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May 25: Are there any Canadian citizens who are not entitled to vote in a federal election?

Only two Canadian citizens aged 18 and over do not have the legal right to vote in the June 28 election. They are the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada and the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, both of whom must preserve strict impartiality.

Groups of Canadians have been given the right to vote gradually over the years. Starting back in the early 1800s, you had to be over 21 and own land in certain quantities in order to have a voice in responsible government in the British colonies that would go on to become modern Canada. That status that was mostly reserved for middle- and upper-class men, although widows and daughters who inherited property were also allowed to vote. Women gradually lost that right throughout the colonies, and in the years after Confederation only property-owning males over 21 could vote as colonial systems were gradually harmonized.

Still, members of some religious denominations, Canadians of Asian descent and most aboriginal Canadians were specifically excluded from voting even if they met the other standards.

As Robert Borden's government tried to retain support during the First World War, military women, aboriginal soldiers, enlisted men under 21 and male and female relatives of soldiers won the franchise, even if they owned no property. At the same time, the government took away the right to vote from religious groups opposing the First World War and recently arrived citizens from non-English-speaking countries. All women aged 21 and up won the vote the year the war ended, in 1918.

The office of the Chief Electoral Officer for Canada was established in 1920, leading to the recognition of several new classes of voters throughout the land. That meant that about 50 per cent of the population was allowed to cast a ballot in the general election held a year later.

In 1948, Canadians of Asian origin were finally allowed to vote, Inuit people followed suit in 1953, and registered Indians living on reserves earned the franchise in 1960.

Canada Elections Act revisions in 1970 lowered the age for voting and running for office from 21 to 18. Federally-appointed judges were allowed to vote for the first time in 1988, with mentally disabled people and prisoners serving less than two years in jail not far behind.

Finally, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2002 gave the vote to inmates serving sentences of two or more years. That leaves only the two top officials at Elections Canada without the right to vote in the 2004 election.

May 26:

Why don't we have even distribution of constituencies? Within 100 or so voters, why aren't all MPs representing the same number of Canadians?

There are at least four issues involved.

The first is the vast difference in population density across Canada. In the last federal election, the largest riding in geographic terms was Nunavut, with about 27,000 people inhabiting 3,117,463 square kilometres. The smallest, BQ Leader Gilles Duceppe's East Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, had more than 96,000 people living in just 9 square kilometres. In city ridings, it is relatively easy for an MP to visit and represent all parts of his or her riding. That's not the case in ridings with farflung borders, especially in the Far North, so that kind of riding has historically been allowed to contain many fewer than the national average number of voters. At the moment, one MP represents each of the three northern territories of Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

The second issue is the difficulty of keeping up with rapidly changing population rates in growing metropolitan areas of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Some ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, for example, can add tens of thousands of people from one election to the next as new residents flood in. Meanwhile, rural ridings can shrink as older residents die and younger ones move away to find work. Every 10 years, after the national census results are tabulated, an independent federal electoral boundaries commission is established for each of the 10 provinces to study and recommend how riding borders should be adjusted to compensate for population trends like this. After the 2001 census, these commissions recommended an increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons from 301 to 308, with three additional seats given to Ontario, two more to Alberta, and two more to British Columbia. The boundaries of many other ridings were changed to try to equal out the number of constituents. The goal is to have ridings within the same province contain roughly the same number of voters.

A third factor comes into play in Prince Edward Island, which has four electoral districts each representing an average of 33,824 voters (the average in Ontario is one MP for every 107,642 voters). Logically, Canada's smallest province should have fewer ridings, perhaps only two, but because of a 1915 senatorial clause added to the boundary changing formula, PEI was guaranteed that it will never have fewer MPs than it does Senators. So to this day, PEI has four Senate seats, which were granted at its entry into Confederation under the terms of the British North America Act, and four federal ridings.

Finally, a complicated piece of legislation in 1974 laid out more elements to the amending formula, which among other things guaranteed that no province will ever lose federal seats because of redistribution. So without further legal changes, redistribution will always leave the number of seats in the House of Commons at the same level or higher - it will not shrink.

A fuller explanation can be found on the Elections Canada website.

May 27:

How do the CBC and other media outlets get poll results so quickly on election night?

We have an intricate electronic system, and an awful lot of people sitting near telephones as a backup.

CBC, four other major Canadian networks, and the Canadian Press (representing the country's newspapers) have set up a special organization to save money and effort when it comes to getting fast, accurate election-night results. It's called the Media Election Consortium.

Before its birth, every network and CP used to send a worker to the district returning office in each of Canada's ridings. In this election, that would have meant 308 offices and a total of 1,848 employees with the sole job of phoning or e-mailing results back to the newsroom for analysis. It was an expensive, cumbersome system with some potential for error and not much competitive advantage to be gained by any one network.

Now, because of media co-operation and technological advancements, getting the numbers is a much simpler matter. For one thing, in every general election since 1997, Elections Canada has sent an electronic report to the consortium from each returning office every time another five per cent of the poll results are returned in that riding. The consortium instantly transmits those numbers electronically to each of its members, as well as some outside subscribers. Each broadcaster's computer system sorts the information into the format it prefers and airs the results almost instantaneously, usually through a combination of screen graphics and journalists reading results out loud. The broadcasters also use computer software to crunch the numbers and their editorial research and experience to add analysis of what that means for the riding or for the developing picture of how the parties are doing.

In CBC's case, the results are also beamed to the CBC Decision Desk, a team of journalists from English and French radio and television, which uses the figures to consult with each other and decide when a lead is insurmountable in each riding and project a winner. An even more senior group has the responsibility of deciding when to declare a party elected, and whether it will be a majority or minority government.

As a backup, the consortium still sends correspondents out to staff each of the returning offices on election night. They phone in the results to the consortium every time another five per cent of the polls report in, in case the computer system should suddenly crash or start spewing out incorrect numbers. Another advantage: These 308 people will be the media's eyes and ears on the ground in each riding if the results are delayed for some reason. They will be able to report back that there was such a lineup at the polls that the returning officer decided to keep a few polling stations open past 8 p.m., for example, or alert the consortium if the building had to be evacuated for some reason.

May 28:

Can an election be postponed, once it has been called?

Yes, a federal election can be postponed, and sections 17, 59 and 77 of the Canada Elections Act spell out why and how. Basically, the Chief Electoral Officer can extend voting hours later into the evening as a result of a minor local emergency or an administrative error if he or she thinks large numbers of voters might otherwise not get to vote. But voting can't take place later than midnight, and the total voting time can't be more than 12 hours.

In a major emergency, such as a flood or fire in one or more ridings, the Chief Electoral Officer can ask the Governor in Council to withdraw the election writ for those ridings, and reschedule voting for no more than three months down the road.

A full general election has never been postponed in Canada, and it's hard to imagine what kind of widespread disaster could cause a nationwide postponement.

However, voting in the Quebec riding of Frontenac during the 1980 general election was held off for two weeks because of the death of one of the nominated candidates. That delay fell under a different provision of the Canada Elections Act, which allows a postponement if one of the candidates for a registered party in a riding dies after 2 p.m. on the fifth day before the closing day for nominations, yet before the close of polling stations on polling day.

An interesting note from recent history: If similar delaying provisions had been included in Prince Edward Island's provincial election legislation, Hurricane Juan's after-effects would almost certainly have postponed the election that took place on Sept. 29, 2003. Little seems to faze Island voters, though, 83.3 per cent of whom showed up to cast a ballot despite the storm's devastation and widespread power outages.

May 29:

Is it true that voters can go to the polling station and refuse their ballot as an official protest against the electoral system or the choices before them? How would a refused ballot be recorded?

So far, you cannot refuse your ballot and have it recorded in a federal election or by-election, although Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and the Yukon all allow ballots to be declined, through their provincial or territorial election statutes.

All forms of protest involving Elections Canada ballots are currently recorded as spoiled, along with the ballots accidentally spoiled by people who do intend and try to vote. So it's impossible to get a true reading of the level of federal protest votes that way - just as it's impossible to know how many of the hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who stay away from the polling station on the big day do so out of protest as opposed to apathy or ignorance.

That could change soon, however. Elections Canada recently recommended that federal legislation be changed to allow people to officially decline their ballots, and for that to be recorded alongside spoiled ballots so that the public will know how many people are making a peaceful protest against the process.

The recommendation came in the wake of a bizarre form of protest during the 2000 general election, when at least eight members of the Edible Ballot Society ate their ballots at advance polling stations in Edmonton. The stunt was a protest against what the society, formed in 1997, saw as the superficial differences between candidates from different parties and the historical gap between the popular vote and standings in the House of Commons. The activists brought woks and blenders to the voting booths, adding the recyclable cardboard ballots to other ingredients to make stir-fries and smoothies. Others across Canada were reported to have put the ballot in ready-made sandwiches or eaten it unadorned.

