Although five parties are currently represented in Parliament, Canada has two dominant political parties, the Conservatives and Liberals, that have governed the country in some form since its formation in 1867.
Historically, the Prime Minister could ask the Governor General to call an election at virtually any time, although one had to be called no later than five years after the return of the writs the last election under section 4 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The same provision applies in all provinces and territories, although some provinces have local laws that require elections to be even earlier. However, in 2007 the Conservative-controlled Parliament passed an act fixing federal election dates every four years, unless the government loses the confidence of the House of Commons. Nevertheless, this law is largely symbolic as it does not curtail the power of the Prime Minister to request the dissolution of Parliament at any time, as demonstrated by the same Conservative government's call for elections one year prior to the legislated date without having lost a confidence motion.
The five-year time limitation is strictly applied to the life of the Parliament or Assembly in question—this body is not deemed to have been "formed" until the return of the writs and ceases to exist the moment it is dissolved. It is therefore possible to run slightly longer than five years between election days, as was the case between the 1930 and 1935 elections.
It is also possible for a general election to be delayed should Canada be embroiled in a war or insurrection. This provision was enacted to allow Prime Minister Robert Borden to delay a federal election for about a year during World War I. Since then, the provision has only been used twice, both times by provincial governments—Ontario delayed an election for a few weeks in the year following the Armistice in 1918. Saskatchewan was the only jurisdiction to delay a general election by more than five years due to World War II, but held an election in 1944 (six years after the previous vote).
Traditionally, governments have waited four years between elections, but under Jean Chrétien's Liberal government in the 1990s, elections were held on average every three and half years. Parties generally only wait the maximum of five years between elections if they expect to lose, and hope (usually in vain) that a postponement will allow more time for things to change in their favour.
Elections are generally held in either the fall or spring. This avoids the problems of a winter campaign, where outdoor events are harder to hold. It also avoids the problems of the summer, when many Canadians are on holiday.
Using the plurality voting system, Canadians vote for their local Member of Parliament (MP), who sits in the House of Commons. Canadians do not vote directly for the Prime Minister, nor do they vote for senators.
By-elections can be held between general elections when seats become vacant. The federal government can also hold nation-wide referendums on major issues. The last referendum was held in 1992 on proposed constitutional changes in the Charlottetown Accord. On occasion, one particular issue will dominate an election, and the election will in a sense be a virtual referendum. The most recent instance of this was the 1988 election, which was considered by most parties to be a referendum on free trade with the United States.
Every person who is Canadian citizen 18 years of age or older is allowed to vote except for the Chief Electoral Officer and the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer. In the Canada Elections Act, inmates serving a sentence of at least two years are also prohibited from voting, but on October 31, 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Sauvé v. Canada that such a law violated the section 3 of the Charter, and was rendered of no force or effect.
Election turn-out has been steadily falling for many decades, although turnout rose by four percent in the last election. Currently, about sixty percent of registered voters vote in federal elections, but this amounts to less than 50% of the eligible, adult population.
The longest election campaign was the 1926 election following the King-Byng Affair which lasted 74 days. Prior to the adoption of the minimum of 36 days in law, there were six elections that lasted shorter periods of time. The last of these was the 1904 election which occurred many decades before the time limit was imposed.
In practice, the Prime Minister will generally keep a campaign as brief as is legal and/or feasible, because spending by parties is strictly limited by the Elections Act, a law which contains no provisions that would allow for increased spending in a lengthy campaign. The 1997, 2000 and 2004 elections were all of the minimum 36 days in length which has led to a common misconception that elections must be 36 days long. However, prior to 1997, elections averaged much longer: aside from the 47 day campaign for the 1993 election, the shortest election period after World War II was 57 days and many were over 60 days in length.
Much speculation had surrounded how long the campaign for the 39th federal election would be in 2006, especially as it became certain the election would be called in the weeks preceding Christmas 2005. The government of Joe Clark, which fell on December 12, 1979, recommended a campaign of 66 days for the resulting election, and nothing legal barred a similarly lengthened campaign. In the end, the 2006 election was called on November 29, 2005, for January 23, 2006 — making a 55-day long campaign.
In some cases the provincial parties are not associated with the federal party of the same name. Thus, names of provincial parties are sometimes misleading when associating a provincial party with a national party, although the respective ideologies are usually fairly similar.
None of the current provincial Progressive Conservative Parties are formally linked with the federal Conservatives - the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada resulted in the formal disbanding of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The new federal party has never asked the provincial PC parties to re-establish any formal links, although informal links do exist in most provinces and the membership lists in many provinces are quite similar. Some provincial parties (such as Alberta) formally broke off links with the federal party prior to the merger. Both the Saskatchewan and Yukon parties are also closely tied to the Conservative party.
In British Columbia and Quebec the provincial Liberals are wholly emancipated from the federal Liberals, and often completely differ from their federal counterparts on policy. The other provincial Liberal parties are autonomous entities but retain formal links with the federal party.
On the other hand, all provincial wings of the New Democratic Party are fully integrated with the federal NDP.
|Province||Date of most|
|Progressive Conservative||Liberal||New Democrat||Other|
|Saskatchewan||2007-11-07||20||38 (Saskatchewan Party)||58|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||2007-10-09||44||3||1||48|
|Prince Edward Island||2007-05-28||3||24||27|
36 (Parti Québécois)
|Yukon||2006-10-10||5||3||10 (Yukon Party)||18|
Nunavut does not have political parties; political parties in the Northwest Territories were disbanded in 1905. For lists of general elections in each province and territory, see the infobox at the bottom of the article.
1Note: Provincial Liberal Parties that are not affiliated with the federal Liberal Party of Canada
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