Lesson 4: Democratic and Equality Charter Rights

Topic 2: Elections

Local Government Elections

Who is Elected in a Local Government Election?

On General Voting Day, we vote for the following positions:

  • The mayor and councillors for each municipality
  • School board trustees
  • Electoral area directors for regional districts
  • Local trustees for areas in the Island Trust (Gulf Islands)

When are Local Government Elections?

General Voting Day is the third Saturday in November, every three years. The most recent election was in November 2008, so the next election will be in November 2011.

How Many Members of Council are Elected?

The size of the council depends on the size of the municipality. There are four, six, eight or 10 members of council, plus the mayor. There is always an even number of members of council so, with the addition of the mayor, there is an odd number of people voting. That way there will never be a tied vote if everyone is present.

Municipality Size Usual # of Council  Members

City of Vancouver

10 plus mayor

Cities or districts of more than 50,000 people

8 plus mayor

Other cities or districts

6 plus mayor

Villages and Towns

4 plus mayor

How Many School Trustees are Elected?

Each school district has three, five, seven or nine school trustees on its board of education. Sometimes, for example in the case of Vancouver, the school district boundaries are the same as the municipal boundaries. In other cases a school district is larger, covering an area that includes more than one municipality or community. In that case, there are sometimes specific rules for the number of trustees elected from each part of the district. For example, the District of North Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver share School District #44. The district has a higher population so the voters there elect four trustees while the city only elects three.

Who is Eligible to Vote?

To vote as a “resident elector”, you must be:

  • 18 years old or older
  • A Canadian citizen
  • A resident of British Columbia for at least six months before the election
  • A resident of the place where you are voting for at least 30 days before the election


  • An owner of property for at least 30 days in the jurisdiction

Who is Eligible to Run for Election?

To be allowed to run as a candidate for election as mayor, member of council or school trustee, the person must be:

  • 18 years old or older
  • A Canadian citizen
  • A resident of BC for at least six months prior to the election
  • Not disqualified from running for any reason

You do not have to live in or own property in area in order to run in an election there

Who is Disqualified From Being Allowed to Run in Elections?

While most people are allowed to run for elected office, some people are disqualified if:

  • The person works as an employee of the local government or school board. For example, your teacher is not allowed to run to be a school trustee in your district. They are allowed to run if s/he goes on leave during the election and then promises to resign from his or her job if elected.
  • The person is a Judge of the Provincial Court, Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
  • The person is in prison for an indictable offence.
  • The person, as a past candidate, broke election rules.

What Kind of Rules Have to be Followed by Candidates in an Election?

Candidates have to follow rules that are set out in the Local Government Act including:

  • Candidates have to keep records of donations that they received and have to publish the names of people or businesses who have donated an amount of $100 or more.
  • These donations might be cash or they might be donations of services. For example, if a photographer is normally paid $500 for a photo shoot but charges the politician only $200, he or she is making a “donation in kind” of $300. This has to be on the list.
  • This financial list must be turned in to the municipality within 120 days of the election or the candidate will be disqualified from running in the next election.
  • Candidates can donate as much money as they like to their own campaign and can accept donations from businesses and unions.
  • Candidates cannot bribe or threaten voters.

If an Elected Official Resigns or Passes Away Between Elections, is He or She Replaced?

Yes. Unless this occurs within a few months of the next election, there will be a special type of election called a by-election just to fill that vacancy.

How Does a Voter Fill out the Ballot? How is it Counted?

Many municipalities in BC now use electronic voting machines. The ballot has ovals that are filled in and the ballot is fed into a machine which counts the ballots. Some municipalities still use employees to hand count the ballots. A voter can vote for as many candidates as there are positions available. Thus, everyone has one vote for mayor. If there are six councillor positions, the voter can vote for up to six candidates or choose to vote for fewer candidates.

Federal Elections and Electoral Process

Launching an Election

For a general election, the Governor General (at the request of the Prime Minister) dissolves Parliament, and the Governor in Council (the Governor General acting on the advice of Cabinet) sets the date of the election and the date by which returning officers must return the writs. A writ is a formal document directing a returning officer to conduct an election in his or her electoral district. After election day, the returning officer writes the name of the winning candidate on that district’s writ. By law, the time between the issue of the writs and election day must be at least 36 days. In practice, general elections usually last 36 days. An exception was the 39th general election, which included the 2005 Christmas and New Year holiday period and lasted 55 days.