Three of the ballot eaters were charged with "unlawfully and willfully altering, defacing or destroying a ballot or the initials of the Deputy Returning Officer signed on a ballot contrary to section 167(2)(a) of the Canada Elections Act thereby committing an offence under subsection 489(3)(e)." Two others were charged with having the intention to delay or disrupt the electoral process. In the end, two of the ballot eaters were acquitted in April 2002 and charges were stayed against the others.

May 30:

In the event of an equality of votes, how is the tie broken?

When there's a tie in a particular riding, or when there's a vote difference of one-1000th of the total number of votes cast or less, the returning officer for the riding automatically orders a judicial recount.

If the difference is wider, any voter, including a candidate, has four days after the election to ask a judge to carry out a judicial recount. If the judge grants a recount, it must begin within four days of the receipt of the request. The candidate with the most votes after the recount is declared the winner. If the two top candidates are tied after the recount, a by-election will be held for that electoral district, according to a Canada Elections Act amendment from 2000.

In the past, three tied federal races were decided by the returning officer for the riding in question, using whatever method that officer chose, such as tossing a coin or drawing a straw. Victories were granted to �douard Guilbault (Cons.) during the 1887 general election in the riding of Joliette, Que.; Nicholas Flood Davin (Cons.) during the 1896 general election in the riding of Assiniboia West, NWT; and Paul Martineau (P.C.) during the 1963 general election in the riding of Pontiac-Temiscamingue, Que.

May 31:

If a federal party wins a majority in a general election, but its leader does not win his or her seat, does the leader still become prime minister? Must he or she sit in the gallery of the House of Commons? Has this ever happened?

The party leader could become prime minister if the Governor General agrees to that happening, but would not be allowed onto the floor of the House of Commons because he or she is not a member of Parliament. That leader would likely ask one of the victorious MPs from the party to resign and create a vacancy so that the leader could run for that seat in a byelection as soon as possible.

Interestingly, the office of prime minister was not described or created in any Canadian legislation, though it has been recognized and referred to in legislation after the fact. So what happens in this kind of case has been determined by custom, not any regulation or law.

And custom has determined that the Canadian prime minister does not have to be an MP in order to assume the title.

Two Conservative prime ministers have been Senators who held cabinet posts before being asked to take over upon the death of the serving prime minister: John Abbott, who was PM from 1891 to 1892 after the death in office of John A. Macdonald, and Mackenzie Bowell, who presided from 1894 to 1896 after John Thompson died in office.

Only twice has the leader of a victorious federal party not won his own seat in a Canadian general election - and it was the same man each time. William Lyon Mackenzie King managed to lose his riding twice while his Liberal party won enough ridings to be re-elected.

King first became Prime Minister in 1921, but was defeated in the Oct. 29, 1925 general election in his Ontario riding of York North. He did not resign from office and remained prime minister, returning to the House of Commons in a February 1926 byelection after the Saskatchewan seat of Prince Albert was vacated by an obliging MP from his party. He continued on as Prime Minister until June 28, 1926, when he took his minority government into a new general election and won a majority, as well as his own seat in Prince Albert.

King repeated the dubious achievement on June 11, 1945. He was again prime minister when he lost personally in Prince Albert. Once again, an MP resigned to make way for a byelection, this time William MacDiarmid in the Ontario riding of Glengarry, and King was back in the House of Commons after the byelection in August of the same year.

June 1:

My friend is a Canadian citizen who lives overseas in Scotland, where her husband works for a multinational company. As it happens, she will be in Canada on vacation on June 28. Can she vote?

Yes, she can, with a little advance work.

Elections Canada says citizens living abroad but intending to return to Canada to live at some point retain the right to vote on two conditions.

First, you must have been on Canadian soil for at least a short time at some point in the previous five years; even a flight change at a Canadian airport counts, Elections Canada has told CBC.ca.

If you don't meet that requirement, you can still vote if you're a member of the armed forces serving overseas, if you work overseas for a federal or provincial government department or agency, or if you work for an international organization of which Canada is a member and to which Canada contributes (for example, the United Nations, CIDA or the International Red Cross). If you live with a person who falls into any of those categories, you can vote too, even if you haven't visited Canada within the past five years.

Elections Canada maintains a special register of voters temporarily living outside Canada, and you can find out how to get your name on that register by clicking here. Be aware that you'll need to apply very soon if you want to vote from a foreign country by special ballot and have the ballot arrive back in Canada in time to be counted on June 28.

Another big question arises during the process of registering from abroad: What riding must you vote in? If you don't have a permanent address here, Elections Canada will ask where you lived last in this country. You can also choose to give the street address of a spouse or common-law partner who is living in Canada, somebody related to you or your spouse, or another person with whom you intend to live when you eventually return to Canada. Election officials will use that information to determine where you will vote.

In the case of the questioner's visiting friend, she should apply for a special ballot and find out which riding she will be assigned to. If she will not be vacationing at her assigned polling station in that riding on either election day or one of the three advance poll days (June 18, 19 and 21), she might still have to mail in the special ballot rather than show up to vote in person.

June 2:

What would happen if the Prime Minister died during an election, or one of the leaders of the other parties? Has this ever happened?

One can only imagine the logistical chaos a political party would go through if a Prime Minister or another federal leader died in the midst of a campaign. However, the Canada Elections Act does not spell out any special treatment for leaders as opposed to other candidates. The normal postponement rules would apply only in the leader's personal riding, it seems.

The act allows a postponement in a riding if one of the candidates for a registered party dies after 2 p.m. on the fifth day before the closing day for nominations yet before the close of polling stations on polling day. In that case, new nominations for the party involved would close on the second Monday after the death, and the new election in the riding would be held three weeks after the new closing day for nominations. If advance poll or regular polling day ballots have already been cast before the candidate dies, they would be considered void and would be destroyed.

If a party leader were to die, the race would likely go on in the rest of the country, though there's an outside chance the Chief Electoral Officer would ask the Governor in Council to withdraw the election writ. Our election legislation allows that to happen when a major disaster happens in one or more ridings, as long as voting is rescheduled for no more than three months down the road.

A federal campaign death has been recorded only once, and it didn't involve a party leader. Voting in the Quebec riding of Frontenac was held off for two weeks in 1980 because the nominated Social Credit candidate there had died.

On a related note, a handful of victorious candidates have died before they could take their seats in the House of Commons: Liberal John Clark in 1896 and Progressive Conservatives John Ernest McMillin in 1949, William Gourlay Blair in 1957 and John Dahmer in 1988. In those cases, byelections were called to fill the vacancies.

June 3:

As I understand it, both provincially and federally the life of a government ends after five years in office. Has there ever been a case of a government remaining in power without an election beyond its five-year mandate?

Yes, one federal government held office for longer than five years, the term laid out in the 1867 Constitution Act and reinforced by the 1982 Constitution Act.

Sir Robert Borden's Conservative government was elected on an anti-free trade platform on Oct. 10, 1911, and remained in power until October 6, 1917. That's a total of five years and almost 11 months, with the last three of those years consumed with First World War matters. (Voters then elected a Unionist government under Borden's control, consisting of pro-conscription Liberals and Conservatives, that held office until July 10, 1920.)

Canada's 12th Parliament was allowed to run for almost six years only because of a temporary amendment contained in a 1916 revision to the British North America Act. On top of the strong argument that the job of governing should not be interrupted by an election during the height of the First World War, that was a terrible, chaotic year in Ottawa. Six people died as the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings burned down on Feb 3, 1916. Borden himself was working that evening and barely escaped, having to be treated for minor burns. His office and all his papers were destroyed, and only the Library of Parliament was saved. Construction began on the current Centre Block in July of 1916 and the new building was opened in 1920.

So Borden got to stay in power an extra year - and during that extra year, Parliament passed legislation that imposed the country's first income taxes and allowed for the conscription of able-bodied men into Canada's armed forces, the supply of volunteers having dried up.

The change allowing a longer term of office than five years was repealed in 1927, and all other federal governments have presided for no more than the mandated time. The 1982 Constitution Act that is now in effect says that no federal or provincial government "shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members," though a subsection lets a federal or provincial government stay in power beyond five years "in time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection" as long as two-thirds of all elected members agree.

June 4 :

Is it true that to run for a seat in the Liberal Party you must have a law degree? All current
members seem to have one. Even new candidates like Ken Dryden, a former hockey player, have a law degree.

