House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
Previous PageNext Page

4. The House of Commons and Its Members

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.

The Hon. George Drew, Leader of the Opposition
(Debates, June 4, 1956, p. 4644)


he House of Commons is the elected assembly of the Parliament of Canada. Its 301 Members are elected by popular vote at least once every five years to sit in the House of Commons. For that 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 composition of the House has grown considerably since 1867 when 181 Members sat in the House for the very first time.

The Canadian electoral system is known as the single-member, simple-plurality voting system, or “first past the post” system. [1]  In this system, Canadian citizens 18 years of age or older are eligible to vote. Elections at the federal level are simultaneous and nation-wide. Voting is by secret ballot and a voter may cast only one vote and vote for only one person on the ballot. To be elected, the candidate who gains the most votes wins, even if he or she has received fewer than half of the votes. [2] 

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, 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. Other statutes such as the Criminal Code and the Dominion Controverted Elections Act also contain provisions governing the electoral process. The Representation Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act 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 and the Parliament of Canada Act include provisions governing membership in the House and the various responsibilities and obligations of Members. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons and the By-laws of the Board of Internal Economy also set down rules and regulations affecting the conduct and responsibilities of Members of the House of Commons. These matters are discussed in detail in this chapter.

Top of documentPrevious PageNext Page