A dissolution of Parliament terminates all
business in the Senate and in the House of Commons and is followed by a general
election. Unless Parliament is dissolved earlier, the date of a general election
is set in accordance with the provisions of the Canada Elections Act
which stipulates that each general election must be held on the third Monday of
October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general
The election process has evolved
considerably since 1867. The Constitution Act, 1867 stated that
electoral laws in force at the time in the provinces would apply to the
election of Members until such time as Parliament enacted its own legislation.
Thus, in 1867 and in 1872, polling days were held on different days in
different locations over several weeks:
in 1867, elections were held on different dates in different ridings over a
period of six weeks; the 1872 election lasted three months. Moreover, with the
exception of elections in New Brunswick where the secret ballot had been
adopted in 1855, voting was done orally.
In 1874, Parliament passed electoral legislation which stipulated that votes
had to be cast on the same day in all electoral districts and by secret ballot.
A number of administrative and process amendments were made to the legislation
over the following decades and in 1920 a new statute was enacted. Among other matters, the Dominion Elections Act created the office of the Chief
Electoral Officer to oversee the election process. In 1929, the Act
was amended to establish Monday as polling day, unless that day was a statutory
holiday, in which case the election was held the next day. Statutory
provisions to limit the length of an election were only introduced in 1982 when
the electoral period was set at a minimum of 50 days; in 1993, the
election period was shortened to a minimum of 47 days. In 1996,
amendments to the Canada Elections Act introduced a permanent register
of electors, reduced the minimum time required between the issue of the
election writs and polling day to 36 days and staggered the hours of voting
across Canada’s six time zones with polling stations open 12 hours in each
In 2000, the Canada Elections Act was repealed and replaced with an
identically titled new statute which modernized the organization and
terminology of electoral legislation.
In addition, the new statute repealed the Dominion Controverted Elections
Act which dealt with disputed election results; new provisions for
resolving such matters were added to the Canada Elections Act.
The Corrupt Practices Inquiries Act (1876) and the Disfranchising Act
(1894) were also repealed.
In 2007, the Act was amended to provide for fixed elections every four years.
The Prime Minister begins the process of
calling a general election by presenting the Governor General with an
Instrument of Advice recommending that Parliament be dissolved. Once the
proclamation dissolving Parliament has been issued, the Prime Minister presents
an Order in Council to the Governor General recommending that writs of election
be issued and fixing the date of the election as well as the date for the
return of the writs. The Governor General then issues a proclamation for the issuance
of writs of election.
When a general election is called, the
Chief Electoral Officer issues each returning officer a writ of election.
A writ is a formal written order instructing the returning officer in each
electoral district to hold an election for a Member of Parliament. The writ
specifies the polling date and the date on which the writ, with the name of the
successful candidate noted on the back, is to be returned to the Chief
The date of the issue of the writ, the polling day and the date for the return
of the writ are the same for each electoral district (see Figure 4.3).
The returning officer is responsible for
the conduct of an election within an electoral district. One returning
officer is appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer for each electoral district
following a competitive process.
The Chief Electoral Officer establishes the qualifications for returning
officers as well as the appointment process and reports these to the Speaker,
who tables the report in the House.
The returning officer is appointed for a term of 10 years.
4.3 The Writ of General Election
The writs of election cannot be issued or
dated later than the 36th day before polling day, making the minimum length of
a federal election campaign 36 days.
After the returning officer receives the writ, he or she prepares a notice of
election that indicates the deadline for the receipt of nominations, the date
for polling day, the date and time for the validation of the results and the
address of the returning officer’s office
(see Figure 4.4).
No later than 2:00 p.m. on nomination day,
which is Monday, the 21st day before polling day, each candidate
must file with the returning officer several documents, including the
nomination paper, a declaration signed by the candidate stating that he or she
accepts the nomination, a declaration of acceptance signed by the candidate’s
official agent and a statement of acceptance signed by the candidate’s auditor.
A $1,000 deposit is also required to ensure the candidate’s intention to stand
as an official candidate.
Candidates who change their mind have until 5:00 p.m. on
nomination day to withdraw.
Where only one candidate has been
officially nominated for an electoral district, the returning officer
immediately returns the writ of election to the Chief Electoral Officer stating
that the candidate is duly elected for that electoral district.