"No, having a law degree is not a prerequisite for Liberal candidacy," says party spokesperson Heidi Bonnell. "Certainly our roster of candidates includes doctors, nurses, entrepreneurs and many others as well as lawyers." Bonnell couldn't come up with total numbers, but a quick look at the Atlantic roster of Liberal candidates, for example, shows six lawyers out of the 32 people running.

Going back a little further, there were only 30 lawyers among the Liberal party's 168 MPs in the last Parliament, according to a searchable occupational database maintained by the Library of Parliament.

It's a common perception that the House of Commons is filled with lawyers, but the numbers show the MPs from all parties are a much more diverse crowd than that. After the 2000 election, there were 44 people whose main career was listed as "lawyer" holding seats in Canada's 301 ridings, compared to 77 businessmen/women, 47 teachers, 38 consultants, 29 administrators, 29 managers, 22 farmers, 21 professors, 15 authors and 13 journalists. Some MPs could have law degrees as well as other professions, of course.

Lawyers historically held a bigger chunk of the seats than they do today. The Parliament elected in 1904, when Liberal lawyer Wilfrid Laurier was prime minister, contained 71 lawyers, 40 merchants, 38 farmers, 23 businessmen, 21 physicians, 17 lumber merchants, 12 editors, nine professors, nine journalists and eight teachers. In 1953, when Liberal lawyer and law professor Louis St. Laurent held the country's top job, the roster of MPs included 88 lawyers, 38 farmers, 26 merchants, 25 teachers, 21 managers, 10 journalists, nine businessmen/women, eight physicians, eight professors and eight insurance brokers.

Only five of the 21 Canadian prime ministers over the decades have not been lawyers, by the way: Tories Joe Clark, Charles Tupper and Mackenzie Bowell; and Liberals Lester B. Pearson and Alexander Mackenzie.

June 5:

The number of seats in the House of Commons has been growing over successive elections and now stands at 308. How many seats can Parliament physically hold, and what happens when the maximum is reached?

The House of Commons chamber can physically hold only 308 seats similar to the desk-and-chair combination now used. After the last riding redistribution exercise left the House with 301 MPs, it was renovated to hold 304 chairs for sitting members. That number jumped to 308 with the current round of changes that take effect with the June 28 vote. The Speaker's Office tells CBC.ca that four more chairs and desks were added in the room's northeast corner, to the Speaker's left, replacing a sitting area for the parliamentary pages. Now there's no more room for expansion.

However, riding redistribution must by law take place every 10 years, adjusting the federal electoral districts to reflect population changes. As Daily Answer explained on May 26, the provinces are guaranteed that their number of federal seats will not decrease, even if their proportion of the Canadian population shrinks dramatically. So the number of seats is bound to keep going up in the absence of dramatic changes to the way we elect a government (through bringing in some form of proportional representation, for example).

There are options to deal with the looming seat squeeze after the next redistribution, and the MPs themselves will have to make the decision. Canada's Parliament could follow Britain's lead, where not all MPs actually sit in the main chamber. It could take out some or all of the current seating and replace it with either bench seating or rows of skinnier chairs and desks. It could commission an expansion of the historic Commons chamber. Or it could come up with an innovative solution that wouldn't offend traditionalists as the other solutions are bound to do.

June 6:

On the Federal Representation 2004 website, it says that the new riding boundaries will not come into effect until one year after August 25, 2003. Why are we using the new electoral boundaries in this election, then?

The House of Commons voted on Feb. 11, 2004, to change the effective date so that a spring election could use the new boundaries to elect 308 members of Parliament, not 301 as was the case in the previous election. Bill C-5, making the change official, received Royal Assent on March 11, setting the stage for Prime Minister Paul Martin to call an election at any time after that.

MPs have the power to change or supercede any previous piece of legislation or set of regulations, of course. This particular change had gone through all the normal stages and committee reviews in the House the previous year, passing third reading on Oct. 23, 2003.

June 7:

How much is the incumbent government restricted to spending on ad campaigns and how much for the opposition parties?

All registered political parties with candidates running in all 308 ridings by today's nomination deadline can spend up to $17,528,373.88 on all election expenses in this campaign. That includes all forms of advertising, signs, campaign offices, campaign events, catering, professional services and everything else you might want to procure during a national campaign.

There's no specific limit on advertising costs within that amount, or within individual riding expense limits. However, the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP are each expected to spend about $5 million in mostly national television ads over the course of the campaign, as well as $1 million each for mostly regional radio and newspaper ads, according to a June 4 Globe and Mail story.

The national election expense limit is calculated by adding up the expense limits in all the ridings in which a party is running candidates. That's why the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP and the Green Party (should they field 308 candidates by the time nominations close today) are allowed to shell out $17.5 million. The Bloc Qu�b�cois does not nominate candidates outside Quebec, so it can't spend as much in total. Its limit of just under $6 million for this election comes from adding the individual expense limits in the province's 75 ridings.

Not every riding has the same expense limit. Elections Canada calculates them based on the number of registered voters (they can spend about 70 cents per voter in most ridings) and the riding's size (candidates in sprawling ridings like Nunavut can spend more). All candidates within one particular riding have the same spending limit, even if they're running as Independents or for a small registered party. For example, candidates running in the riding of Peace River, Alta., can spend up to $98,522.19 each, while candidates in PEI's Malpeque riding have a limit of $60,572.36. The amounts for all the ridings are given on the Elections Canada website.

That's not all money down the drain for the candidates and parties, it should be noted. Candidates who win or get at least 10 per cent of the popular vote in their ridings, and then follow all the rules for filing expenses, will qualify for a federal government cheque covering 60 per cent of their total personal and election expenses. That includes the cost of advertising.

A footnote: A recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling confirmed previous restrictions on ad spending by so-called "third parties" in a federal election campaign. For the 2004 campaign, a person or group other than a candidate, a registered party or the electoral district association of a registered party can spend no more than $168,900 in total on election-related ads, or $3,378 in any one riding. (If you want to visualize how much ad space your money would buy, someone placing a single ad could expect to pay about $3,300 for a black and white message measuring 3.5 by 3.5 inches inside a weekday city section of the Toronto Star.) The rules are designed to ensure that outside interest groups or business lobbies with deep pockets can't "hijack" a campaign and sway the results of the vote.

June 8:

I posted a sign on my front porch to support my candidate, but my landlord removed it. He said that because I rent and don't own, I don't have the right to post a sign on the outside of the building, though I could put one in a window. Is he correct?

It depends.

The Canada Elections Act says in section 322 that no landlord can prohibit a tenant from putting up election posters "on the premises to which the lease relates." However, the landlord can "set reasonable conditions relating to the size or type" of posters or signs and "may prohibit the display of election advertising posters in common areas of the building in which the premises are found."

So, is the porch a "common area" under the terms of the act? It might depend on whether the questioner is the sole tenant of the house or shares the building with other tenants. If the latter is true, even if all the tenants in the building support the same party and want that party's sign displayed, the porch is technically a common area and the landlord can remove the sign.

The same rules apply for condominium units. Even though the resident owns a unit, the condo board or manager can restrict the size or type of signs posted in a window or on a balcony, under the same section of the Canada Elections Act.

If you think a landlord has acted improperly and committed a Canada Elections Act infringement, you have the right to make a complaint in writing to the independent Commissioner of Canada Elections. There's no way to file that complaint online, but you can fax it toll-free to 1-800-663-4908 or mail it to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, 257 Slater St., Ottawa, ON, K1N 0M6.

What about the opposite scenario, in which a landlord posts campaign signs on the building's lawn or porch for a candidate the tenants don't support? The Canada Elections Act is silent on that issue, but Carol Kiley, manager of program development for the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal, says tenants could try to make a Tenants Rights Application under the Tenant Protection Act. The matter would go to an adjudicator for a ruling on whether the action has "seriously interfered with the reasonable enjoyment" of the rented premises. Ontarians can get online forms from the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal website, or call the tribunal at 1-888-332-3234.

June 9:

How does a person become a senator?

Unlike Americans, Canadians do not elect their senators. Instead, the Governor General appoints people to sit in the Upper House of Parliament according to the wishes of the prime minister of the day, as vacancies occur when a sitting senator retires at age 75 or dies.

Each province and territory has a set number of senators, under the terms of the Canadian constitution, adding up to a total of 105. The number ranges from one each from Nunavut and the other territories to four from PEI, six from Alberta, 21 for Quebec and 24 for Ontario. So when a senate seat becomes vacant, a new candidate must come from the same province or territory as the departing senator. The system was designed to protect regional interests while acting as a counterbalance to the House of Commons, where the number of MPs gives a rough version of representation by population and MP from two large provinces could theoretically push through laws that hurt smaller regions.

