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The Calling of a Federal By-election

Definition of by-election

A by-election is an election held in a single electoral district. More than one by-election may be held at the same time.

Calling a by-election

A by-election is held to fill a vacancy in the House of Commons that comes about other than through the dissolution of the House for a general election.

By-elections are called in a similar manner to general elections.

Under the Parliament of Canada Act, when a seat in the House becomes vacant, the Speaker of the House of Commons informs the Chief Electoral Officer by means of a Speaker's warrant. If the Speaker is absent, or if it is the Speaker's seat that is vacant, two members of the House of Commons may address the warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer. The Parliament of Canada Act includes an exception where a vacancy occurs in the nine months before a fixed date general election; in that case, no by-election is called and the seat remains vacant until the general election.

After receiving the warrant, section 57 of the Canada Elections Act authorizes the Governor in Council to fix the date on which the Chief Electoral Officer is to issue the writ. The date of issuance must fall between the 11th and 180th days after the Chief Electoral Officer receives the warrant from the Speaker (or the two members of the House). The Governor in Council also fixes the date for election day, which cannot be earlier than 36 days, or later than 50 days, after the Chief Electoral Officer issues the writ.

Application of the Canada Elections Act to by-elections

A by-election is an election for the purposes of the Canada Elections Act. However, although many of the provisions applicable to general elections are also applicable to by-elections, this is not always the case. For example, the broadcasting scheme established under the Act for general elections does not apply to by-elections. The relevant provision of the Act should always be checked to determine its applicability to by-elections.

Candidates in by-elections remain subject to operational requirements, spending limits and reporting obligations similar to those applicable in a general election—but adjusted as necessary for by-elections. While registered parties remain subject to spending limits in a by-election, they are not required to submit specific election expenses returns, as they must for a general election. However, registered parties must still submit their annual returns, which will reflect their by-election activities.