Canada’s electoral system

Hand of a person casting a ballot at a polling station during voting.

Original image  by Alexandru Nika.  © Used by permission

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Curious about how Canadians elect their leaders? The following information will help you become better informed about this important event and help you prepare for the time you are qualified to vote. And if you’re a first-time voter, congratulations! We hope this information will make the process clearer and help you have a hassle-free voting experience:

A brief background of Canada’s electoral system:

Canada’s political system is a constitutional monarchy, composed of the Queen of Canada, officially represented by the Governor-General (by the lieutenant-governor at the provincial level), the Senate and the House of Commons. The Governor-General appoints the 105 members of the Senate on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The House of Commons, on the other hand, has 338 members and are elected by the citizens. In a constitutional monarchy, although the Queen is the head, she does not govern.

It is through federal general elections that citizens choose the 338 members of the House of Commons. Essentially, people do not directly vote for the prime minister. The leader of the political party that has the most candidates elected becomes the prime minister. This is what they mean by the “single- member plurality” system, or the “first-past-the-post” system. Federal general elections are held every five years, on the third Monday of October as specified in the Canada Elections Act.

Aside from federal elections, there are also provincial elections. This is where citizens vote for the Members of the Legislative Assembly, for which Manitoba has 57 seats. According to Elections Manitoba, the next provincial election is set for October 6, 2020.

Meanwhile, on the municipal level, citizens vote for their representatives in municipal or city politics. You get to choose a mayor and a councillor, and in some cases, you will also vote for a school board trustee, regional councillor or regional chair. It is held every four years in October (Elections Manitoba).

Who can vote?

You can vote in a federal election if you:

You also have to register before you vote. A few weeks before the elections, Elections Canada sends a Voter Information Card to all registered voters. If you have not received one, you can check online by using the Online Voter Registration Service or by phone.

You can also register on election day at the polling place. You have to bring a printed registration certificate, sign it only at the polling place witnessed by the poll worker who is processing your registration, find your polling place and the hours it is open, and bring accepted ID to register and vote.

For provincial and municipal elections, the same basic criteria apply, plus residency. You should have resided in Manitoba for at least 6 months immediately before election day for provincial elections. For municipal, you have to be a resident of the municipality where you plan to vote.

Ways to vote

There are several ways to vote:

On election day – If you are registered, you would have received your voter information card by mail. On it are details that will tell you when and where to vote. You can also use the online Voter Information Service to find out where your polling place is. If you are not registered, you can register at the polling place just before voting (see requirements above). Polls are open for 12 hours.

On advance voting day – advance voting days are held 10th, 9th, 8th, and 7th days before election day based on the Canada Elections Act. The polling place for advance voting is also indicated on the voter information card and found in the Voter Information Service. The advance polling place is open from noon to 8:00 p.m.

At an Elections Canada office – Elections Canada sets a schedule to allow people to vote at any of their 400 offices across Canada (this starts Tuesday before election day). This is done to provide an easily accessible venue for voters. They are also open on extended hours. Elections Canada may also set up offices in school campuses, youth and Friendship centres to make it easier for young people to vote. You will use a special ballot voting kit when you vote at an Elections Canada office.

By mail – you will need prior registration to vote by mail and will have to send your vote earlier for your marked ballot to reach Elections Canada by election day. You need to fill out an application form available at, any Elections Canada office, Canadian embassy, high commission, or consulate to apply for a voting kit.

How to vote

If you’re a first-time voter, this video will give you an idea of what to do and what goes on inside a polling place:

Who do you vote for?

As mentioned, in a federal election, you vote for members of the House of Commons, which has 338 seats. In a provincial election, you vote for Manitoba’s 57 MLAs, and in municipal elections, for a mayor and a councillor, and in some cases, for a school board trustee, regional councillor or regional chair.

During the election period, candidates campaign for votes through advertisements, flyers, televised debates, visiting door-to-door, speaking at community meetings, and through newspaper stories. They will also let their platforms (what they believe in or the policy they will work for when elected), credentials, and qualifications be known through these venues. If you need to research more about the candidates and political parties, you can go to their respective websites (you can find their addresses at the Elections Canada website). It is good to know all that you can about the candidates and parties so that you can arrive at an informed decision when you vote.
Sources: Everything a voter should know on the Elections Canada and Elections; Guide to the Canadian House of Commons. Retrieved May 2018.

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Community Resources

Visit Elections Canada for more resources on the elections and information on Canada’s electoral system.

For more information about (provincial) elections in Manitoba, visit Elections Manitoba.

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Canada’s electoral system

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