Canadian Electoral System

The country of Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This means that Canada is both a monarchy (a king or queen is the head of state) and a democracy — Canadian citizens vote to elect political candidates to serve as their representatives in government.

There are three levels of government where Canadians can vote in democratic elections:

  • Municipal (village, town or city)
  • Provincial or Territorial (province or territory)
  • Federal (national)

Elections in Canada

Municipal Elections

Some NL residents do not live within any municipality. They do not get to vote in municipal elections. In this case, the Province is responsible for some of the services normally provided by a municipality. This is called a Local Service District.

Municipalities are usually responsible for services such as water supply, sewage, streets maintenance, snow removal, police, fire department, parks, etc.

In a municipal election, depending on where you live, you vote for a councillor, the person who will represent your electoral district, several councillors at large, a deputy mayor, a mayor, the head of your municipality.

The people who are candidates in municipal elections do not represent any political party.

In NL, Municipal elections take place every four years, on the last Tuesday in September.

NL Provincial Elections

Currently there are four registered provincial political parties in NL:

  • NL Alliance Party
  • New Democratic Party of NL
  • Liberal Party of NL
  • Progressive Conservative (PC) Party of NL

Provincial government is responsible for things such as education, health, tourism, social programs, etc.

In NL provincial elections you vote for a Member of the House of Assembly (MHA) to represent your electoral district.

Candidates in provincial elections are usually affiliated with a political party. The leader of the party with the most winning candidates (the most ‘seats’) after an election becomes the Premier of the province. The leader of the second most successful party becomes the Leader of the Official Opposition.

In the province of NL there are currently 40 electoral districts, which is also the number of seats in the provincial legislature. Every Island community is part of a district.

Federal Elections

Federal government in Canada is responsible for things that affect the whole country, such as the tax system, citizenship and immigration, national defence, foreign affairs and trade with other countries, etc.

The origin of the word riding comes from old British Parliamentary times when horses were used to transport politicians and officials around an electoral area.

In federal elections you vote for a Member of Parliament (MP) to represent your electoral district in the Canadian House of Commons. Federal electoral districts are also known as ‘constituencies’ or ‘ridings’. MP candidates usually belong to a political party. The Canadian House of Commons currently has 308 seats.

In Canada, we do not vote for the Prime Minister. The leader of the political party with the most ‘seats’ (the most winning candidates) after an election becomes the Prime Minister of Canada and the head of Canadian government. The leader of the party that ends up second gets to be the Leader of the Official Opposition.

Most provinces and territories have a certain number of MPs based on their population. In NL, we have seven MPs who represent the residents in seven electoral districts:

  • Avalon
  • Bonavista—Burin—Trinity
  • Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame
  • Labrador
  • Long Range Mountains
  • St. John’s East
  • St. John’s South-Mount Pearl

There are many registered political parties in Canada. However, not all parties have representation or candidates who run in federal elections in NL.

Non-Elected Government Officials

In Canada, all levels of government have certain positions for which voters do not get to vote. These are considered political appointments. Some of them are:

  • Federal Cabinet Ministers — the Prime Minister picks which MPs are in charge of the various government departments.
  • Provincial Cabinet Ministers — the Premier of NL chooses which MHAs are in charge of provincial government departments.
  • Governor General and Lieutenant Governors — Governor General of Canada is appointed by the monarch, and the provincial and territorial lieutenant governors by the Governor General, both on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada.
  • Senators — the Senate of Canada is a component of the Canadian Parliament which reviews laws proposed by the MPs in the House of Commons. Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Why Should You Vote?

  • Voting is the primary way to have an impact on how the government runs, how your tax dollars are spent, and what laws and policies government creates to make our society a better place to live
  • Voting allows you to support the candidate and/or political party that best reflects your opinions and cares for matters that are important to you
  • Voting is a right which should be appreciated and exercised — so many people in the world still do not have this privilege, and in some countries today many are ready to die fighting to achieve the right to vote

Everyone who is eligible to vote should vote. Every vote counts in an election.

In Canada today, voting in elections is a right defined by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for citizens 18 years of age and older. But it was not always this way. In Canada’s early history, only men who were property owners and over the age of 21 could vote. Women, persons of certain Asian origins and aboriginal people were among those who fought for decades for the right to vote. Some have only received that right in the second half of the 20th century.

Be Informed

It is very important to become an informed voter. Before an election, keep up with the issues that affect your community, province and your new country — Canada. Read the news, watch television, listen to radio, and attend public forums or debates to get more information on the political candidates and their party’s platforms. You can visit candidates’ campaign offices to find out more about them and which values they represent.

Voting Eligibility

In order to vote in an election in Canada you must be:

  • A Canadian citizen (people living in Canada with permanent or temporary resident status cannot vote)
  • At least 18 years of age on election day
  • Resident of an electoral district where the election is being held (for a NL provincial election, you must have resided in the province for at least six months before the government calls the election)
  • Be registered on the voters list for your electoral district

Make Sure You are on the Voters List

You must present the voter information card and provide acceptable identification when you vote in a federal election.

In any election you should make sure you are registered on the voters list or the list of electors.

For a federal election, you should receive a voter information card in the mail before the election. This card tells you that you are registered to vote and contains the information about where and when you can vote.

If your information on the card is incorrect or you do not receive a card, you can communicate with Elections Canada to get the contact information for your returning officer (RO). You should then contact your RO before the election to correct your voter information or to get a voter registration form.

If you have no fixed address or are homeless, but meet all the other voting requirements, you can still vote in an election. For more information on what you need to do to vote, contact:

  • Elections Canada for a federal election
  • Elections NL for a provincial election
  • your municipality for a municipal election

If for any reason your name is not on the voters list on election day, you may still be able to register and vote. In that case, go to the appropriate polling station and ask to speak to the appropriate official.

