PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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4. The House of Commons and Its Members

Rules of Membership for the House

With few exceptions, anyone who is qualified to vote can run for a seat in the House of Commons. The qualifications and disqualifications for candidacy in a federal election are set down in the Canada Elections Act[70]  the Parliament of Canada Act [71]  and the Constitution Act, 1982[72] 

As stated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein”. [73]  Thus, any Canadian citizen at least 18 years of age on polling day, who is qualified as an elector, is eligible to be a candidate in an election. [74]  A candidate must have established residency somewhere in Canada but not necessarily in the constituency where he or she is seeking election. [75] A candidate may seek election in only one electoral district. [76] 

Historical Perspective

The qualifications for candidacy for persons seeking election to the House of Commons have been revised on numerous occasions and have always been closely linked with the right to vote. During periods when groups of citizens were disenfranchised, they were also disqualified from seeking election. [77]  In 1867, the Constitution Act stated that all laws in force in the provinces respecting qualifications and disqualifications of persons seeking election to provincial legislatures would apply to the election of Members to the House of Commons until the Parliament of Canada enacted its own legislation. [78]  Although the Constitution Act, 1867 did stipulate (as did the provincial laws) that candidates had to be male, British subjects, 21 years of age and property owners, [79]  the qualification provisions in each province were not necessarily the same and there was no uniformity of qualifications for the first Members returned to the House. Indeed, candidates did not have to reside in the country. For more than one session in the First Parliament, some Members sat not only in the House of Commons, but also in the legislative assemblies of Ontario and Quebec. [80]  In 1873, a private Member successfully sponsored a bill to make the practice of dual representation illegal. [81]  In 1874, Parliament passed its own legislation providing for the election of Members. The Dominion Election Act abolished the property qualification for candidates and declared that any British-born or naturalized male subject of Great Britain, Ireland, or Canada or one of its provinces was eligible for candidacy in an election. [82]  In 1919, women received the franchise and the right to be candidates in an election. [83]  In 1948, the election laws were amended to ensure that candidates were Canadian residents and qualified electors; amendments also eliminated disqualification from voting on the basis of race (status Indians excepted), which in turn opened up candidacy to people of Oriental origin, in particular to Japanese-Canadians. [84]  In 1955, revisions to the Act gave the franchise to various religious groups, in particular to Doukobours, who had previously been disenfranchised. [85]  Aboriginal persons received the right to vote and seek election in 1960. [86]  In 1970, the voting age was lowered to 18 and, as an extension, so was the age requirement for candidacy. [87] 

Disqualifications

The Canada Elections Act sets out a series of disqualifications that apply to electoral candidacy. Inmates of penal institutions serving sentences of two or more years are disqualified from seeking election. [88]  Until 1993, patients suffering from mental disease were ineligible to be candidates during the period of confinement or while under the protection and supervision of a guardian. [89]  Certain officials such as sheriffs, clerks of the peace, or county or judicial district crown attorneys may not seek election. [90]  Similarly, federally appointed judges (citizenship judges excepted) and election officials are disqualified from voting and seeking election. [91]  Members of provincial legislatures and territorial councils are also ineligible to run in federal elections. [92]  An appointment to the Senate disqualifies a person from being a Member; no violation of this has occurred, although Senators have resigned their seats on occasion to seek election to the House. [93] 

A person found guilty of any corrupt electoral practice under the Canada Elections Act within the previous five years, such as knowingly making a false declaration respecting election expenses, exerting undue influence upon a voter at an election, or inducing voters by promises of valuable consideration, food or drink, is disqualified from seeking election for seven years following the date of the conviction. [94]  A person guilty of any illegal electoral practice under the Canada Elections Act, such as wilfully exceeding the legal spending limit, failing to submit a return respecting election expenses, or consenting to be a candidate when ineligible, is disqualified from seeking election for five years from the date of conviction. [95] 

Independence of Parliament

As noted by Professor Norman Ward, “It is an ideal of democratic government that representation should be independent of undesirable forces that might bias their judgement on public matters. In particular, they should be free of the executive, at least insofar as direct pecuniary benefit is concerned.” [96]  In order to preserve its independence, the Parliament of Canada re-enacted 1857 legislation from the Province of Canada which disqualified from eligibility as a Member of the Assembly or from sitting or voting, any person who had accepted or held “any office, commission or employment in the service of the Government of Canada at the nomination of the Crown, to which an annual salary or any fee, allowance, or emolument in lieu of an annual salary from the Crown [was] attached.” [97]  This disqualified Members appointed to the Cabinet: Cabinet Ministers had to resign their seats and seek re-election in order to obtain the approval of the electors in their constituencies. Also disqualified from eligibility were government contractors and officers of the navy and militia. In 1878, the Act was amended to exempt from disqualification Members already holding a ministerial position and to further disqualify sheriffs, registrars of deeds, clerks of the peace, and county Crown attorneys. [98]  In 1931, an amendment to the Senate and House of Commons Act freed Ministers appointed after an election from the necessity of vacating their seats and seeking re-election. [99] 

In 1992, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, also known as the Lortie Commission, recommended the removal of the office of profit or emolument disqualification from the Canada Elections Act[100]  arguing that public officers and employees had the right to a leave of absence to seek a nomination and contest an election. [101]  Once elected to the House of Commons, the individual’s employment with the Crown would then be deemed terminated in order to avoid any conflict of interest issues. In regard to the eligibility of a candidate holding a government contract, the Lortie Commission recommended the removal of this disqualification, reasoning that, if elected, the Member would then have to bring the contractual relationship in line with the rules governing the conduct of Members. In 1993, these recommendations were included in legislation introduced, and subsequently passed, to amend the Canada Elections Act[102] 

However, pursuant to the Parliament of Canada Act, any person holding an office of emolument or profit and any person holding government contractsare still ineligible to be a Member of the House and to sit and to vote therein. [103] 


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