5 things to know about the Federal Election

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Canadians will flock to the polls on September 20, 2021 to make an important choice. As early as now, you may be noticing that people are talking a lot more about politics on the news and in various social media platforms. If you are new to Canada, here are five things you should know:

What is a federal election?

“Elections are a process in which Canadian citizens express their preferences about who will represent and govern them. Those preferences are combined to decide which candidates will become Members of Parliament”(Canadian Encyclopedia). Elections are essential in a democracy. It is the way that the citizens grant authority to those who will run the country.

Usually, the federal election is held on a fixed date. Since May 2007, it has been on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following the previous general election. Since the last election was on October 21, 2019, the next fixed election date is October 16, 2023.

However, the election can also be called on another date. General elections are called when, on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General dissolves Parliament. The Governor in Council (the Governor General, acting on the advice of Cabinet) sets the date of the election. The current Governor General Mary Simon, upon the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, did just this in August and announced the date of the election. This is why we are holding elections this year on September 20th.

What happens in a Federal Election?

Citizens vote for the 338 members of the House Commons. The House of Commons is the elected lawmaking body of the Parliament. The 338 seats represent the electoral districts or ridings throughout the country. Each riding is represented by an MP or Member of Parliament (MP) who usually belongs to a political party that shares their philosophy or “platform” (political program) for running the country. The leader of the political party with the most number of MPs elected becomes the Prime Minister. This is called the “first-past-the-post” system.

Your elected MP represents you and your community. It is their role to bring your priorities and concerns to the government. They help make and enact laws that directly affect you, your family and your community. This is why voting responsibly in the election is essential.

If you don’t know who your MP is, look for your riding by going to the Elections Canada website. Type your postal code on the My Voter Information section and click “Go”.

Who can vote?

Canadian citizens who are 18 years old on Election Day can vote. You also have to be registered. Go to the Elections Canada page to check if you’re registered, update your address, or use the Online Voter Registration Service. You can also register on election day itself. You can do this at any Elections Canada office or at your assigned polling station.

Registered voters will receive a Voter Information Card in the mail. This tells you when and where you can vote on Election Day or at the advance polls. Bring your Voter Information card and identification when you go to vote.

You can’t vote yet if you’re a Permanent Resident. However, it shouldn’t stop you from learning about the elections. This is a great opportunity to learn about how your new country works and how and why laws are enacted. It will help you take a more active part in nation-building and be more than ready to vote responsibly when you become a Canadian citizen.

Go to this page to read a Guide to the federal election in various languages.

Ways to vote:

  • Vote at any Elections Canada office– If you cannot vote at your assigned polling station on election day, you can do so at over 500 Elections Canada offices open across Canada. Vote at any one of them before Tuesday, September 14, 6:00 p.m. You will vote using the special ballot process. Find the nearest Elections Canada office here.
  • Vote on advance polling days – Vote at your assigned polling station from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm (local time) on September 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th. (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday). To know the dates and address, check your Voter Information Card, or check the Elections Canada website.
  • Vote by mail– You can choose to vote by special ballot but you have to apply for this in advance. For the upcoming election, the deadline is Tuesday, September 14th, 6:00 pm. Once your application is accepted, you will receive a special ballot voting kit.
  • Vote on Election Day – Vote at your assigned polling station on election day, Monday, September 20, 2021. The polls will be open for 12 hours. To find your polling place, check your Voter Information Card or use the Voter Information Service.

Read this if you are a Canadian travelling or living abroad: Ways to vote.

Choose the way that is most convenient for you. It is also important to remember your health and safety during the pandemic. Plan ahead and stay informed about health and safety measures in place at all polling places and Elections Canada offices.

Working for Elections Canada

Are you interested in becoming a poll worker or administrative staff? Poll workers answer voters’ questions, handle ballots, and direct voters to the appropriate table. Meanwhile, office staff handle all the preparations necessary for the smooth conduct of the election, offer registration, and special ballot voting services. To be eligible for these positions, you have to be a Canadian citizen, at least 16 years old on election day, and able to refrain from any partisan political activity during the employment term. Go to this page for more information: Jobs during the election

Not a citizen yet? You may not be able to vote or apply for jobs but you can still get involved. There are many ways that you can get involved in the electoral process. Learn more about the political parties and read about the issues and hot topics that directly concern you (and your family’s future). Go to the House of Commons website and explore the many ways by which you can learn and participate in the democratic process.

Volunteering in an election campaign is another great way to learn more. Meet the candidates, help them prepare for public events, organize supporters, and advocate for the platform that you believe in. You can also volunteer in your community by helping out an association or school involved in civic literacy.

Source: Elections Canada. Accessed September 7, 2021.

Words to know:

Ballot – A sheet of paper used to cast a secret vote (Merriam-Webster). According to Elections Canada, ballots are printed on special paper; printing is also closely controlled. Ballots cast on election day are counted when the polls close.

Bill – A bill is a proposal for a law to be considered by Parliament.

Cabinet – A group of all Ministers (mostly from the House of Commons and at least one from the senate). The cabinet makes decisions about the Government’s priorities and policies, the legislation that will be presented to Parliament and how to collect and spend money. Members of the cabinet are called Cabinet Ministers.

Government – The political party with the most members elected to the House of Commons usually forms the Government. In the federal government, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet decide the policies and priorities, make sure they are put into action, and also guide the Government’s legislation through the House of Commons and the Senate.

Legislation – These are bills that are passed by Parliament.

Parliament – It is composed of the Monarch, the Senate and the House of Commons. Parliament has the power to make laws for Canada in certain areas of responsibility. A Parliament is also the period of time between an election and dissolution.

Riding – Riding is another word for constituency or electoral district.

Senate – The Upper House of Parliament. It is made up of 105 senators. Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. A senator represents a region of Canada.

Definitions taken from Our Country, Our Parliament. An introduction to how Canada’s parliament works, Parliament of Canada.

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Community Resources

Go to the Elections Canada page for more details.

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