Because the senate has a role in reviewing and endorsing most types of legislation, the prime minister tends to choose either past members of his party or people who will promise to be party sympathizers when deciding on senate appointments. Like the House of Commons before the election was called, Canada's current Senate is broken down by party affiliation. It is heavily Liberal at the moment, with 65 senators from that party compared to 24 who identify themselves as Conservatives, three who still insist on being considered Progressive Conservatives though their federal party has been merged with the new Conservatives, five independents and eight vacancies.

The Senate has long been a target for political reformers, with its reputation as a cushy, undemanding patronage posting for party hacks leading to label of "a taskless thanks," as opposed to the "chamber of sober second thought" the Fathers of Confederation meant it to be. One of the main rallying cries of the Reform Party as it built support in the West during the early 1990s was adopting a "Triple-E Senate," with the three e's standing for elected, effective and equal.

June 10:

If the ruling party comes in second in an election in which no party has a majority, can that party continue as the government?

Many Daily Answer readers have asked questions about minority governments in recent days. So here goes.

A minority government is a situation in which no one party has more than 50 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. With 308 ridings electing MPs this time, a party would need 155 to form what's called a majority government.

Riding Report - runs 5:10AUDIO
Anna-Maria Tremonti interviews Peter Russell about minority government in Canada.
(Runs: 8:27)
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If no party wins 155 seats, the leader of the ruling party (the Liberals in this case) gets first crack at convincing the Governor General that he can form a government, even if another party has won more ridings. That's because the prime minister remains the prime minister until his government is defeated by another party that wins a majority of seats in a general election, he resigns, or his government loses a vote of confidence on a major motion in the House of Commons (for example, on the vote to accept a budget). With all the other parties combined holding more seats and thus votes than the ruling party, this is the usual way a minority government comes to an end.

The day of defeat can be staved off for months or even years if the governing party strikes a pact with one or more small parties to support it on parliamentary votes. (Click here for our look at minority governments in Canadian history, including a summary of the King-Byng Affair.) The usual payoff is a promise that the ruling party will introduce legislation that accomplishes some of the planks in the minor party's platform. At some point, however, the relationship falls apart over some deep disagreement on policy or an itch to get back to the polls to ask voters for a more stable majority government.

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson would come into the picture if our next government falls on a confidence vote. She would go to the party with the best chance of forming a different minority government with the same group of 308 MPs sitting in the House of Commons. Say the Liberals had won 110 seats and the Conservatives 140, with the other parties racking up 58 between them. If Liberal Leader Paul Martin's attempt at a minority government fell, Clarkson would ask Conservative Leader Stephen Harper if he was prepared to form a government. If he could form an alliance with another party, the Bloc Québécois for example, he could then rule for as long as that friendship stayed intact (or until the natural end of the government's five-year mandate). But that coalition too would likely fall apart before long and the Conservatives would lose a vote of confidence.

If no party is prepared to form a government, the Governor General will dissolve Parliament and call a general election, in which all the parties get a chance to win more than half the seats and form a majority government.

That's not a guaranteed result after a minority government falls in Canada, it should be noted. Liberal Lester B. Pearson led two back-to-back minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was the first prime minister in Canadian history to never win a majority government.

June 11 :

If I move during this election campaign from one federal riding to another (from one province to another), is my ability to vote in the new riding contingent on the amount of time I plan to live there? What are the rules around that scenario to ensure I get to cast a ballot for either riding? And what is expected of me, after my move, to ensure I can vote?

Once you have moved, you are eligible to vote in your new riding, period. There is no minimum time of residency before you can vote, and you don't have to plan to stay in your new riding for any specific length of time. You just have to consider it your official address on voting day. That's why students can choose to vote in the riding where they go to school or in their parents' riding, depending on which one they consider their "place of ordinary residence."

The Elections Canada definition of this is almost poetic: "The place of ordinary residence of a person is the place that has always been, or that has been adopted as, his or her dwelling place, and to which the person intends to return when away from it. A person can have only one place of ordinary residence and it cannot be lost until another is gained."

It's a slightly different situation when it comes to federal byelections, where there's a danger an unscrupulous political party could send in a flood of temporary "residents" to sway the result of the vote. That could prove decisive if a tightly contested byelection could change a minority government into a minority one or vice versa. The Canada Elections Act says you can't vote in a byelection unless you have lived in the riding at least since the first day of revisions to the preliminary voters' list. This is usually four days after the byelection is called.

If you move, as 16 per cent of Canadian voters do every year, you'll need to produce some proof of your new address. This can be a driver's licence showing the change, a lease showing your name as the tenant at the rented address, a mortgage document, or a friend or relative who's a voter in the new riding who's willing to come with you to the Elections Canada office or voting station and sign a declaration that you do live in the new riding. If you don't have those documents yet and can't find anyone willing to vouch for you, you might want to vote by advance poll in your old riding before you leave (while you still live there, in other words.)

Let's back up a bit: Elections Canada no longer does a house-by-house enumeration across the country before each election to find out how many eligible voters are living at each address, although enumerators are sent to highly transient areas such as student neighbourhoods, new subdivisions, and seniors' complexes. Enumerators were eliminated after the 1997 election, at a savings of $30 million per election, in favour of the permanent computerized list of voters called the National Register of Electors. It contains the name, address, gender and date of birth of every Canadian who is qualified to vote, and is updated as people move, become new Canadian citizens, turn 18 or die.

This master list is updated through information-sharing arrangements with certain other government departments. These include provincial and territorial vital statistics registrars, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent voters lists (only B.C. and Quebec have those at the moment). If you don't want these agencies to share your information, you can tell them not to provide details to Elections Canada, but in that case you have to take extra steps to get your new address onto the voters' list.

To ensure you can vote in your new riding after a move, call 1-800-463-6868 or find the direct number for your riding by plugging in your new postal code on the Elections Canada site, and check to see if your new address has been reflected on the National Register of Electors yet. If not, an operator can tell you where you should go in your new riding to speak with an Elections Canada official and get your name onto the list while it's still being revised (revisions end on June 22 at 6 p.m. local time in each riding). You'll need your new driver's licence or some other form of ID showing your name, new address and signature (two pieces of ID that in combination show all three elements will do), or you can bring along a friend or relative who will vouch for you. Your name will then be taken off the list for your old riding and placed on the list for your new one, so that you can't vote in both.

If you don't make this visit before June 22, you can still vote on June 28. In that case, you'll still have to call the above toll-free number to find out which polling station to use, and voting will take a bit longer because you have to stand in a special lineup.

By the way, people who move to a different address but stay within their riding don't have to jump through these hoops. They can just phone Elections Canada and ask for their address information to be adjusted, getting the location of their new polling station at the same time.

June 12:

I heard that for this election, parties will receive a dollar amount per vote. Is this true? If so, why has it not been more widely publicized?

Yes, it's true. The change has received some publicity and media attention since the bill amending the Canada Elections Act to do this was introduced on Jan. 29, 2003. However, a different story stole the headlines. Changes in the same bill were designed to shed more light on how party leadership races are funded, given that Paul Martin was in the midst of taking over the Liberal Party from an unfriendly Jean Chrétien. Many saw the bill as Chrétien's attempt to embarrass Martin, and that became the bigger story.

When it was introduced, Government House Leader Don Boudria explained that Bill C-24 was responding to long-held concerns about the danger of a political system in which parties are financed by large contributions from individuals, businesses, unions, lobby groups and other associations that might expect a return on their investment once their chosen party was in office. That's no longer the case in Canada, since the so-called party financing law came into effect on Jan. 1 of this year.

Now, according to the Elections Canada website: "Any individual who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada may contribute up to $5,000 in total in a calendar year to a particular registered party and its registered electoral district associations, nomination contestants and candidates. No other person or entity (including companies, trade unions and associations) may make a contribution to a registered party." Exceptions are made for people who leave bequests to political parties in their wills, and for people who give money to unregistered political parties, which earns them no income tax deduction.

Imposed in isolation, that kind of sudden severing of a major source of funding would have a huge impact on parties, of course. So the same bill set out a system for paying publicly financed allowances to registered political parties under certain conditions. The system is meant to ensure that parties are beholden primarily to Canadian citizens for their annual funding, based on a relatively fair formula: their share of the popular vote in the previous general election. Three provinces already had similar allowances in place, Boudria pointed out as he introduced the changes in Parliament.