Whenever a vacancy in the representation of
the House occurs during a Parliament, for whatever reason, the Speaker
addresses a warrant (a written authorization) to the Chief Electoral Officer
for the issue of a writ of election to fill the vacancy.
The writ for a by‑election must be issued between the 11th day and the
180th day after the receipt of the warrant by the Chief Electoral Officer. While the Parliament of Canada Act requires by‑elections
to be called within six months of a seat becoming vacant, there is no limit on
how far in the future the actual date of the by‑election may be set. The
date of the by‑election is fixed by the Governor in Council and must be
at least 36 days after the issue of the writ.
More than one by-election may be held on the same day.
A writ for a by‑election is
superseded and withdrawn if Parliament is dissolved prior to the date set for
4.4 Notice of Election
After the close of the polls on election
day, the ballots in each polling station are counted in the presence of the
poll clerks and any candidates or their representatives. The results are
sealed in ballot boxes and sent to the returning officer for validation.
In the notice of election that each returning officer issues upon receipt of
the writ of election, the time and date for the validation of the election
results are indicated; that date must not be later than seven days following
the polling date.
Normally, no later than six days following the completion of the validation of
the results, the returning officer is required to complete the form on the back
of the writ, declaring a candidate elected.
The returning officer returns the writ of election along with a post‑election
report and all other election documents to the Chief Electoral Officer.
A judicial recount of the ballots is
requested automatically by the returning officer whenever the winning candidate
is separated from any other candidate by less than one one‑thousandth
(1/1000) of the total votes cast.
A recount may also take place if, within four days of the validation of the
results, an elector applies to a judge for a recount, claiming that there were
irregularities in the addition of the ballots; the application must include an
affidavit of a credible witness to the counting. The judicial
recount is conducted by a judge and must take place no later than four days
after the application has been received.
The judge conducts the recount by adding the number of votes reported in the
statements of the vote prepared by the deputy returning officers on the night
of the election or by counting all valid votes.
As soon as the recount is completed, the
judge prepares a certificate setting out the number of votes cast for each
candidate and delivers it to the returning officer. The results of the
recount are final. The returning officer completes the return of the writ for
the candidate who received the majority of the votes and sends the writ to the
Chief Electoral Officer.
If the recount results in two candidates
receiving the same number of votes, the Chief Electoral Officer informs the
Speaker that no candidate has been declared elected because of the equality of
In such case, a by-election must be held in that district.
The Chief Electoral Officer publicizes the
name of each candidate declared elected in the Canada Gazette.
In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer is required to publish a report of the
official voting results of each polling division without delay following a
general election and within 90 days of a by-election. The Chief
Electoral Officer also provides Parliament with a report on the conduct of a
general election within 90 days of the date set for the return of the writs and
within 90 days of the end of the calendar year for any by-election held that
The Chief Electoral Officer provides the
Clerk of the House with a certified list of Members returned to serve in the
House of Commons. The list is tabled in the House by the Clerk at the beginning
of the first session of the new Parliament and is included in the Journals.
The official agents of all candidates must
provide the Chief Electoral Officer with an electoral campaign return within
four months of polling day.
If an elected candidate fails to submit the return within the prescribed time, he
or she will not be permitted to sit or vote in the House until the report is
An election may be contested (i.e.,
challenged) if there are allegations that irregularities affected the outcome
of the election in a particular riding or if there are grounds to believe a
candidate was not eligible to seek election.
Prior to Confederation, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada followed the example of the British Parliament in
dealing with electoral matters in their own legislatures. After Confederation,
between 1867 and 1873, the Speaker of the House of Commons regularly appointed
six Members to serve on the General Committee of Elections to adjudicate
This Committee routinely passed judgement on cases of bribery and corruption in
electoral contests, usually on partisan grounds and regardless of any findings
of corrupt practices. Indeed, only one election was ever voided.
In 1873, the House transferred to the provincial courts exclusive jurisdiction
over matters relating to the election of its Members. A candidate or any
qualified elector who wished to contest the result of an election filed an
election petition with the provincial or territorial court designated in the Dominion
Controverted Elections Act to hear such cases. Trials were conducted
without jury by two superior court justices for the province in which the
disputed election took place. The judges would award the election to a candidate
other than the one who was declared elected by the returning officer, or
declare the election null and void, or dismiss the petition (i.e., confirm the
original result). With the introduction of the secret ballot, simultaneous
elections across the country, and the enactment of new election laws, the
number of contested elections gradually dropped. Since 1949, only
five elections have been declared void, all on the grounds that a number of
ballots were unlawfully cast.
