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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, 2017.

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 as political advertising in Ontario, and in Alberta when it takes place outside the election period 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.

Enumeration

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. In Alberta, contestants appoint a Chief Financial Officer. 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; 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.

Scrutineer

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, present at regular polls, and representatives, present during a judicial recount.

A.2 Overview of major legislative changes (September 2016–August 2017)

New Brunswick

Bill 56 – An Act to Amend the Political Process Financing Act; and
Bill 66 – An Act Respecting the Political Process Financing Act

On May 5, 2017, Bill 56 and Bill 66 received Royal Assent and made significant changes to the political financing regime in New Brunswick. The following points are the key changes that were made:

  1. Effective June 1, 2017, contributions and financing made by corporations and trade unions are now prohibited, with the exception that financing may still be provided by banks, trust companies, credit unions and commercial lending institutions.
  2. Contributions and financing by individuals, taken together, are now subject to an annual limit. Effective January 1, 2018, the contribution and financing annual limit for individuals will be reduced from $6,000 to $3,000.
  3. Unpaid loans, or payments made on loans, are now considered contributions.
  4. Expenditures incurred from personal funds or credit and not reimbursed by an official representative or chief/official agent are deemed to be contributions and are subject to the annual limit for individuals.
  5. The contribution threshold for registration fees at political conventions is increased from $25 to $85 and will be indexed to inflation.
  6. The formula used for calculating the annual allowance payments to registered political parties will weigh the number of votes received by female candidates at 1.5 times those of male candidates.
  7. Annual political advertising limits are increased to $200,000 per registered political party and $3,000 per registered district association, but subject to a $200,000 aggregate limit, with all limits indexed to inflation.
  8. When submitting financial returns, the Supervisor may now require details of contributions to be submitted in a searchable electronic format.
  9. The unaudited annual financial return of each registered district association is now due March 31.
  10. The unaudited mid-year financial return of each registered political party is now due September 30.
  11. The audited full-year financial return of each registered political party is now due May 31.
  12. The potential reimbursement of audit fees is increased from $2,000 to $7,000 and is indexed to inflation.
  13. All contributions and financing for a candidate's election campaign must be arranged by the candidate's registered district association and not by the candidate's official agent.
  14. A registered district association may only incur and pay for election expenses if authorized to do so by an electoral district agent or official agent of a candidate.
  15. If election expenses need to be incurred prior to a candidate confirming his or her official agent on his or her nomination paper, a political party must appoint an electoral district agent to do so.
  16. An independent candidate, spending $2,000 or less and only from personal funds, may remain unregistered, which would result in less administration than for a registered independent candidate.
  17. Election expenses incurred personally must be submitted to the applicable chief agent or official agent within 20 days of polling day.
  18. The election expenses reimbursement will now be paid to the registered district association—not the official agent—of the candidate, allowing campaign bank accounts and centralized party accounts to be closed prior to filing the electoral financial return for the candidate.
  19. For an offence alleged to have been committed on or after July 1, 2017, a prosecution must now be commenced within four years of the offence being committed, rather than two years.

Quebec

Bill 101 – An Act to give effect to the Charbonneau Commission recommendations on political financing

This Act came into force on June 10, 2016. The major changes included are:

  1. The provisions of the Election Act regarding loans and suretyships are strengthened through the introduction of a new declaration intended to prevent name-lending and of a $25,000 ceiling on loans granted and suretyships contracted by an elector.
  2. Financial reports and expense returns must be signed by the party leader, candidate, Member or, as applicable, the highest ranking official designated by the authorized party authority and must be accompanied by a declaration regarding the rules on financing and election expenses. The same obligations apply in the case of reports and returns in the context of a party leadership campaign. In addition, financial reports must be accompanied by a list of persons authorized to solicit contributions.
  3. The Chief Electoral Officer must make public on the Chief Electoral Officer's website any request made to an authorized entity to remit a contribution or part of a contribution made contrary to the law.
  4. The Chief Electoral Officer must prepare an annual report on the application of the financing rules set out in the Election Act, the Act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities and the Act respecting school elections and on the advisability of modifying those rules.
  5. This Act makes various amendments to the Chief Electoral Officer's delegation, inspection and inquiry powers, makes some of those amendments declaratory, and extends the application of the subdivisions concerning inspections and inquiries to other election Acts and regulations.
  6. This Act allows the Chief Electoral Officer and any person designated in accordance with the law to use the information contained in the list of electors for inspections, inquiries and proceedings.
  7. This Act introduces a penal offence for electors who make a false declaration regarding a loan or suretyship and makes that offence a corrupt electoral practice. It also introduces an offence applicable to anyone who contravenes the provisions relating to the Chief Electoral Officer's access powers or fails to comply with a formal demand, as well as a general offence applicable to anyone who hinders the Chief Electoral Officer or the persons designated in accordance with the law. A daily fine is introduced for delays in providing certain financial information.
  8. The prescription period for penal proceedings, and consequently the retention period for documents, is increased from five to seven years. Furthermore, the Act withdraws the time limit after which a contributor is no longer required to remit to the Chief Electoral Officer a contribution or part of a contribution made contrary to the Election Act and provides that all such contributions must from now on be paid to the Minister of Finance. The Act also provides that the Chief Electoral Officer may request an order from the competent court to have a contribution made contrary to the law remitted to the Chief Electoral Officer. In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer may inform an authorized entity in writing that it is holding such a contribution for which the prescription period for claiming it has expired.

