Why (and how) you should participate in the Federal Election

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Canadians will flock to the polls in October this year to make an important choice. Federal Elections will be held on October 21st and for many, participating is a civic duty and a critical part of democracy and nation-building. 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’s what you should know:

What happens in a federal election?

Citizens vote for or choose 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. For example, in the last federal election in 2015, Liberal Party candidates captured 184 seats or 39.5% of votes while the Conservative Party had 99 seats or 31.9% of votes (Canada Votes, CBC News). This is why the Liberals won the majority government and their party leader, Justin Trudeau, is our current Prime Minister.

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 affects you, your family and your community. This is why your vote and active participation in the election are important.

If you don’t know who your MP is, look for your riding by going to Elections Canada on the Voter Information Service page and key-in your postal code.

Who is eligible to vote

Canadian citizens who are 18 years old on Election Day can vote. You also have to be registered. You can do this online, by mail or in person.

Elections Canada – How to Register

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.

Permanent Residents can’t vote yet but it shouldn’t stop you from learning about the elections. Keeping an active interest on the elections is a great way to learn about how your new country works and how and why laws are enacted. Laws govern so many aspects of our everyday lives. It will help you take a more active part in nation-building.

Ways to vote:

Aside from going to the polling place on Election Day, there are other ways to vote:

  • Vote at your advance poll – Advance polls will be held on the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before Election Day (a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday). They will be open from 12 noon to 8 p.m. local time. To know the dates and address, check your Voter Information Card, or check the website or call Elections Canada.
  • Vote at your local Elections Canada Office – this means voting by special ballot. You have to apply for this in advance right after an election is called. Fill out an Application for Registration and Special Ballot at local Elections Canada offices. Find out the nearest Elections Canada office by checking their website or calling Elections Canada.
  • Vote by mail – Fill out an Application for Registration and Special Ballot after an election is called. Get the form at any Elections Canada office, Canadian embassy, or high commission or consulate. Once your application is accepted, you will receive a special ballot voting kit.

Read this if you are a Canadian living abroad: Vote by mail in a future election.

Working for Elections Canada

Are you interested in becoming a poll worker? Poll workers answer voters’ questions, handle ballots, and direct voters to the appropriate table. To be eligible, you have to be a Canadian citizen, at least 16 years old on Election Day (however, priority will be given to applicants who are at least 18 years old). Go to this page for more information: POLL WORKERS

Not a citizen yet? You may not be able to vote or apply as a poll worker 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 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 in preparing for public events, organize supporters and generally advocate and push for the platform that you believe in. You can also volunteer in your community by helping out a community association or school involved in civic literacy.

If you’re really interested in working during the election, you may soon have an opportunity, but on the provincial level. Provincial elections slated for October 2020 in Manitoba has been rescheduled for September 10 this year and as early as now, Elections Manitoba is looking for staff who are interested in working within an electoral division or at the Elections Manitoba headquarters. Positions are available for residents of Manitoba, at least 16 years old and are legally entitled to work in Canada. Go to: Employment opportunities with Elections Manitoba to apply.

Words to know:

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Legislation – These are bills that are passed by Parliament.

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.
Sources: Elections Canada; A Guide to Voting: A Literacy Practitioner Workbook for voting in the 2019 Federal Election, ABC Life Literacy Canada; Federal election 2019: When is it? Who’s running? And other FAQs, Maclean’s; Our Country, Our Parliament. An introduction to how Canada’s parliament works, Parliament of Canada. Accessed June 11, 2019.

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Community Resources

Get the Voter’s Guide (available in 31 ethnocultural languages).

Elections Canada has resources and tools for learning, teaching and engaging about federal elections and democracy. Go to: Elections and democracy.

Download A Guide to Voting: A Literacy Practitioner Workbook for voting in the 2019 Federal Election, ABC Life Literacy Canada.

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