In 2000, the Dominion Controverted Elections Act was repealed and modern
provisions for dealing with contested elections were included in the Canada
Any elector who was eligible to vote in the
electoral district or any candidate in that district may submit an application
to contest the election before a judge in a designated provincial or
If the basis for the application is that irregularities occurred in the
election, the application must be filed no later than 30 days after the
publication of the election result in the Canada Gazette or within 30
days of the applicant being first aware that an irregularity had occurred.
The judge will hear the application and either dismiss it if there is no
evidence to support the allegation or declare the election null and void if the
allegation is substantiated.
The court sends a copy of the decision to
the Speaker; the Speaker will also be informed if an appeal has been filed.
If no appeal has been filed, the decision is tabled in the House.
An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada must be filed within eight days of the
decision being rendered and is heard without delay. The Supreme
Court’s decision is transmitted to the Speaker who tables it in the House.
If the election is declared null and void, the Speaker addresses a warrant to
the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for a new election.
 S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 56.1. It is important to note
that the Canada Elections Act does not affect the powers of the Governor
General, including the discretionary power to dissolve Parliament at any time
(s. 56.1(1)). If the Chief Electoral Officer is of the opinion that the third
Monday in October is not suitable, for cultural, religious or other reasons, he
or she may recommend another date to the Governor in Council (s. 56.2(1)). The
alternate day must either be the Tuesday immediately following the Monday that
would otherwise be polling day or the Monday of the following week (s. 56.2(4)).
For further information, see Chapter 8, “The Parliamentary Cycle”.
 R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 41.
 Jackson and Jackson (6th ed., p. 437) states that this
allowed the government to control the timing of elections in each region:
“Elections were held first in those areas where the government was the most
popular, moving to areas of lesser support only later”. This system even
allowed a candidate who lost in one riding to run again in another riding (A
History of the Vote in Canada, 2nd ed., p. 43).
 A History of the Vote in Canada, 2nd ed., p. 43. See
also Appendix 12, “General Election Results Since 1867”.
 A History of the Vote in Canada, 2nd ed., p. 43.
 An Act respecting the Elections of Members of the House of
Commons, S.C. 1874, c. 9.
 S.C. 1920, c. 46, in particular s. 19.
 An Act to amend the Dominion Elections Act, S.C. 1929,
c. 40, s. 15.
 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 1980-81-82,
c. 96, s. 2. The government had originally proposed a 47-day campaign period.
Prior to 1982, campaigns averaged about 60 days because of the time needed
to prepare and finalize the voters’ list. See the comments of
Donald S. Macdonald (President of the Privy Council) in 1970 at
second reading of Bill C-215, An Act respecting the franchise of electors
and the election of members to the House of Commons (Debates,
May 27, 1970, pp. 7391-4) and of David Collenette (Parliamentary
Secretary to the President of the Privy Council) in 1981 at second reading of
Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (Debates,
April 14, 1981, pp. 9279-81).
 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 1993, c. 19,
 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the Parliament of
Canada Act and the Referendum Act, S.C. 1996, c. 35. See also Royal
Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Reforming Electoral
Democracy: Final Report, Vol. 2, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and
Services Canada, 1991, p. 79, tabled in the House on February 13, 1992 (Journals,
p. 1016). Prior to the passage of the 1996 amendments, the enumeration or
collection of names of voters was done after an election was called. Since mid‑campaign
enumeration is no longer required because of the establishment of a permanent
register of electors, it was feasible to shorten the election campaign period
to 36 days. In addition, the staggered hours of polling rectified the long‑standing
grievance of western voters who heard election results from eastern and central
Canada while the polls in the west were still open. For further information,
see A History of the Vote in Canada, 2nd ed., pp. 103-4.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9. The new statute
reflected recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and
Party Financing in 1991, by the Chief Electoral Officer in his reports to
Parliament and by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in 1998
(Thirty-Fifth Report, presented on June 18, 1998 (Journals,
September 21, 1998, p. 1039)). See also the remarks of Don
Boudria (Government House Leader) during debate on the motion to refer the Bill
to committee before second reading (Debates, October 19, 1999,
 The Corrupt Practices Inquiries Act was adopted in 1876 and
provided for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the
existence of corrupt or illegal practices at the election of Members of the
House of Commons (S.C. 1876, c. 9 and c. 10). The Disfranchising
Act was enacted in 1894 and provided for the presentation to the courts of
a petition alleging bribery in an election and for the disenfranchment of
electors who had taken bribes (S.C. 1894, c. 14).