On Election Day

  • If you need help at the polling place, you can ask for assistance from the election officials. You can also take someone with you (a friend or relative) to the polling place to interpret for you and help you read the ballot. The person helping you should not influence how you vote. This is against the law.
  • If you have a special need, such as a disability, or you cannot travel to the polling station on election day (for example if you are in a nursing home or in the hospital), you can ask for assistance by contacting the appropriate authority for the elections (federal, provincial or municipal).
  • Be sure to mark only one ‘X’ on your ballot. Do not sign or mark anything else on it, otherwise your vote will not count. If you make a mistake on your ballot, take it back to the election official and explain what happened. You will get a new ballot.

On election day, you need to do the following:

  • Go to the appropriate polling place during the hours of the election (usually from 8am to 8pm in federal elections, and 9am to 7pm in provincial elections). Polling stations are usually set up at schools, community or church halls, or other similar public places in your neighbourhood.
  • In a federal election you must take your federal voter information card and provide acceptable identification.
  • In a NL provincial election it is a good idea to take your voter confirmation record with you.
  • Give your name and address to the officials at the polling place. They will check your name on the voter’s list and give you a ballot.
  • Take your ballot behind the screen where you can vote in private.
  • Unfold your ballot and mark an ‘X’ in the white space next to the name of the candidate for whom you wish to vote.
  • Fold your marked ballot again and give it to the polling official. The official will tear off a piece of the paper, and give the ballot back to you to put it in the ballot box.

You can take time off from work with pay to vote in an election if:

  • there is not enough time for you to vote before or after your scheduled work hours (specifically, if you do not have 3 consecutive hours of your own time to vote in a federal election or 1 hour of your own time to vote in a NL provincial election), and
  • you arrange with your employer to take time off from work to vote in advance of election day (note: your employer gets to choose the time that you take off)

Advance Polls

If you cannot vote on election day, or you wish to vote in advance, there are advanced polls where you can vote early, before the election day. Information on advance polls should be available on your voter information card for federal elections, or your voter confirmation record for provincial elections.

Mail-in Ballot

If you cannot vote on election day, nor go to an advance poll to vote, you can register to vote with a special ballot called a ‘mail-in ballot’. This is helpful if you are a student, a member of the military, or are travelling at the time of election.

To request to do this, you need to fill in a form and send it along with the appropriate identification well in advance of election day. To vote by mail-in ballot, you should contact the appropriate election authority (federal, provincial or municipal).

Acceptable Identification in Federal Elections

To receive a ballot at the polling station in a federal election, or to register to vote at the advance polls or on election day, you must prove your identity and address of residence. You can:

  • show one original government-issued identification document which includes your photo, name and address, such as your driver’s licence.
  • show two original pieces of identification, one of which has to have your name and address, and one at least your name (for example, your health card and electrical bill), or
  • be vouched for by someone who knows you and whose name appears on the list of electors in the same polling division, and who has acceptable identification documents (for example, a neighbour or roommate)

Identification in Provincial Elections

In NL provincial elections, there are four (4) ways that you can prove your identity in order to vote:

  1. Confirmation of your identity by an Election Official.  A Deputy Returning Officer, Poll Clerk, Returning Officer or Election Clerk working at a polling station can confirm your identity.  An election official can confirm the identities of as many people as necessary.
  2. Show one of piece of ID that shows both your name and current address, such as:  your driver’s licence any other government card with your name and current address
  3. Show two pieces of ID which, together, show your name and current address. At least one must have your current address. We accept e-statements and e-invoices. You may bring a printed copy or show them on a mobile device. An example would be your MCP Card, and a utility bill.
  4. If you cannot present an ID that shows your name and address, you must take an oath by either having someone who knows you attest to your current address. This person, known as a Guarantor, must show proof of their own identity and address.

Or, complete an affidavit, attesting to your identity in the absence of any other form of ID. Elections NL’s form, called the “Affidavit for Identification” (AS-24) must be signed by an official, such as a Judge, Barrister, Justice of the Peace or Commissioner for Oaths.

Some NL residents do not live within any municipality. They do not get to vote in municipal elections. In this case, the Province, or an agreement with a neighbouring municipality is responsible for some of the services normally provided by that municipality.

Sample Ballots

Sometimes political candidates run as ‘independent’, meaning they have no ties to a registered political party.

In Canada, the voting system uses a secret ballot. This means that no one should know how you voted, unless you want to share this information with others.

Related Resources

Elections Canada Phone Lines

NL Provincial and Municipal Information

Registered Political Parties in NL

Related Topics in this Guide

Elections Glossary

Appointment – government position occupied by a non-elected (appointed) official
Ballot – a piece of paper with the candidates’ names with corresponding political parties (or just names in municipal elections)
Confirmation Officer – PEI election official
Constituency – geographical voting area in federal elections
Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) – election official who works at the polling station during election day and reports to the returning officer
Elector – a person who is eligible to vote in an election
Electoral District – geographical voting area in elections
Legislature – deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws
List of Electors – list of people eligible to vote in an electoral district
Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) – elected member of provincial legislature
Member of Parliament (MP) – elected member of Canadian House of Commons
Nomination – process of selecting candidates to run for political office
Platform – a list of actions or ideas supported by a political candidate and/or party
Polling Place/Station – designated place where you go to vote in your electoral district
Prime Minister – head of government of Canada
Premier – head of provincial or territorial government in Canada
Returning Officer (RO) – election official for an electoral district
Riding – geographical voting area in federal elections
Voters List – list of people eligible to vote in an electoral district
More Election Terms