Elections Step by Step

Canada is a representative democracy. During a federal election, all eligible citizens can vote for a candidate in their electoral district (riding) who will represent their interests in Parliament. The candidate who receives the most votes in a riding is declared the winner. This system is called first-past-the-post.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the following democratic rights: 

  • Every Canadian citizen has the right to vote in an election.
  • Every Canadian citizen has the right to run for office in an election.
  • An election must take place at least once every five years.
  • Elected representatives must meet at least once a year.
The writs of election

Canada’s federal electoral process


1. Dissolution

  • The governor general ends Parliament on the request of the prime minister and directs that the writs of election be issued.
  • The Chief Electoral Officer issues the writs. These direct Elections Canada officials, called returning officers, to hold an election in each riding.
  • Elections Canada sends preliminary lists of voters to the returning officers.

2. Nomination

As soon as election writs are issued, each party must decide who will be its candidate for each riding. This candidate’s name will be listed on the ballot for that riding. A candidate can also run for election without a party affiliation, as either “independent” or “no affiliation.” This choice will be marked beside their name on the ballot.

3. Campaigning

During the campaign period, candidates try to convince voters that they are the best choice to represent the people of their riding in Parliament.

4. Voting

  • Polling stations are the most common voting option.
  • Each voter gets a ballot from the Elections Canada officials and marks an X beside the name of their chosen candidate.
  • The voter’s ballot is placed in a ballot box.
  • The ballots are counted in each polling division and riding.

5. Counting

  • Once the polling stations close, Elections Canada officials open the ballot boxes and count the ballots. 
  • The candidate who receives the most votes in the riding becomes its member of Parliament (MP) and represents it in the House of Commons.
  • The political party that has the most MPs usually forms the government.
  • The leader of the political party with the most MPs normally becomes the prime minister.

Did you know?

  • The candidate with the most votes is declared the winner even if the difference is just one vote.
  • Under the Canadian parliamentary system, voters elect only their local representative, not the prime minister.
  • The number of ridings is reviewed every 10 years to keep up with population shifts and growth.
  • You have to be 18 to vote, but only 16 to work for Elections Canada.
  • The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada is not allowed to vote in a Canadian federal election.