Issuing the Writs

Once advised of the election, the Chief Electoral Officer sends a notice to each returning officer, directing him or her to rent office space, open a returning office and provide the services that enable electors to exercise their right to vote. At the same time, the writs of election are being printed, with the dates for election day and for the close of nominations. After signing the writs, the Chief Electoral Officer sends one to each returning officer, who then publishes a notice of election informing voters of the important dates and other details.

The Election Call

  1. The Prime Minister asks the Governor General to dissolve the House of Commons (or the Government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons)
  2. The Governor General issues a proclamation dissolving Parliament and directing that the writs of election be issued
  3. The Chief Electoral Officer issues writs that direct returning officers to hold an election in each electoral district
  4. Returning officers open their offices
  5. Voting by special ballot begins
  6. Elections Canada sends preliminary lists of electors to returning officers
  7. Preliminary candidates and party election expense limits are calculated
  8. Revision of the lists of electors begins
  9. Returning officers mail voter information cards to registered electors
  10. Returning officers receive candidates’ nomination papers and deposits
  11. Canadian Forces electors begin voting
  12. Voting at advance polls takes place
  13. Voting by incarcerated electors and those in acute care hospitals begins
  14. Revision ends, and the deadline for special ballot registration expires
  15. Revised candidate and party election expense limits are calculated

Election Day

  • Electors vote at ordinary and mobile polling stations
  • Preliminary voting results are available after the polls close across the country


There are a number of ways to vote. The most common way is at the polls on election day. Voters can also cast their ballots at an advance poll or by special ballot, either at the office of the returning officer or through the mail. As additional services, Elections Canada provides mobile polls for voters living in chronic care institutions and, in certain cases, bedside voting by special ballot for voters in acute care hospitals.

In exceptional circumstances — where a voter is registered for a special ballot but cannot go to the office of the returning officer or mark the ballot because of a disability — an election officer can go to the voter’s home to help mark and receive the ballot in the presence of a witness.

Ordinary Polls

This is the method of voting used by the vast majority of voters. During the hours of voting on election day, electors go to the polling station indicated on their voter information cards, have their names crossed off the list and go behind a voting screen to mark a ballot.

Voting Hours on Election Day and Staggered Voting Hours

To compensate for Canada’s six time zones, polls open and close (in local time) as follows:

  • Newfoundland Time 8:30 am – 8:30 pm
  • Atlantic Time 8:30 am – 8:30 pm
  • Eastern Time 9:30 am – 9:30 pm
  • Central Time 8:30 am – 8:30 pm
  • Mountain Time 7:30 am – 7:30 pm
  • Pacific Time 7:00 am – 7:00 pm

The Canada Elections Act requires polling stations to be open for voting for 12 consecutive hours on election day. The hours of voting are staggered by time zone, so that a majority of results will be available at approximately the same time across the country. If necessary, the Chief Electoral Officer may modify the voting hours in a riding to make them coincide with the voting hours in other ridings in the same time zone.

Marking the Ballot

At the polling station specified on the voter information card, the poll clerk crosses the voter’s name off the voters list. The deputy returning officer hands the voter a folded ballot with the initials of the deputy returning officer on the outside. The voter then re-folds the ballot so that the deputy returning officer’s initials are visible and hands it to the deputy returning officer. The deputy returning officer checks the initials and the number shown on the counterfoil, removes the counterfoil and discards it, and returns the ballot to the voter. The voter, or the deputy returning officer at the voter’s request, places the folded ballot in the ballot box. The poll clerk then places a mark in the “Voted” column beside the elector’s name on the voters list.

Advance Voting

Three days — Friday, Saturday, and Monday, the 10th, 9th, and 7th days before polling day — are designated for advance voting to accommodate electors who know that they will be unable, or do not wish, to vote on election day. Advance polls are open between the hours of noon and 8:00 p.m.

