House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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4. The House of Commons and Its Members

The Writ of Election

A writ is a formal written order instructing the returning officer in each electoral district to hold an election to elect a Member of Parliament. The writ specifies the day by which the names of candidates must be entered into nomination, and sets a polling date and a date on which the writ, with the name of the successful candidate noted on the back, is to be returned to the Chief Electoral Officer. (See Figure 4.3.) The returning officer is responsible for the conduct of an election within an electoral district. One returning officer is appointed by the Governor in Council for each electoral district. The returning officer receives instructions from the Chief Electoral Officer and holds office as long as he or she meets the requirements of residency within the electoral district, competency and non-partisanship, or until the electoral boundaries for the riding are changed.

The election process has evolved considerably since 1867. In 1867 and in 1872, polling days were held on different days in different locations over several weeks, so that the government could control the timing of elections in each region. [132]  For example, in 1867, elections were held on different dates in different ridings over a period of six weeks; during the next election in 1872 the process lasted three months. [133]  In 1874, Parliament passed a law stipulating that votes had to be cast on the same day in all electoral districts. [134]  Since 1929, polling day is always on Monday, unless that day is a statutory holiday, in which case the election is held the next day. [135]  In 1996, amendments to the Canada Elections Act rectified the long-standing grievance of western voters who heard election results from eastern and central Canada while the polls in the west were still open. The hours for voting are now staggered across Canada’s six time zones with polling stations open 12 hours in each region. [136] 

Figure 4.3 – The Writ of Election
Image of the text of a Writ of Election
Source: Canada Elections Act, c. E-2.

Issue of Writ for General Election

The Prime Minister begins the process of calling a general election by presenting the Governor General with an Instrument of Advice recommending that the House of Commons be dissolved. The Governor General then issues a proclamation dissolving Parliament. [137]  Subsequently, the Prime Minister presents an Order in Council addressed to the Chief Electoral Officer requesting the issuance of writs of election, and the Governor General issues a Proclamation for the issuance of writs of election. [138] 

After having been notified by the Prime Minister that an election has been called, the Chief Electoral Officer sends a writ of election to each returning officer. [139]  The writs cannot be issued or dated later than the 36th day before polling day, making the minimum length of a federal election campaign 36 days. [140]  After the returning officer receives the writ, he or she prepares a public proclamation notifying the electors of the important dates and other details related to the election, such as the date by which nomination papers must be filed and the time and date for the official addition of the votes. [141]  (See Figure 4.4.)

Figure 4.4 – Public Proclamation Issued by Returning Officer
Image of the text of a Public Proclamation Issued by Returning Officer before an election polling day.
Source: Canada Elections Act, c. E-2.

No later than 2:00 p.m. on nomination day, which is Monday, the 21st day before polling day, [142]  each candidate must file with the returning officer several documents, including the nomination paper, a declaration signed by the candidate stating that he or she accepts the nomination, a declaration of acceptance signed by the candidate’s official agent and a statement of acceptance signed by the candidate’s auditor. A $1,000 deposit is also required to ensure the candidate’s intention to stand as an official candidate. [143]  Candidates who change their mind have until 5:00 p.m. on nomination day to withdraw. [144] 

Where only one candidate has been officially nominated for an electoral district, the returning officer immediately returns the writ of election to the Chief Electoral Officer stating that the candidate is duly elected for that electoral district. [145] 

Before polling day, each returning officer issues a proclamation stating, among other things, the time and date for the official addition of the votes. [146]  That date must not be later than seven days following the polling date. [147]  Normally, no later than six days following the date set for the official addition, the returning officer is required to complete the form on the back of the writ, declaring a candidate elected. [148]  The returning officer returns the writ of election, along with a post-election report and other documentation, to the Chief Electoral Officer. [149] 

A judicial recount of the ballots is automatically requested by the returning officer if there is an equality of votes between two or more candidates with the highest number of votes, or if the winning candidate is separated from any other candidate by less than one one-thousandth of the total votes cast. [150]  A recount may also take place when, within four days of the official addition, someone who witnessed that addition applies to a judge claiming that there were irregularities in the addition of the ballots. [151]  The judicial recount is conducted by a judge and must take place no later than four days after the application has been received by the judge. [152] 

As soon as the recount is done, [153]  the returning officer completes the back of the writ, indicating the name of the successful candidate, and returns the writ to the Chief Electoral Officer. [154] 

The Chief Electoral Officer publicizes the results of the election in the Canada Gazette[155]  provides Parliament with a report on the conduct of the election, [156]  and retains all electoral documents in the event an election is contested. [157]  The Chief Electoral Officer also provides the Clerk of the House with a certified list of Members returned to serve in the House of Commons. The list is tabled in the House by the Clerk at the beginning of the first session of the new Parliament and is included in the Journals[158] 

Issue of Writ for a By-Election

Whenever a vacancy in the representation of the House occurs, for whatever reason, the Speaker addresses a warrant (a written authorization) to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ of election to fill the vacancy. [159]  The writ for a by-election must be issued between the 11th day and the 180th day after the receipt of the warrant by the Chief Electoral Officer. [160]  While the Parliament of Canada Act requires by-elections to be called within six months of a seat becoming vacant, there is no limit on how far in the future the actual date of the by-election may be set. The date of the by-election is fixed by the Governor in Council. [161] 

A writ for a by-election would be superseded and withdrawn when a by-election has been ordered for a day subsequent to the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a general election. [162] 

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