 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2007, c. 10.
Further information on the evolution of the electoral process can be found on
the Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca. See also Chapter 8, “The
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 57(1). See,
for example, Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 139, Extra,
December 1, 2005; Part II, Vol. 142, Extra, September 8, 2008. The Governor in
Council may order the withdrawal of the writ for an electoral district if the
Chief Electoral Officer advises that it would be impractical to conduct an
election because of a flood, fire, or other disaster. The new polling day must
be within three months after the issue of the new writ (s. 59).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 57(1.2)(a)
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 57(1.2)(b)
and (c) and 57(2)(c).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 57(2).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 24(2).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 24(1). Each
year between January 1 and January 20, the Chief Electoral
Officer publishes in the Canada Gazette the name of the returning
officer for each electoral district in Canada (s. 25). See also S.C. 2006, c.
9, ss. 174 and 175. Prior to 2007, returning officers were appointed by
Governor in Council.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 535.2 and 536.
See, for example, Journals, February 6, 2007, p. 965.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 24(1.3). The
appointment may be terminated if the electoral district changes as a result of
redistribution, if the returning officer moves outside the riding or resigns,
or is removed by cause by the Chief Electoral Officer (s. 24(4) and (7)). For
further information on the qualifications and appointment of returning
officers, see section 24(1.1) to (1.5).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 57(1.2)(c).
Since 1996, general elections have not gone beyond the minimum 36 days, with
the exception of the 39th general election which lasted 55 days as it included
the December holiday period.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 62.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 69 and 70.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 66 and 67.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 74.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 63.
 Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1,
s. 28(1). See, for example, Journals, October 16, 2007,
pp. 1-2; April 7, 2008, pp. 654-5. In the absence of the Speaker, any two
Members may address the warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer (see
s. 28(2)). See also the section in this chapter entitled “Vacancies in
 Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1,
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 57(1.1) and (1.2).
 Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1,
s. 31(3). The Chief Electoral Officer publishes the notice of the
withdrawal of the writ and the cancellation of the election in the Canada
Gazette (Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 551). See, for
example, Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 142, Extra, September 8,
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 283.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 288 and 293.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 62(c).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9,
s. 313(1). If the date set for the official addition of the votes is the
day immediately following polling day, then the earliest the writs could be
returned would be seven days following the general election.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 314(1).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 300(1).
During the early years of Confederation, if a returning officer was unable to
determine which of two or more candidates had been elected, each of the Members‑elect
was entitled to be sworn in, but neither could sit in the House nor vote until
the matter had been resolved. See Bourinot, Sir J.G., 4th ed.,
edited by T.B. Flint, Toronto: Canada Law Book Company, 1916, pp. 135‑40,
where special and double returns are described. See also Journals, March 27, 1871,
p. 152; April 19, 1872, p. 27; April 25, 1872,
pp. 44‑6; May 13, 1872, p. 104;
May 18, 1872, pp. 124‑5.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 301(1) and (2).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 301(4).
Further information on the judicial recount process can be found on the
Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 304.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 308.
Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 316(2).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 318. See
also Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P-1, s. 29(1.1).
If the Office of Speaker is vacant, the Chief Electoral Officer is required
to advise two Members of the House or two duly‑elected candidates, as the
case may be. Prior to 2000, the returning officer cast the deciding vote in the
event of a tie after a judicial recount.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 317(b).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 533.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 534. The
report is submitted to the Speaker for tabling in the House (see, for example, Journals,
October 21, 2004, p. 129; May 12, 2006, p. 169; March 28, 2007, p. 1169).
 See, for example, Journals, October 4, 2004, pp. 1-7; April
3, 2006, pp. 1‑7; November 18, 2008, pp. 1‑7.
