CBC News Federal Election


Election FAQs

Where can I find the latest information from Elections Canada about polling stations, how to vote and other subjects?

Are there any adult Canadian citizens who can't vote in a federal election?

Can Canadians living outside the country vote in federal elections?

Where does a voter who has recently moved within Canada, or is studying away from home, cast a ballot?

How many polling stations does Elections Canada establish for each general election and what should I bring with me to vote?

How much does a federal election cost?

What is a minority government, and why do they tend to lead to more elections?

Do landlords have the right to forbid tenants to post an election sign on the outside of their building, or in a window?

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

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

Has a Canadian government ever remained in power without an election beyond its maximum five-year mandate?

Why don't all MPs represent roughly the same number of constituents?

The number of MPs in the House of Commons has been growing and now stands at 308. How many seats can Parliament hold?

If two candidates earned the same number of votes, how would the tie be broken?

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?

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

How does a judicial recount work?

Is it true that political parties now receive taxpayers' money for each vote they earn in a federal election?

We elect MPs, but how does a person become a senator?

Where can I find the latest information from Elections Canada about polling stations, how to vote and other subjects?

Web site: Regular mail:
  • Elections Canada, 257 Slater Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0M6
  • 1 800 463-6868, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern time) toll-free in Canada and the United States
  • 001 800 514-6868, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern time) toll-free in Mexico
  • (613) 993-2975, Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern time) from anywhere in the world
  • For people who are deaf or hard of hearing: TTY 1 800 361-8935 toll-free in Canada and the United States
  • Fax 1 888 524-1444 toll-free in Canada and the United States

Are there any adult Canadian citizens who can't vote in a federal election?

Only two Canadian citizens aged 18 and over do not have the legal right to vote in federal elections. 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.

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 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. Most 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 federal elections.

Can Canadians living outside the country vote in federal elections?

Yes, 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 by special ballot 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 are a Canadian who lives 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 going to the agency's website at www.elections.ca.

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 election day.

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 last lived 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.

Where does a voter who has recently moved within Canada, or is studying away from home, cast a ballot?

If you move to a different address but stay within your riding, it's very simple. Just phone your local Elections Canada hotline and ask for their address information to be adjusted, getting the location of the new polling station at the same time.

If you have moved to a whole new riding, you are eligible to vote there. 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 term 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. 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 and 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.

By the way, 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. 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. 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 haven't done of this in advance, you can still vote on election day. But leave some extra time because you'll have to stand in a special lineup. Call Elections Canada for details of what you'll need and which polling station you should use.

How many polling stations does Elections Canada establish for each general election and what should I bring with me to vote?

There were more than 18,000 polling locations in Canada for the June 2004 election. They included everything from hospitals to fire stations to Legion halls, aimed at making the casting of votes as convenient as possible. Elections Canada needs that many to ensure no eligible voter has to travel more than 30 kilometres to vote.

Half of all polling stations are located in educational facilities and community centres across the country, buildings most likely to be wheelchair accessible.

Hundreds of mobile polling stations are also sent out to collect the votes of elderly or disabled persons living in health-care institutions.

Federal ridings (also 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. Voters in the 308 ridings cast ballots in about 59,000 individual polls during the 2004 election. That's an increase of 1,295 individual polls from the 2000 election.

Voters go to polls within their neighbourhoods, which serve an average of 352 voters each. Breaking it down this way helps election workers easily find voters' names on the master list. It also speeds the process of counting on election night and helps party and academic researchers examine voting patterns within regions with greater accuracy.

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

How much does a federal election cost?

According to Elections Canada, the 2004 general election cost about $277 million. That's about $77 million more than the bill for the 2000 election.

Inflation, population growth, seven new ridings, and increased reimbursements to candidates and payments to parties under new election financing laws led to the higher cost.

The 2000 general election cost $199.6 million, down a shade from the $200.6-million to run the 1997 election. The decrease was due to widespread enumeration being replaced by a permanent, computerized national list of eligible voters. The list is updated for each election by a small amount of targeted enumeration and new data from provincial and federal government departments and agencies.

Where does the money go? About 170,000 people were hired for the 2004 election, at Elections Canada in Ottawa and across the country, in 308 returning offices and nearly 64,000 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 the nomination and voting process and sending Voter Information Cards out to voters. Money was also spent on a small enumeration operation targeted at highly transient neighbourhoods, such as student hotspots, new suburbs and seniors' residences.

What is a minority government, and why do they tend to lead to more elections?

A minority government is formed when no one party has more than 50 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. With 308 ridings currently electing MPs, a party needs 155 to form what's called a majority government.

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 one of three things happens:

  1. His government is defeated in a general election by another party that wins a majority of the seats available.
  2. He resigns.
  3. 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 last option 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 of the other parties that will agree to support it on parliamentary votes. 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 can fall 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.
The Governor General comes into the picture when the government falls on a confidence vote. She goes to the party with the best chance of forming a different minority government, given the same group of 308 MPs sitting in the House of Commons, and asks if an informal alliance is possible to avert a general election.