The new allowance will give registered parties large and small $1.75 every year for each vote they received in the previous general election, as long as they attracted 2 per cent of the national votes cast or 5 per cent of the eligible votes cast in the ridings in which they ran candidates. The $1.75 per vote will be adjusted for inflation, so it will rise as time goes by. The allowances will be paid out quarterly, as long as the parties eligible file their financial papers and all other Elections Canada documents properly.

Let's crunch some numbers: In the 2000 general election, the Liberals received 5.25 million votes, or 40.8 per cent of the valid ballots cast. If the allowance formula had been in place, the party would have received $9.19 million in public funding the following year. That number would increase according to the rate of inflation each year until the next general election. In the same election, the Reform/Alliance party's 3.28 million votes would earn it an allowance of $5.73 million; the Progressive Conservatives' 1.57 million votes would mean a $2.74-million payout; the NDP's 1.09 million votes would garner it $1.91 million; the Bloc Quebecois would earn $2.41 million for its 1.38 million votes; and the Green Party would get no funding because it attracted only 104,102 votes, or less than 1 per cent of the votes cast.

As the same bill went through, by the way, Parliament also voted to increase assistance for political parties and candidates in other ways. The percentage of election expenses that can be reimbursed to parties has been increased from 22.5 to 60 per cent; the definition of reimbursable election expenses has been broadened to include polling; and the ceiling for expenses eligible for reimbursement has been increased as a result. Finally, individual candidates have to earn only 10 per cent of the valid votes cast in their riding in order to have 50 per cent of their personal campaign expenses refunded. The old threshold was 15 per cent of the votes.

The total cost to taxpayers of the changes could reach about $30 million during this election, some onlookers have estimated. At the same time, though, former political donors won't be able to claim the hefty tax deductions they used to, so there should be more tax money coming into federal coffers than was the case under the old system.

June 13:

Exactly when are the ballots of Canadian Forces electors counted and the results added to the specific riding's total?

The ballots of soldiers serving on Canadian bases at home and overseas are gathered and counted with military precision, as you might expect.

Troops and support staff will vote in advance starting two weeks before Election Day, abiding by voting hours set out by a military employee who has been designated as the base returning officer. Voting ends on the Saturday nine days before the day on which most civilians will vote, in order to give the ballots time to arrive at Elections Canada in Ottawa by mail or courier before 6 p.m. on June 28.

Starting at precisely 6 p.m. on Election Day, Elections Canada staff will begin to sort and count the ballots, each of which has been placed in an unmarked envelope inside another envelope with the soldier's normal home riding marked on the outside.

The still-closed double envelopes are sorted into 308 different piles. When that's done, election workers handle one pile at a time, taking the unmarked envelopes containing the ballots out of the outer, labelled envelopes and mixing the unmarked envelopes in a ballot box. Then the ballots are shuffled within the box, it is opened, and each ballot is removed from its unmarked envelope and counted. When each riding is done, the results are fed into Elections Canada's main computer database for results, and they show up along with the civilian vote tallies as the evening progresses.

An interesting note: Soldiers don't use the same kind of ballots that civilians are given, with the names of all the candidates in their own riding printed on it. Time is too short after nominations close for candidates (three weeks before election day) to allow properly printed ballots to be delivered to farflung bases, with the number delivered correctly reflecting the breakdown of soldiers' homes in the 308 ridings. Instead, the base returning officer hands soldiers a special blank ballot as well as a list of all the candidates running in the election, turned to the page listing the candidates for that specific soldier's home riding. The military voter chooses a candidate and writes the first initial and last name of that candidate on the ballot before putting it in the unmarked envelope that preserves the sacred privacy of the Canadian ballot box, even in Afghanistan or Bosnia.

June 14:

Is there a set amount of time between the election call date and the day of the vote?

Under the current legislation, no less than 36 days must pass between the time the election is called and voting day. Nobody wants to be on the campaign trail longer than they have to be, so the minimum has become the standard in recent years.

Canadian federal elections must take place on Mondays unless a statutory holiday falls in the chosen week, in which case voting takes place on the next day, Tuesday. Counting back 36 days from a Monday voting day puts the election call on a Sunday five weeks and one day before. That's why Paul Martin visited the Governor General to ask her to dissolve Parliament and order an election on the Sunday in the middle of this year's Victoria Day long weekend, rather than waiting for Tuesday. He had to take the action on that Sunday to ensure a June 28 voting day.

The 36-day requirement was put into place in 1997, shortening national campaigns from the previous 47-day minimum. Elections Canada used to need that much time to prepare the voters' list because it was sending teams of enumerators to every home in Canada to update information from the previous general election. Now a permanent database of eligible voters has been set up, called the National Register of Electors, which is updated between general elections with the help of information-sharing deals with provincial and territorial government agencies as well as federal departments such as Citizenship and Immigration.

Historically, the duration of federal campaigns varied greatly. The campaign leading up to the general election on Sept. 24, 1926, lasted for 74 days or almost 11 weeks. In contrast, the shortest campaign in Canadian history was one of the country's first. The 20-day campaign leading up to the election on Jan. 22, 1874, gave voters less than three weeks to make up their minds.

June 15:

Because we vote by secret ballot, and because a voter's age is not entered on the voters list, how do the statisticians determine the percentage of voters in any given age group who have voted?

The voter's list itself doesn't have this information printed on it, but the list from which it's generated contains both your gender and your birthdate. It's called the National Register of Electors. Your name is crossed off the voter's list when you show up at a polling station and collect your ballot, to prevent people from trying to vote twice. So which party you choose to support in the privacy of the ballot box remains a secret, but the fact that you voted is not.

When the election is over, these lists are cross-referenced against the National Register of Voters for the purpose of preparing a statistical look at who voted among the 21.2 million Canadians who were eligible. That's important because Elections Canada wants to be aware of populations who aren't exercising their franchise. Knowing the percentages of young people or women who voted, not to mention the locations where a failure to vote is more of a problem, lets the election agency come up with a strategy for publicizing the value of voting to these groups and locations in future elections.

For example, young voters became a big target leading up to the current campaign when the numbers from the 2000 election showed that only 22 per cent of them showed up to vote. If this trend continues, Canada could face a situation where less than half of eligible adults get involved in choosing who will run the country. Elections Canada commissioned an academic study on youth voters, then used the results to come up with a cutting-edge series of ads aimed at young Canadians and a special section of its website designed to quickly answer the most frequent questions of young voters.

June 16:

What could we do differently in Canada to get more MPs who are minorities and women? Is any other country doing better at this, and if so, what makes the difference?

Some Canadian political parties have encouraged more equality in Parliament by contributing money toward the election expenses of new female candidates (the Liberals); nominating white men only when every effort has been made to find a suitable female, disabled, racial minority or gay and lesbian candidate (the NDP); or hand-picking women or visible minority Canadians as candidates when they might not have the organizational support to win a rough-and-tumble nomination battle at the riding level (the Liberals, sometimes controversially). Parties such as the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc Quebecois have long fielded more female candidates because of their left-of-centre, more progressive views and policies. The Conservatives have no special process for appointing or recruiting women, former MP Deborah Grey told a reporter recently.

At the moment, according to the lobby group Equal Voice, 35 democratic countries in the world have a better record of electing women than Canada does, including Monaco and Nicaragua. The last two federal elections each sent 62 women to the House of Commons to sit as MPs; that's just 20.6 per cent of the total, though women make up 52 per cent of the Canadian population.

Only 391 of the 1,685 candidates in this election are women, or 23.2 per cent of the total. Among the current crop of candidates, 96 out of 308 are running for the NDP, 77 for the Greens, 75 for the Liberals and 37 for the Conservatives. The BQ has 18 women among its 75 candidates in Quebec.

The number of visible minority candidates running is also small. CBC research indicates the Liberals have 23 such candidates, as well as 10 aboriginal candidates; the Conservatives have 32 visible minority candidates; the NDP has 25; and the Greens have 10.

A number of other countries have had more success in adding the voices of women and minority politicians to their legislatures. Three methods that have been tried are all-female candidates' lists, designated seats for groups seen as under-represented, and proportional representation systems.

When Wales won the right to election its own parliament in the 1990s, the regional Labour Party decided that it would institute all-female candidate shortlists for half the available seats. Today, women occupy 50 per cent of the seats in the Welsh parliament, one of the highest percentages in the world. They also make up more than half the Welsh cabinet. Labour also tried the tactic in 1997 in the British election, aiming it at half the party's winnable seats, and succeeded in doubling the number of female MPs at Westminster from 62 to 121. An employment tribunal ruled the practice potentially illegal in a 2000 ruling, but anti-discrimination legislation was later amended to allow it, in the interest of making politics at all levels more representative of the general population.

