About Federal Elections
Elections Canada is the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums. Its mission is to ensure that Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate.
Canada is a representative democracy divided into 338 ridings. When a federal election is called, Canadians vote to elect a member of Parliament to represent them in the House of Commons, where he or she will debate and pass laws on their behalf. The candidate who receives the most votes in a riding is declared the winner. This system is called a “first-past-the-post” system.
Each member of Parliament has a seat in the House of Commons. Candidates can represent a political party, or can be independent, meaning they have no association with a political party.
The Canada Elections Act states that a general election must be held on the third Monday of October every four years. However, the Act does not prevent a general election from being called sooner. By law, election day must be at least 36 days after an election is called.
The governor general ends Parliament on the request of the prime minister and directs the Chief Electoral Officer to issue the writs of election. The writ is the official paperwork that launches an election in each riding.
Once an election is called, each party decides who its candidate will be in each riding. A candidate can also run for election without a party, as either “independent” or “no affiliation.”
During the campaign period, candidates try to convince voters that they are the best choice to represent them in Parliament.
The most common way to vote is at the polls on election day. Electors must prove their identity and address before getting a ballot. They then go behind a voting screen to privately mark their ballot. Election workers must follow strict procedures to ensure the secrecy of the vote.
Once the polling stations close, election workers open the ballot boxes and count the ballots. The candidate who receives the most votes becomes the member of Parliament (MP) for that riding and represents it in the House of Commons. The political party that has the most MPs usually forms the government. The leader of the political party with the most members normally becomes the prime minister of Canada.
Learn more about the federal electoral process.