In 1988, Parliament met on December 12, 1988, three weeks after the
general election of November 21, 1988, to deal with a bill to
implement a free trade agreement between Canada and the United States. This was also the date set for the return of the writs. The list of Members elected
and the accompanying certificate of the Chief Electoral Officer was not tabled
until December 15, 1988, the fourth sitting day of the session (Journals,
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 451.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 463(2). See
also the remarks of the Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House
Affairs with respect to the consequences of not filing election expenses
returns on time (Evidence, Meeting No. 5, October 26, 2004).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 524(1). See
also section 65 for a list of disqualifications.
 Journals, November 21, 1867, pp. 26‑7;
May 4, 1869, p. 57; March 1, 1871, p. 39;
October 27, 1873, pp. 120‑1.
 For a historical perspective on contested elections, see Bourinot,
1st ed., pp. 117‑23, and Ward, N., “Electoral Corruption
and Controverted Elections”, The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political
Science, Vol. 15, No. 1, February 1949, pp. 74‑86.
 Controverted Elections Act, S.C. 1873, c. 28. The
following year a new law was passed establishing the provincial supreme courts
as election courts (Dominion Controverted Elections Act, 1874,
S.C. 1874, c. 10). See also Dominion Controverted Elections Act,
R.S. 1985, c. C‑39.
 Patrick Boyer notes in Election Law in Canada: The Law and
Procedure of Federal, Provincial and Territorial Elections (Vol. 2,
Toronto and Vancouver: Butterworths, 1987, p. 1067): “The
offences which have traditionally given rise to election petitions—bribery,
treating, conveying voters to the poll and the like—have been on the statute
books for quite some time, and those in the election process have generally
become aware of the tolerable levels for campaign activities and the limits of
the law in this regard”.
 In 1949: Annapolis–Kings, Nova Scotia (Journals,
March 6, 1950, pp. 68‑84); in 1957: Yukon (Journals,
October 23, 1957, pp. 37‑44); in 1962: St. John’s
West, Newfoundland (Journals, November 8, 1962, pp. 231‑46);
in 1968: Comox–Alberni, British Columbia (Journals,
February 14, 1969, pp. 701‑6); in 1988: York North,
Ontario (Journals, June 7, 1990, pp. 1850‑1). In
the latter case, the Progressive Conservative candidate, Michael O’Brien, had
initially been declared the winner in the riding of York North in the 1988
federal election. Three days later, as a result of a recount, the Liberal
candidate, Maurizio Bevilacqua, was declared the winner. Mr. O’Brien sought a
judicial recount, was declared the winner by 99 votes, was sworn in, and
participated in the Canada‑U.S. free‑trade agreement debate in the
short‑lived First Session of the Thirty‑Fourth Parliament.
Mr. Bevilacqua appealed the recount and was subsequently declared the
sitting Member by 77 votes (Journals, April 3, 1989,
pp. 2‑3). Mr. O’Brien then filed an election petition. Two Ontario
Supreme Court judges found that the number of irregularly cast ballots in the
1988 election had exceeded Mr. Bevilacqua’s 77‑vote plurality over Mr.
O’Brien. The election was subsequently voided. In a by‑election held
December 10, 1990, Mr. Bevilacqua was declared the winner.
 In 1998, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
recommended that the Dominion Controverted Elections Act be repealed and
its provisions incorporated into the Canada Elections Act (Thirty‑Fifth
Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on
June 18, 1998 (Journals, September 21, 1998,
p. 1039)). The recommendation was also made in the Report of the Chief
Electoral Officer of Canada entitled “Canada’s Electoral System—Strengthening
the Foundation”, tabled in the House by the Speaker on
February 29, 1996 (Journals, p. 17).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 524 and 525.
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 527. The Parliament
of Canada Act provides that a Member, who has been declared elected, may
not resign his or her seat while his or her election is being contested (R.S.
1985, c. P-1, s. 27(2)).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 531(2). Two
applications were brought before the Saskatchewan Court of the Queen’s Bench
following the 38th general election. There being no evidence to support the
claims of irregularities, the applications were eventually withdrawn by the
applicants (see page 89 of the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
on the 38th General Election held on June 28, 2004, tabled in the House by the
Speaker on October 21, 2004 (Journals, p. 129)).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 531(3).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 531(4).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 532(1) and (2).
 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 532(3) and (4).
 Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P-1, s. 28(1).