Special Ballot

The Canada Elections Act provides alternative procedures for voting specifically designed for, but not limited to, electors who:

  • Reside temporarily outside Canada (less than five consecutive years, with certain exceptions) at the time of an election
  • Reside in Canada, but might be away from their electoral districts when it is time to vote
  • Are members of the Canadian Forces
  • Are incarcerated

Any elector can register to vote by special ballot at any point before the sixth-to-last day before election day. Application forms are available from returning officers, on the Elections Canada website or directly from Elections Canada in Ottawa. Once the registration is accepted, a kit containing a ballot and three envelopes is mailed to the elector.

Once registered to vote by special ballot, an elector cannot vote in any other way. Electors can vote only for a candidate who is running in their own electoral district no matter where they cast and mail their special ballots. To preserve secrecy, the elector seals the special ballot in the unmarked envelope, puts that sealed envelope in the envelope with the electoral district’s name on it, seals this second envelope and puts it in the mailing envelope.

The Results

Shortly after the polls close on election day, the unofficial results begin to come in to Elections Canada. As the reports arrive from the various polling stations on election night, Elections Canada releases the results to the media for immediate publication or broadcast. Simultaneously, Elections Canada hosts a live feed on its Web site of the unofficial results by riding, by major centre, by province or territory, nationwide and by political party.

  1. Returning officers carry out the validation of the results
  2. Judicial recounts are conducted if necessary
  3. Returning officers return the writs, which declare the winning candidate in each riding
  4. New members of Parliament are sworn in, and the new Parliament is convened
  5. The Chief Electoral Officer reports on the election and the official results
  6. Candidates, political parties, and third parties submit financial reports
  7. Reimbursement of expenses to candidates and political parties takes place
  8. Candidates dispose of surplus funds
Validation of the Results

Within seven days of election day (unless exceptional circumstances prevent some ballot boxes from being available on time), each returning officer validates the results by examining the documents relating to the vote count to verify the election night calculations. Only after the validation has been completed can the official voting results be published.

Judicial Recounts

A judicial recount is automatically requested by the returning officer and conducted by a judge if the number of votes separating the candidate with the most votes and any other candidate is less than one 1000th of the total number of votes cast in that electoral district. A recount may also be conducted if it appears to a judge to whom a request for a recount has been made that an error may have occurred during the count. If the two top-ranking candidates have each received the same number of votes after a recount, a new election is held in that electoral district.

Election Reports

The Return of the Writs

After the sixth day following the validation of the results (or immediately after a judicial recount), the returning officer records the winning candidate’s name on the writ received at the beginning of the election, signs it and returns it to the Chief Electoral Officer.

The Chief Electoral Officer’s Reports

After each general election, the Chief Electoral Officer must submit three public reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons. The first covers the official voting results by polling division and is published without delay. The second, published within 90 days of the return of the writs, is a report on the election and any activities of Elections Canada since the date of the previous narrative report that the Chief Electoral Officer considers should be brought to the attention of the House of Commons. As soon as possible after a general election, the Chief Electoral Officer also reports on any changes to the electoral legislation that he judges desirable for the better administration of the Act. Elections Canada publishes each of these reports in print form and makes them available online at http://www.elections.ca.


When a seat in Parliament becomes officially vacant in between election periods, the Speaker of the House of Commons must inform the Chief Electoral Officer immediately with a Speaker’s warrant. Between the 11th and the 180th day after the Chief Electoral Officer receives this warrant, the Governor in Council must set the date for holding a by-election. Once the date is known, the Chief Electoral Officer issues a writ to the returning officer of the electoral district concerned, directing him or her to hold a by-election on that date. If a general election is called after the by-election writ has been issued and before the by-election is held, the writ for the by-election is considered withdrawn, and the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette to that effect.


Three federal referendums have been held in Canada since Confederation: in 1898, on whether to prohibit the sale of alcohol; in 1942, on compulsory military service (conscription); and in 1992, on the Charlottetown constitutional accord. Under the Referendum Act that came into force just before the 1992 referendum, only questions related to the Constitution of Canada can be asked in a federal referendum.

Federal referendums and elections cannot be held on the same day. The Referendum Act allows the Chief Electoral Officer to adapt the Canada Elections Act by regulation for the purposes of applying it to a referendum.

The information above was adapted from the Elections Canada website.