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.

Majority governments tend to last longer than minority governments because there's almost no chance of them losing a confidence motion, unless some MPs from the governing party rebel and vote against party lines. The leader of the government has up to five years to call another election if he or she has a majority government, and historically, few majority governments have wanted to cut short their time in power.

Do landlords have the right to forbid tenants to post an election sign on the outside of their building, or in a window?

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 a porch a "common area" under the terms of the act? It might be, depend on whether the sign-placer 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.

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

Under the current legislation, at least 36 days must pass between the day the election is called and voting day. The minimum has become the standard in recent years.
Canadian federal elections must take place on a Monday 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.

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 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.

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.

The Chief Electoral Officer can avoid postponing in the event of a minor local emergency or an administrative error by extending voting hours later into the evening, 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 those eligible to cast ballots showed up to cast a ballot despite the storm's devastation and widespread power outages.

Has a Canadian government ever remained in power without an election beyond its maximum five-year mandate?

Yes, one federal government held office for longer than five years, which is 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 Oct. 10, 1911, and remained in power until Oct. 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, which 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 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.

Why don't all MPs represent roughly the same number of constituents?

There are at least four issues involved.

The first is the vast difference in population density across Canada. The riding of Nunavut has about 27,000 people inhabiting 3,117,463 square kilometres. Big-city ridings with many high-density apartment buildings can contain more than 100,000 voters in a tiny fraction of that space. 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 parts 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 tend to gradually 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 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, P.E.I. was guaranteed that it will never have fewer MPs than it does Senators. So to this day, P.E.I. 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.

The number of MPs in the House of Commons has been growing and now stands at 308. How many seats can Parliament hold?

The House of Commons chamber can physically hold only 308 seats similar to the desk-and-chair combination now used. After the 1997 riding redistribution left the House with 301 MPs, it was renovated to hold 304 chairs for sitting members. That number jumped to 308 with the round of changes that took effect with the vote on June 28, 2004. Before that election, the Speaker's Office told CBC.ca that four more chairs and desks had been 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. All 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.

If two candidates earned the same number of votes, how would the tie be broken?

When there's a tie in a particular riding, or when there's a vote difference of one-1,000th of the total number of votes cast or less, the returning officer for the riding automatically orders a judicial recount.

The candidate with the most votes after the recount is declared the winner. If the two top candidates are tied after the recount, a byelection 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 Édouard 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.

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?

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.

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, 64 per cent in 2000 and 60.9 per cent in 2004. Particularly troublesome is the fact that less than one-quarter of young people who are eligible are bothering to vote. 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 the trend is reversed.

Similar 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.

How does a judicial recount work?

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.

If the two top vote totals are very close to each other, with the difference being less than one-1,000th (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 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. 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.

Is it true that political parties now receive taxpayers' money for each vote they earn in a federal election?

Yes, it's true. Changes to the Canada Elections Act making this public policy came into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.
The same package of changes limited individuals to donating $5,000 per calendar year to the registered political party of their choice, and banned contributions from companies, lobby groups, unions and associations. (An exception to the $5,000 limit was made for people who leave bequests to political parties in their wills.)
Imposed in isolation, that kind of sudden severing of a major source of funding would have a huge impact on parties, of course. So there is now 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.
Now every registered party gets $1.75 every year for each vote they received in the previous general election, as long as they attracted two per cent of the national votes cast or five 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 are 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 2004 general election, the Liberal party received just more than 4.98 million votes, so it received about $8.72 million in public funding in the year following the vote. If the government hadn't fallen early, that number would increase according to the rate of inflation each year until the next general election. In the same election, the Conservative party's 4.02 million votes earned it an allowance of $7.03 million; the NDP's 2.13 million votes garnered it $3.72 million; the Bloc Québécois earned $2.94 million for its 1.68 million votes; and the Green Party's 582,000 votes won it $1.02 million.

As the same bill went through, 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.

We elect MPs, but 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 Constitution, adding up to a total of 105. The number ranges from one each from Nunavut and the other territories to four from P.E.I., six from Alberta, 24 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 MPs 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 2004 election was called, Canada's current Senate is broken down by party affiliation and is heavily Liberal.
The Senate has long been a target for political reformers, with its reputation as a cushy, undemanding patronage posting for party hacks leading to the 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 letters standing for elected, effective and equal. Alberta has taken a step in that direction. Its last three provincial elections have included balloting for "senators in waiting," whom the provincial government believes the prime minister should appoint to fill Alberta's three current Senate vacancies. Only once has an "elected" senator actually been appointed to the prestigious body, however: Tory PM Brian Mulroney bowed to the province's wishes and appointed Stan Waters back in 1990.

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