Ontario

Bill 2 – Election Finances Statute Law Amendment Act, 2016

This Act came into force on December 5, 2016. A number of amendments are made to the Election Finances Act, among them:

Bill 45 – Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2016

This Act came into force on various dates between January 1, 2017, and July 1, 2017. A number of amendments are made to Ontario election laws, among them:

  1. The date for scheduled provincial elections is changed from the first Thursday in October to the first Thursday in June.
  2. The Chief Electoral Officer is required to create a provisional register of 16 and 17 year olds who request that their names be added to the register. These persons would be transferred to the permanent register of electors when they reach voting age.
  3. The Chief Electoral Officer may issue a direction requiring the use of vote counting equipment during an election and modifying the usual voting process to permit the use of the equipment.
  4. The Chief Electoral Officer is to assign a unique identifier to each eligible voter on the Permanent Register of Electors.
  5. The Chief Electoral Officer may only share information from the Permanent Register of Electors with political parties that submit a privacy policy that meets the standards set in Elections Ontario's guidelines. In addition, when providing elector information to parties and their candidates, the Chief Electoral Officer may only share the elector's name, unique identifier and address.
  6. Changes are made to the nomination, registration and endorsement processes for candidates under the Election Act and Election Finances Act.
  7. Changes are made to the rules respecting advance polls.
  8. The Education Act is amended to reflect the obligation of school boards to make schools available as polling places under the Election Act and the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.
  9. The first advertising blackout period for unscheduled elections, set out in the Election Finances Act, is eliminated.

Manitoba

Bill 9 – The Election Financing Amendment Act (Repeal of Annual Allowance)

This Act came into force on November 10, 2016. This Bill removes the annual allowance for registered political parties from The Election Financing Act.

Bill 4 – The Elections Amendment Act

This Act came into force on November 10, 2016. This Bill amends The Elections Act to establish a standard 28-day election period for a fixed-date general election. The election period for a by-election or a general election that is not held on a fixed date is shortened to between 28 days and 34 days.

Bill 26 – The Election Financing Amendment Act

This Act came into force on September 5, 2017. The major changes are:

  1. The annual contribution limit for individuals is increased from $3,000 to $5,000, and is indexed for inflation.
  2. Cash contributions are limited to $25 or less.
  3. Advertising expense limits that previously applied to candidates and political parties during the year of a fixed-date election (outside the election period) now apply to the 90-day period before the election period of a fixed-date election.
  4. The definition "election communication" that applies to third parties is expanded to include communications about issues associated with a political party or a candidate.
  5. Promotional materials such as signs and banners are no longer treated as election communication expenses for third parties or as advertising expenses for political parties.
  6. The limits on third-party spending for election communications is $25,000 during the election period for a general election, $100,000 during the 90-day period before the election period of a fixed-date election, and $5,000 for a by-election. These limits are indexed for inflation.
  7. In addition, the number of names on the preliminary voters list (not the voters list from the previous general election) is to be used to determine the minimum election expense limits for candidates and parties. Constituency associations are now required to file unaudited financial statements with the Chief Electoral Officer.

Alberta

Bill 35 – Fair Elections Financing Act

This Act came into force on various dates between the date of first reading of the Bill and January 1, 2017. The major changes included are:

  1. Contribution limits are set at $4,000 per calendar year, in aggregate, to any registered political parties, registered constituency associations, registered leadership contestants, registered candidates and registered nomination contestants.
  2. Nomination contestants must also report the financial activities for their campaign.
  3. Leadership contestants who spend in excess of $25,000 on their leadership campaign must file audited financial statements.
  4. Quarterly reporting: Registered political parties and registered constituency associations are required to file with Elections Alberta a complete listing of all contributions over $50 for the quarter and in aggregate across all quarters. Public disclosure remains the same
  5. Failure to file a quarterly report, as required by section 32 of the Act, may result in penalties up to and including deregistration of the political party or constituency association.
  6. A guarantee of a loan is limited to the contribution limit in the year it is guaranteed and applies against the contribution limit for that year, but no tax receipt is issued.
  7. Any payments made on a loan as a result of a guarantee are not considered contributions in that year, but if eligible, a receipt will be issued for tax purposes.
  8. Any existing loans that are secured by collateral or guarantee must be renegotiated in consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer in order to become compliant.
  9. Campaign expense limits for registered political parties ($2,000,000), registered candidates ($50,000) and registered nomination contestants ($10,000) will be in effect for the next election event.
  10. Contribution limits and spending limits are to be adjusted every January 1 following a provincial general election.

Bill 15 – Tax Statutes Amendment Act

This Act came into force on various dates between January 1, 2017, and July 1, 2017. The major change included is that contributions to leadership contestants and nomination contestants are now eligible for tax deductible receipts.