In New Zealand, four seats were reserved for Maori politicians in 1867, when that country's parliament was in its infancy. The intent was far from totally pure; though early parliamentarians did want to ensure a voice for aboriginal affairs, they also knew that Maori voters could outnumber European settlers if and when voting rights were extended to the general population. In the eyes of some Maori leaders, the seats were a bone thrown to distract the community from wanting to send many more of its own members to the legislature in general elections. Still, the designated seats did provide a guaranteed voice over the years, and were maintained when the country adopted proportional representation recently.

That kind of electoral reform could hold the most hope for redrawing Canada's parliament, according to the Equal Voice website. "Democracies with proportional representation have on average twice as many women in their legislatures compared to 'first past the post' systems such as Canada," the group points out.

One option explored by the Law Commission of Canada is a mixed system in which two-thirds of the seats in the House would be elected according to the current procedure, with the candidate attracting the most votes from a riding winning the seat. The other one-third of seats would be filled according to the result of a second vote given to each voter, in which they'd be asked which party they support, as opposed to which specific local candidate. Those seats would then go to the top candidates on specific lists provided by the political parties, according to the percentage of the popular vote they earn. That would give more representation to smaller parties such as the NDP and the Green Party, which tend to put forward more women and minority candidates, but even front-running parties wanting to establish their credibility with certain groups of voters that are traditionally under-represented would be encouraged to present more female and minority candidates. This kind of political reform has increased the number of women taking part in politics in New Zealand and Germany, among other places.

June 17:

Is there a minimum number or percentage of voters required to make an election valid?

No, says the legal department at Elections Canada. There is no provision in the Canada Elections Act requiring a minimum number or percentage of votes in order for the election results to be valid.

Parliamentarians and Elections Canada have been growing more worried about Canada's continuing decline in voter turnout in recent years, however, even though elections will continue to be valid as numbers drop.

With a few blips caused by the timing of elections at the height of either winter or summer, plus a few other political factors, about 75 per cent of eligible Canadians have traditionally tended to vote since the end of the Second World War. That number started to drop with the 1993 general election, to 70 per cent that year, 67 per cent in 1997, and just over 61 per cent in 2000. Particularly troublesome is the fact that less than one-quarter of young people who were eligible bothered to vote in the 2000 election. A study done for Elections Canada indicates that young people who don't vote turn into middle-aged people who don't vote, so the numbers will keep getting worse unless we as a society can convince youth that ballots are important.

The same voting trends have been seen in other major Western countries, including the United States, France and Britain. Just over 50 per cent of potential voters in the United Kingdom cast a ballot in the 2002 election, for example.

"The legitimacy of a government lies in the fact that it is elected. Low voter turnouts may call into question this democratic legitimacy," Elections Canada tells young voters on its website in a section called Why Should I Vote? "While democracy involves much more than holding elections every five years, voting is a powerful way to send a message to governments and politicians. The more votes, the more powerful the message is. In other words, every vote counts."

June 18:

Citizens in jail have the right to vote, but do they vote in the riding where they are held? Wouldn't that result in a large imbalance for a city like Kingston?

This is an interesting point, which comes into play more strongly this year. For the first time, prisoners serving sentences of longer than two years are allowed to vote because of a 2002 Supreme Court ruling. If a judge hands you a sentence of less than two years, it's considered "provincial time," to be served in a jail in your own province, usually the nearest to your home at the time of incarceration. "Federal time" of two years and up is served in a federal institution.

There are many federal prisons for men and women spread across the country, with security measures ranging from minimum to maximum, and in most cases, Correctional Services of Canada will try to send prisoners to the institution closest to supportive family members. Still, Canada's best-known prison "hub" is located in Kingston, Ont., and its surrounding communities, so theoretically, it would have a higher percentage of inmates among its temporary residents.

That doesn't mean they're automatically Kingston residents for the purpose of voting, though. The Elections Canada website says an inmate's home riding is considered to be the place he or she lived before being imprisoned, or the house of a spouse, common-law partner, relative or friend with whom the voting inmate would usually live. If these addresses are unknown, the home riding is the one in which the prisoner was arrested or last went to court for sentencing.

That said, a place like Kingston could indeed see a bump in voting by inmates given that wives, husbands or common-law partners often move to the city for the duration of a long sentence to make visiting more convenient. In that case, the prisoner's home riding would be a Kingston-area one.

That doesn't mean inmates will be flooding into Kingston polling stations accompanied by guards, though. Inmates all across Canada vote by special ballot, with a liaison officer appointed in each prison to help them acquire the proper forms and sort through the method. Polling stations are set up on the 10th day before the regular voting day (in the current case, June 28), and prison officials make sure the collected ballots get to Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa in time to be counted on election night, along with all the other special ballots filled out by Canadians living abroad temporarily, military voters and other citizens traveling within Canada.

June 19:

In past elections, I have cast my vote in Tulameen at the community centre. This election I have to travel to the Legion in Princeton to cast my vote, about a 45-minute drive further. This is very inconvenient and I would like to know why?

Elections Canada does shuffle polling stations occasionally to make sure they're in the most convenient place for the largest number of voters in a riding, but the agency says no voter should have to travel more than 30 kilometres to a polling station, even in spread-out rural and northern ridings. The questioner does have to travel further to cast his ballot this time, but a search on the Natural Resources Canada website lists Tulameen as being 21 kilometres away from Princeton. He may be out of luck unless he lives on the far side of Tulameen and can prove it's more than 30 kilometres from the Legion branch in question.

If you've received a Voter Information Card that tells you to go farther than 30 kilometres to cast a ballot, you should call the returning office in your riding and complain. Mistakes do happen. You can find the number of your local returning office by plugging in your postal code on a special form on the Elections Canada website.

By the way, if a voter is disabled and even a 30-kilometre trip to a polling station would be arduous or impossible, it's now possible to vote at home with the help of visiting Elections Canada staff and a witness of your choosing. Ask your local returning office for details.

June 20:

I'm 14 years old and have a huge interest in Canadian politics. I was watching CBC's The National on Day 2 or 3 of the election when the registered political parties were listed in a report. I don't understand why the Christian Heritage Party, Libertarian Party of Canada and Progressive Canadian Party were not listed as registered parties. When I visited electionscanada.ca later, these three parties were listed. I understand that there are rules and regulations that a party needs to follow to be registered as an official party. Can you please explain them to me?

The rules changed just before this year's election, because of a court ruling in 2003. Before now, a party had to run 50 candidates in a general federal election as well as follow a lot of regulations related to membership, record-keeping and financial management in order to qualify to be a registered political party. The stakes were high: Registered political parties can provide tax receipts for donations, collect unspent money made available for candidates earning a certain percentage of the vote, and have their name printed next to the candidate's name on the election ballot, raising their profile.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling said it was not fair to require a party to nominate 50 candidates in order to enjoy these benefits. For one thing, it would rule out small regional parties just starting out. So Parliament drafted revisions to the Canada Elections Act that made it possible to be a registered political party even if you have only one candidate running, as long as all the complicated paperwork was done to ensure the party's organization and finances were in good order.

The three parties Michael mentions became eligible for registered party status under the new rules as of May 15, but hadn't yet officially won status by the time the election was called about a week later. They subsequently did qualify after Elections Canada confirmed on June 9 that they each had at least one candidate properly nominated. Now they enjoy all the privileges associated with registration - which for the first time, includes guaranteed annual funding of at least $1.75 a voter as long as they receive 5 per cent of the popular vote in ridings in which they field a candidate, or 2 per cent of the total national vote.

June 21:

How much will this election cost and is it more because of the extended voting hours?

Elections Canada estimates the 2004 general election will cost as much as $265 million. That's $65 million higher than the bill for the last one, in 2000. Inflation, population growth, the creation of seven new ridings, and increased reimbursements to candidates and payments to parties under new election financing laws are all being blamed for the higher cost. The extension of voting hours shouldn't be a very big factor in the increased bill, compared to these other factors.

Going back four years, the 2000 general election cost $199.6 million, actually down a shade from the $200.6-million cost of the 1997 election. That's mostly because widespread enumeration was eliminated in favour of a permanent, computerized national list of eligible voters, updated for each election by a small amount of targeted enumeration and new data supplied by provincial and federal government departments and agencies.

