We use the words “House of Commons” very often without pausing to reflect upon what those words mean…. The word “Commons” means the people. This is the house of the people. Sitting on both sides of this house and on both sides of the Speaker are representatives of every constituency of Canada. Collectively, those of us who meet in this chamber represent all Canadians. That is our responsibility; that is our duty.
GEORGE DREW, Leader of the Opposition
(Debates, June 4, 1956, p. 4644)
The House of Commons is the elected assembly of the Parliament of Canada. Its 338 Members are elected by popular vote at least once every five years.1 For this purpose, the country is divided into electoral districts, also known as ridings or constituencies, and each is entitled to one seat in the House of Commons.
The Canadian electoral system is known as the single-member, simple-plurality voting system, or first-past-the-post system.2 In this system, Canadian citizens 18 years of age or older are eligible to vote.3 Elections at the federal level are simultaneous and nationwide. Voting is by secret ballot, and an elector may vote only once4 and for only one person on the ballot. The candidate who obtains the most votes wins, even if he or she has received fewer than half of the votes.
The electoral process, rules regarding membership, and the number and distribution of seats are governed by various acts of Parliament. The main body of Canadian election law is found in the Canada Elections Act,5 which sets down the conditions in which parties and candidates engage in the election process and ensures the free expression of political choice by electors. The Representation Act, 1985,6 and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act7 establish the processes for determining the number of Members each province is entitled to and the boundaries of each electoral district. The Constitution Act, 1867,8 and the Parliament of Canada Act9 include provisions governing membership in the House and the various responsibilities and obligations of Members. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, the Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons: Sexual Harassment and the By-laws of the Board of Internal Economy also set down rules and regulations affecting the conduct and responsibilities of Members. These matters are discussed in detail in this chapter.