open Secondary menu

Compendium of Election Administration in Canada: A Comparative Overview

A. Introduction

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, 2016.

A.1 Terminology

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.

Electoral district

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.

Election advertising

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, the Northwest Territories and Prince Edward Island, it is known as campaign advertising, while it is only advertising in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon. In Nunavut, the term campaign material is used. In Quebec the term used is publicity relating to the election.


This is the process by which electors are registered during an electoral period (known as confirmation of electors in Prince Edward Island).

Legislative Assembly

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.

Local association

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.

Nomination contestant

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 official agents for third parties in the remaining jurisdictions.

Polling day

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.

Polling division

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.

Polling station

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.

Returning officer

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 2015–August 2016)

Prince Edward Island

Bill 21 – An Act to Amend the Election Act

This Act came into force on April 29, 2016. It amends the Election Act and the major changes included in the bill are the following:

Bill 27 – An Act to Amend the Electoral Boundaries Act

This Act came into force on May 4, 2016. It amends the Electoral Boundaries Act and the major changes included in the bill are the following:

Nova Scotia

Bill 162 – Elections Act (amended) An Act to Amend Chapter 5 of the Acts of 2011, the Elections Act

This Act came into force on May 20, 2016. This Act amends the Elections Act and the major changes included in the bill are the following:


Bill 115 – Electoral Boundaries Act, 2015

This Act came into force on December 3, 2015. It provides 122 electoral districts to replace the current 107. This redistribution takes effect immediately after the dissolution of the Legislature after November 30, 2016. This act also amends the Election Act by adding the definitions to "new electoral district," "old electoral district" and "transition period" and how to appoint returning officers during transition period and their terms of office for old or new electoral districts. This Act additionally amends the Election Finances Act to deal with the effect of the redistribution on constituency associations by specifying the rules that apply after a constituency association is dissolved and the requirements of new constituency associations.


Bill 45 – The Elections Amendment Act

This Act came into force on November 5, 2015, and amends The Elections Act to enable enumerators to ask eligible voters to provide their gender and date of birth. The same information will be requested when voters apply to have their name added to the voters' list on election day or during advance voting, or when voters apply to vote as an absentee or homebound voter. Other amendments to the Act include allowing separate voting stations in residences for seniors and people with disabilities. It also permits a voting station already established for a health care facility to be used for voting by seniors and people with disabilities who live in a co-located residence.

Bill 22 – The Elections Amendment Act

This Act came into force on March 15, 2016, and amends The Elections Act to reduce the number of signatures required for nomination documents. Previously under The Elections Act, nomination documents filed by a candidate had to include the names, addresses and signatures of at least 100 eligible voters who support the nomination. This Bill reduced that number to 50 for any election held after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

British Columbia

Bill 17 – Local Elections Campaign Financing (Election Expenses) Amendment Act, 2016

This Act came into force on May 19, 2016, but does not apply to local elections or assent voting held before the 2018 General Local Elections and amends the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act. The major changes included are:


Bill 91 – Act to Amend the Elections Act and the Electoral District Boundaries Act

This Act came into force on December 3, 2015, and implements a major revision of key aspects of Yukon's electoral law. The main improvements included in the Bill are:

Northwest Territories

Bill 69 – An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, No.2

This Act came into force on November 23, 2015. It includes a related amendment to the Elections and Plebiscites Act regarding polling day and the alternative fixed date for regular polling day should the territorial election period overlap with that of a federal general election.


Bill 9 – An Act to Amend the Nunavut Elections Act and the Plebiscites Act

This Act came into force on November 5, 2015. It refers to plebiscite offences for disqualifying candidates, repeals the pre-election broadcasting blackout, provides the Management and Services Board with broader regulation-making powers in respect of elections and plebiscites, requires Board approval for any direct appointment of staff in the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer and allows the Chief Electoral Officer to continue to hold office after the expiry of his or her term until reappointed, or until a successor is appointed. It also repeals the prohibition on the sale of liquor on election day and includes a few housekeeping amendments.