Canadian electoral law has grown in complexity and it continues to evolve. The administration of elections was haphazard and highly politicized in the early years after Confederation. Since then, two fundamental changes have been made to the Canadian electoral process. First is the creation of a non-partisan electoral system governed by very specific procedures and overseen by an independent election agency. Second, and more recently, is the regulation of political party campaigning, particularly its financial aspects.
In May 2000, Parliament enacted a new Canada Elections Act (CEA), which represented the first comprehensive overhaul of federal electoral law in almost 30 years. This review came in response to a number of electoral matters that have been the subject of court decisions in previous years. Since then, this legislation has been amended on several occasions, most notably:
- in 2003, when new provisions on election financing were introduced;
- in 2007, when voter identification rules were enacted, further changes were made to campaign financing rules and a fixed-date process was established for federal elections;
- in 2014, when numerous amendments were made with respect to the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, communications with the electorate, voter identification, electoral campaign financing, provisions on prohibitions and enforcement of the CEA, among others; and
- in 2018, when certain amendments adopted in 2014 were rescinded, and new amendments were made to provisions that cover third party expenses, accessibility and participation in the electoral process, the modernization of voting services, the facilitation of enforcement, improvements to various aspects of election administration, and the protection of privacy and personal information, among others.
This paper provides an overview of the nature and functioning of the Canadian federal electoral system in a question-and-answer format. Since Canada is a federal state, each province has its own system for elections to its legislature, and the federal and provincial electoral processes are independent of each other.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: The Canadian Electoral System: Questions and Answers
By Laurence Brosseau, Library of Parliament