Where does the money go? Well, about 166,000 staff worked on the 2000 election, at Elections Canada in Ottawa and across the country in 301 returning offices and almost 57,000 polling stations. Every riding needs about 500 workers, when you take into account deputy returning officers, automation co-ordinators, poll clerks, revising agents, registration officers, information officers, data entry staff and security officers. On the physical side, the election generated 550 tonnes of materials, including ballot boxes, forms, training manuals and signs. Then there was the cost of advertising about the nomination and voting process, and sending Voter Information Cards out to voters, as well as funding for a small enumeration operation targeted at highly transient neighbourhoods such as student hotspots, new suburbs and seniors' residences. Click here for a more detailed breakdown of the 1997 and 2000 election costs.

June 22:

Can you please explain what a judicial recount is? What is the procedure? Does it mean that a judge presides over the recount? Where does it take place – in a courtroom?

A judicial recount is held when two candidates in a federal riding are tied or almost tied for first place after the votes are counted on Election Night. Given how close this particular election seems a week before voting day, we may be seeing more than the usual handful of them at the beginning of July.

If the two top vote totals are very close to each other, with the different being less than one one-thousandth (or 0.1 per cent) of the total number of votes cast in that riding, a recount is automatic. The riding's returning officer must fill out the paperwork within four days of the results being validated. A judge who normally presides in a court within the riding then sets a date within the next four days on which the judicial recount will begin.

If the difference is more but still fairly close, either one of the candidates or a person acting on their behalf can request a recount. Of course, the candidate with the lower total is much more likely to do so, given that the stakes are so high. The Canada Elections Act leaves the door open wider, saying any voter can request a recount, as long as he or she can provide an affidavit from a credible witness that "a returning officer has incorrectly added up the results of the voting statements; a deputy returning officer has incorrectly counted or rejected ballots; or a deputy returning officer has incorrectly recorded the number of votes cast." The major parties usually send representatives to the polling stations to monitor the counting procedures on Election Night, so these people are usually the "credible witness."

It's a complicated procedure, spelled out in more detail in the Canada Elections Act. But briefly, here's how it works.

After the votes from each polling station in every one of Canada's 308 ridings are counted, the ballot boxes are all sealed and stored in a safe place authorized by Elections Canada. Then, if a judicial recount is authorized for a certain riding, the relevant boxes are brought to either the appointed judge's courtroom or some other designated place (there is nothing in the Canada Elections Act that specifies where a judicial recount must be held). The judge checks each box's seal to make sure nobody has tampered with it. Then each box in turn is reopened and the judge counts every single ballot in it, as well as carefully adding up the totals from all the boxes gathered from the riding.

During the recount, the top two candidates in the riding and up to two representatives each may be present to watch. (If a candidate can't be there, he or she can send three representatives instead, all of whom must be voters in the riding.) The returning officer for the riding must also attend. The judge may choose to summon and question witnesses as well as simply count the ballots.

After the recount is completed, the judge will certify the number of votes cast for each candidate and the final total is entered as the result in the contested riding. And finally and officially, voters in the riding will know who their next MP will be.

June 23:

Do all MPs have to swear allegiance? If so, to whom? If not, why not, and if one refuses, what if anything are the consequences?

Yes, all Canadian MPs and Senators must swear an oath or make an affirmation of allegiance, promising to "be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second." So must members of provincial legislatures and legislative councils.

The affirmation option was made available for those who decline to swear the formal oath using a Bible because of their personal religious beliefs, but in all cases politicians must pledge to be faithful to the reigning monarch or they cannot take their seat in the legislature or Parliament to which they have been elected.

The House of Commons can decide to punish a member it deems to have broken the oath. It has never done so, though former speaker John Fraser was asked to rule in 1990 on whether Bloc Québécois's first elected MP, Gilles Duceppe, had been sincere in making his solemn affirmation. After making the affirmation as the rules decreed, Duceppe made a statement outside the House of Commons Chamber expressing his loyalty to the people of Quebec. Fraser declared he could not judge whether Duceppe had been sincere in his initial solemn affirmation to the British monarch and left it up to each MP's conscience to assign a due seriousness to his or her personal pledge.

Lucien Bouchard, then the leader of the BQ, justified the seeming contradiction of avowed separatists pledging allegiance to the British Crown in 1993 by saying, "A pledge to the Queen is a pledge to the collectivity, and that is still very important."

The oath of allegiance is described in section 128 of the Constitution Act, 1867, better known as the British North America Act. It reads: "Every Member of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him, and every Member of a Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly of any Province shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Lieutenant Governor of the Province or some Person authorized by him, the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act." The Speaker's Office says federally elected politicians must also sign the Test Roll, a book whose pages are headed by the text of the oath, so that their participation is on permanent record.

Such oaths stem from British practice, and their history in that country is an interesting one. Queen Elizabeth I imposed the first oath of allegiance in 1583. She was reacting to religious tensions gripping Protestants and Roman Catholics in Britain at the time. Her father, Henry VIII, had split with Rome over his desire to divorce his previous wife to marry Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. Members of Parliament were required to acknowledge in their oath to Elizabeth that the monarch was the only supreme governor of the realm, not only in secular matters of state but in ecclesiastical matters too. Devout Roman Catholics naturally refused to swear such a thing, and thus the oath effectively barred them from holding office.

Here's an interesting look at what could be the future of our country's oath. For more than a decade now, Eugène Bellemare, the Liberal member of Parliament for Ottawa-Orléans, has been trying to add to the oath Canadian politicians use. He wants his fellow MPs to also swear a pledge of allegiance to Canada and its Constitution. At his own oath ceremony, Bellemare voluntarily read the affirmation he favours: "I will be loyal to Canada and that I will perform the duties of a member of the House of Commons honestly and justly in conformity with the Constitution of Canada." Bellemare points out that the existing oath to the monarch is practically identical to oaths sworn by politicians in many other Commonwealth countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Tanzania. He'd like to see a made-in-Canada addition.

June 24:

I have been reading about the problems that some areas in the U.S. are having with electronic voting machines. Does anyplace in Canada use these new machines, or are there any plans to do so?

So far, Elections Canada is not aware of any Canadian experiment with electronic voting machines, though there have been two recent cases of local elections conducted partly through internet or phone-based voting (more details appear below). Nor does the independent agency that runs federal elections in Canada have any plans to introduce electronic machine voting or electronic ballot counting, let alone internet or telephone voting as some other countries are doing for their national elections.

Before we get into why, let's define some terms.

Direct recording electronic machines, or DREs, are typically specialized voting kiosks much like automated bank machines that can be carted around to office buildings, hospitals, universities, malls or seniors' homes. As a voter, you'd approach the machine and use either a keypad or a touch-sensitive screen to select which candidate you favour, then follow the instructions to confirm your vote on the same machine. Results can be tabulated instantly, and supporters of the technology claim the machines could greatly improve voter turnout by making it more convenient to vote. The United States is planning to use DREs on a limited basis this year to streamline voting in the November presidential election.

Electronic ballot counting machines are just that; you still make your mark for a candidate or candidates on a paper ballot, but instead of putting it in a box to be hand-counted after the polls have closed, you slide the ballot through a reader which scans it and instantly reports your choice to a central computer bank. In Canada and many other countries, these are often used to speed up the counting process in local elections where multiple candidates are running for more than one spot on a city or town council or school board.

Internet or telephone voting would let you vote from the privacy and convenience of your home, your office or anywhere you can carry a laptop or cellphone. Election experts refer to it as remote voting by electronic means, or RVEM. Voters are typically mailed a card containing a password and personal identification number (PIN), then punch those in while visiting an election website or phoning a special phone number before being allowed to select the candidate they're supporting. The best-studied experience with this was a series of 30 local council elections in Britain in 2002. Partly as a result of those elections, the U.K. Electoral Commission thinks RVEM will eventually be an option in most elections because it is easy and convenient for the highest number of people, though the commission wants to retain polling stations as well as introduce voting by mail to reach seniors and low-income voters without easy and/or private phone or computer access. Britons could also conceivably vote by interactive digital television before too long.

The new technologies have advantages, but there are great concerns over the security and privacy of DREs and internet/phone voting as the systems are now structured.

In the traditional polling station, you are completely alone as you mark your ballot. Your privacy is further protected because nobody opens your unidentifiable ballot before it goes into the box for later counting. The ballot boxes are zealously guarded, the ballots they contain are carefully counted in front of witnesses, and the paper ballots are safely stored after Election Night in case a judicial recount is needed.

If you are voting by computer or phone, there is no such guarantee of secrecy and independence. A domineering relative or corrupt employer could conceivably make you vote in a certain way, or just take your password information and vote in your name.

