House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 4. The House of Commons and Its Members - Contents and Introduction

4. The House of Commons and Its Members

Photo of high relief entitled “Vote” from the British North America Act series of the Heritage Collection in the Chamber of the House of Commons.


Figure 4.1   Representation Since 1867

*    Representation

Historical Perspective

Current Formula

Figure 4.2   Calculating Representation in the House of Commons



*    Historical Perspective

*    Readjustment of Electoral Boundaries

Appointment of Electoral Boundaries Commissions

Drawing of Boundaries

Consideration by the House

Representation Order

*    Naming of Constituencies

*    Suspension of the Readjustment Process



*    Historical Perspective

*    Qualifications for Membership



*    Issue of the Writs of Election for a General Election

Figure 4.3   The Writ of General Election

*    Issue of Writ for a By-election

Figure 4.4   Notice of Election

*    Return of the Writ

*    Contested Elections



*    Responsibilities

Responsibilities at Time of a General Election or a By-election

Relationship with Members



*    Historical Perspective

Great Britain


*    Swearing-in Process

*    Breach of the Oath of Allegiance




*    Crossing the Floor



*    Attendance

*    Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons

Historical Perspective

Rules of Conduct for Members


*      Initiating an Inquiry

*      Conduct of Inquiry

*      Report on Inquiry

*      Statement by Member

*      Consideration of Inquiry Report

*    Conflict of Interest Act and the Code of Conduct for Public Office Holders

*    Parliamentary Committees and Conflict of Interest Matters



*    Appointment Process

*    Responsibilities



*    The Sessional Allowance

*    Pension

*    Budgetary Entitlements



*    Death of a Member

Death of a Member Following a General Election

*    Resignation of a Member

Acceptance of an Office of Profit or Emolument Under the Crown

Election to a Provincial Legislature or Municipal Council

*    Contested Election Result

*    Expulsion


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 308 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 composition of the House has grown considerably since 1867 when 181 Members were elected for the first time.

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 nation-wide. Voting is by secret ballot and an elector may vote only once[4] and for only one person on the ballot. To be elected, the candidate who obtains the most votes wins, even if he or she has received fewer than half of the votes.[5]

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,[6] 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[7] and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act[8] 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[9] and the Parliament of Canada Act[10] 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, 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.

[1] Although the Constitution Act, 1867 (R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 50) states that the maximum duration of the House of Commons is five years, the Canada Elections Act (S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 56.1) provides for a general election on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following a previous election, subject to an earlier dissolution of Parliament. See also S.C. 2007, c. 10. The first general election to be held pursuant to this provision in the Canada Elections Act was scheduled for Monday, October 19, 2009 (s. 56.1(2)). However, the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament was dissolved on September 7, 2008 (Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 142, Extra, September 8, 2008). The 40th general election took place on October 14, 2008. For further information, see Chapter 8, “The Parliamentary Cycle”.

[2] For a description of various electoral systems, see Jackson, R.J. and Jackson, D., Politics in Canada: Culture, Institutions, Behaviour and Public Policy, 6th ed., Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006, pp. 427-35. In 2005, further to an order of reference of the House, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommended a process to engage citizens and parliamentarians in an examination of the current electoral system. See the Committee’s Forty-Third Report, presented to the House on June 22, 2005 (Journals, p. 958). The government endorsed the Committee’s recommendations, although not the proposed timelines for the study (Government Response to the Forty-Third Report, tabled on October 7, 2005 (Journals, p. 1154)). The Thirty-Eighth Parliament was dissolved before the recommendations could be implemented.

[3] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, s. 3.

[4] Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9, ss. 7 and 163.

[5] The number of Members a party elects to sit in the Commons does not necessarily reflect the proportion of votes it received, as has been clearly demonstrated in numerous general elections. For example, in 1984, the Progressive Conservative Party polled 50 percent of the votes cast and won 75 percent of the seats in House (Dawson, R.M., Dawson’s The Government of Canada, 6th ed., edited by N. Ward, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987, p. 85). In 1997, the Liberal Party received 38 percent of the votes, but won 51 percent of the seats in the Commons (Jackson and Jackson, 6th ed., p. 432).

[6] S.C. 2000, c. 9.

[7] S.C. 1986, c. 8.

[8] R.S. 1985, c. E-3.

[9] R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5.

[10] R.S. 1985, c. P-1.

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