.
- It eliminates references to preliminary and revised lists of voters.
- It requires the Chief Electoral Officer to provide a registered political party with a list of voters that indicates who voted in the last general election or in a by-election since the last general election. Candidate representatives are entitled, on general voting day, to a list of voters that includes the voter number of individuals who have voted.
- It adds advance voting opportunities from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday of the week immediately preceding the week before general voting day for an election.
- It allows a family member or an individual with personal care authority in respect of a voter to vouch for his or her identity and residence.
- It provides that, after the end of each advance voting opportunity, candidates are entitled to the voter number of individuals who voted, or specified information about each voter who registered and voted, at the advance voting opportunity.
- It permits constituency associations to incur election expenses on behalf of a candidate during the campaign period.
- It provides that the cost of any fundraising communication is not to be included as an election expense subject to the election expenses limit.
- Under certain circumstances, it exempts the financial agent of a leadership contestant who is acclaimed from the necessity of filing a financing report.
- In terms of the general voting day prohibition on election advertising, it adds an exception for messages transmitted on the Internet that have the sole purpose of encouraging voting.
Bill 33 An Act to Amend the Elections and Plebiscites Act, No. 2 (Royal Assent November 6, 2014)
This Act came into force on November 6, 2014. It amends the Elections and Plebiscites Act and includes the following changes:
- It replaces the provisions for advance polls with provisions for a new system of advance voting opportunities.
- It modernizes requirements relating to campaigning, including requirements with respect to campaign advertising and sponsor identification.
- It requires candidates to file statements from banks or approved institutions in support of their financial reports.
- It increases the number of electors for whom another elector may vouch to five and prohibits candidates from vouching.
- It prohibits candidates from accepting more than a total of $1,500 in anonymous contributions.
- It permits candidates to pay and be reimbursed for petty expenses incurred in a campaign period.
- It enhances the investigation and enforcement powers of the Chief Electoral Officer.
- It modernizes the drafting of the offence provisions.
Bill 34 2015 Polling Day Act (Royal Assent November 6, 2014)
This Act came into force on November 6, 2014. It provides for an alternate polling day of November 23 for the 2015 general election to avoid an overlap with the election period for the federal general election. It allows the Legislative Assembly to continue until October 26, 2015, under such circumstances.