Security is perhaps a greater concern. In January, four analysts submitted a report to the Pentagon on the SERVE internet-based electronic voting system that will be used by up to 100,000 voters in U.S. elections this year. They warned that the system is highly vulnerable to computer hackers, who could launch an attack resulting in "large-scale, selective voter disenfranchisement, and/or privacy violation, and/or vote buying and selling, and/or vote-switching even to the extent of reversing the outcome of many elections at once, including the presidential election." Politically motivated groups, anti-American agencies overseas or just hackers looking for glory could exploit weaknesses that "cannot be fixed by design changes or bug fixes," the analysts continue, because "the vulnerabilities are fundamental in the architecture of the internet and of the PC hardware and software that is ubiquitous today." Instead of continuing with SERVE this year, the report recommends building a more secure kiosk-based electronic voting machine network for use in some future election year.

Then there is the difficulty of conducting a recount should the results come into question. With electronic voting, what physical thing is there to recount to confirm who won, in the case of a severe system crash or computer hacking episode, for example? Manufacturers are now looking at adding a paper printout of each vote placed through a kiosk, so that a voter can check to make sure his or her vote was recorded properly and then leave the printout behind as a permanent record.

On the face of it, the two recent Canadian experiments with phone and online voting did not suffer major security breaches, though much less was at stake to attract wrongdoers.

In the fall of 2003, citizens in 11 rural townships in the Ottawa area received letters containing passwords and PINs. A few weeks later, they were given six days to cast their ballots for local politicians by touch-tone phone or computer, day or night. In one of the two counties involved – Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry – voter participation rose by five per cent from the previous election, just three years before. (The other county, Prescott-Russell, doesn't keep countywide records.) One local mayor later said he had heard rumours of voter passwords being bought and sold in an attempt to sway the results, but overall, officials were more than satisfied with the experiment.

The Toronto-area town of Markham had mixed results when it experimented with online voting in advance polls during the same 2003 round of municipal elections. Overall voter turnout dropped slightly, but a quarter of those who voted online said they hadn't cast a ballot at all in the 2000 election, so the method did prove to be more convenient for them.

As for the future of federal election technology, Elections Canada has no plans to move to any kind of electronic voting until all possible glitches have been ironed out (a March 2003 article in its online election magazine gives more detail). We'll be marking paper ballots for the foreseeable future when we choose our MPs.

However, the agency is moving ahead on a system to let adults go online to register to vote, or change the riding in which they are registered.

June 25:

How many polling stations does Elections Canada establish, on average, in the process of holding a general election?

There will be more than 18,000 polling locations in Canada for this election, including everything from hospitals to fire stations to Legion halls to make voting as convenient as possible. Elections Canada needs that many to ensure that no eligible voter has to travel more than 30 kilometres to cast a ballot.

Usually about a quarter of the polling sites are located in educational facilities and a quarter are found in community centres; these are the buildings most likely to have wheelchair-accessible premises. In the 2000 election, 883 mobile polling stations were also sent out to collect the votes of elderly or disabled persons living in institutions in neighbourhoods with two or more health care institutions.

All federal ridings (formally called electoral districts) are broken down into many different polling divisions, also known as "polls". Each stationary polling site usually has several polls within it, so voters in the 308 ridings will cast ballots in about 58,000 individual polls this time out, up from 57,705 in the 2000 election.

Polls correspond to neighbourhoods and include on average less than 400 voters each. Breaking it down this way helps election workers to find voters' names on the master list more easily, speeds the process of counting on election night and helps party and academic researchers examine voting patterns within regions with a greater degree of accuracy.

The number of your individual poll is printed on the Voter Information Card you receive in the mail before the election, so bringing that card with you to the polling station is a good idea.

June 26:

If I have a power of attorney for a relative, can I vote on his or her behalf?

No, you can't. "Canadian citizens 18 years of age and older on polling day are eligible to vote," says Elections Canada. However, because the act of voting is supposed to be one of personal choice and responsibility, "the Canada Elections Act does not provide for decisions by a personal or legal representative."

Voters with a disability retain the right to vote all their lives, the independent election agency adds. If they are so seriously disabled that they need help to go behind the screen and mark the ballot, subsection 155(1) of the Canada Elections Act says "a friend, the spouse, the common-law partner or a relative of the elector or a relative of the elector's spouse or common-law partner" can go into the voting booth with them and physically help them carry out the task.

Elections Canada makes special efforts to ensure older and disabled citizens can vote. Almost 900 mobile polling stations travel among health-care facilities when there are a cluster of them within one part of a riding, and many stationary polling stations are set up at seniors' complexes. People receiving medical care in another part of the country on Election Day can apply in advance for a special ballot. As well, if there's no other way for a disabled voter to cast a ballot, you can now request that Elections Canada staff visit your home to collect your vote. Ask your local returning office for details.

June 27:

Why does the CBC give so much airtime to the NDP (i.e., how many times do we have to see Olivia Chow)? Why doesn't the CBC provide equal time to political parties and not give more attention to the NDP?

There are three types of airtime at play during a campaign: editorial time, where radio and television news and current affairs programs cover the parties, leaders and candidates; commercial time, where the parties buy time to broadcast their political advertisements; and free time, which is provided by some broadcasters to all parties free of charge so that they can explain their point of view. The content of all three types of airtime is determined in different ways.

First, CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices policy says that during election campaigns, the corporation's news and current affairs programs must pay "meticulous attention to overall political balance" when it comes to editorial airtime. Indeed, fairness and balance is the hallmark of CBC coverage of all the political parties, candidates and issues in the campaign.

To be clear, "balanced" coverage does not mean "equal" coverage of all parties, leaders or candidates. To be balanced, the policy says, CBC must take into consideration the weight of opinion behind a particular point of view - or the support for a political party, if you will - as well as its significance or potential significance.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) Guidelines for Broadcast Licensees, issued at the beginning of this election, affirm that while election coverage should be left to the editorial judgement of the broadcaster, there is an "obligation to provide equitable - fair and just - treatment of issues, candidates and parties." Again, the guidelines stress that "equitable" in this context does not necessarily mean "equal," although the CRTC has made it clear that all parties and candidates are entitled to some coverage that will expose their ideas to the public.

Sometimes it can seem as if one party is getting a lot of attention - when a celebrity candidate enters the race, for example, when the party has just released its platform, or when a controversy erupts on the campaign trail, but that evens out over the course of the five-week campaign. In addition to the regular editorial process, the CBC has a number of ways of ensuring its coverage is balanced and fair, including an internal monitoring process and external tracking that looks at different things.

The second type of airtime is paid advertising. Under the provisions of the Canada Elections Act, all registered political parties are allocated a maximum amount of advertising time they can buy on each broadcasting station based on a formula that takes into account the number of seats they won in the last election and the number of votes they got. Of course, the parties can choose to buy as much or as little of that allocated time as they want, according to their budgets and strategic plans.

CBC TV accepts advertising all the time, of course. But CBC Radio is also obliged by the Act to accept paid political ads during federal campaigns - it's the only time the public radio network ever runs paid ads, in fact. Radio show hosts introduce the ads with a statement explaining why they are running, and stressing that all registered parties can take advantage of the same opportunity if they so choose. Not all parties decide to spend their advertising dollars this way, however. For example, during the current campaign, only the NDP has bought advertising on CBC Radio in the Metro Toronto area, although the time is equally available for purchase by all registered parties.

Third, the Canada Elections Act also obliges some stations and networks, including CBC Radio and Television, to make available a certain amount of time free of charge to registered political parties so that they can explain to voters their point of view. Like the commercial time, although in different amounts, free time is allocated to each party based on a formula that takes into account the number of votes and seats won in the last election.

CBC offers that free time in two-minute long "programs," in which the party can express its views as it sees fit without questions or interruption from journalists. The political parties are invited to produce their own free program-time messages, using CBC production facilities if they choose, to make the airwaves accessible even to smaller parties.

June 28:

How many pencils does Elections Canada go through for each election? As well, how many do voters walk away with, rather than leave them for the next person to use?

Elections Canada says it bought 300,000 "golf-style" pencils for this election. That�s the short stubby kind with no eraser, such as people use to mark on golf score sheets.

Three of the pencils are inserted into each kit of materials used to set up a voting booth. A new kit is provided for each voting booth within a polling station, each advance poll and each mobile poll. Any unused kits go back into stock at Elections Canada in readiness for the next election.

Returning officers also receive some pencils for use by the special-ballot co-ordinators who run voting operations at military bases and in prisons, among other sites.

Elections Canada doesn�t keep records of how many of the pencils are taken by voters, either absent-mindedly or deliberately. At the end of voting day, all the pencils at each station are rounded up and returned to the district returning officer�s headquarters. From there, they are either recycled or provided to schools for their use, if the schools have made a request in advance to pick up any leftovers.

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