Rules of Membership for the House

With few exceptions, anyone who is qualified to vote can be a candidate in a federal election. The qualifications and disqualifications for candidacy in a federal election are set down in the Canada Elections Act,93 the Parliament of Canada Act94 and the Constitution Act, 1982.95

Historical Perspective

The qualifications for candidacy for persons seeking election to the House of Commons have been revised on numerous occasions and have always been closely linked with the right to vote. During periods when classes of persons were disenfranchised, they were also disqualified from seeking election. In 1867, the Constitution Act stated that all laws in force in the provinces respecting qualifications and disqualifications of persons seeking election to provincial legislatures would apply to the election of Members to the House of Commons until the Parliament of Canada enacted its own legislation.96 Although the Constitution Act, 1867, did stipulate (as did the provincial laws) that voters had to be male, British subjects, at least 21 years of age and property owners,97 the qualification provisions for candidates in each province were not necessarily the same and there was no uniformity of qualifications for the first Members returned to the House. Indeed, candidates did not have to reside in the country, and until 1873, some Members sat not only in the House of Commons, but also in the legislative assemblies of Ontario and Quebec.98 In 1874, Parliament passed its own legislation providing for the election of Members. The Dominion Elections Act abolished the property qualification for candidates and declared that any British-born or naturalized male subject of Great Britain, Ireland, or Canada or one of its provinces was eligible for candidacy in an election.99

There were few changes to the electoral laws respecting qualifications for candidacy until the early 20th century. In 1919, women received the franchise and the right to be candidates in an election.100 In 1948, the Dominion Elections Act was amended to ensure that candidates were Canadian residents and qualified electors; amendments also eliminated disqualification from voting on the basis of race (status Indians excepted), which in turn opened up candidacy to people of Oriental origin, in particular to Japanese Canadians.101 In 1950, Inuit were given the franchise and the right to seek a seat in the House of Commons102 and in 1955, revisions to the Act gave the franchise to various religious groups, in particular to Doukhobors, who had previously been disenfranchised because they were conscientious objectors.103 Aboriginal persons finally received the right to vote and seek election in 1960.104 In 1970, the voting age was lowered to 18 as was the age requirement for candidacy.105

In addition to disqualifications based on the franchise, individuals were prevented from seeking election if they were government employees or held a government contract. This disqualification was based on the principle of “independence of Parliament”. Professor Norman Ward noted: “It is an ideal of democratic government that representation should be independent of undesirable forces that might bias their judgement on public matters. In particular, they should be free of the executive, at least insofar as direct pecuniary benefit is concerned”.106 Thus, in 1867, the Parliament of Canada re-enacted 1857 legislation from the Province of Canada which disqualified from eligibility as a Member of the Assembly or from sitting or voting therein, any person who had accepted or held “any office, commission or employment in the service of the Government of Canada at the nomination of the Crown, to which an annual salary or any fee, allowance, or emolument in lieu of an annual salary from the Crown [was] attached”.107 This provision also disqualified Members appointed to the Cabinet: Cabinet Ministers had to resign their seat and seek re-election in order to obtain the approval of the electors in their constituencies. Also disqualified from eligibility were government contractors and officers of the navy and militia. In 1878, the Act was amended to exempt from disqualification Members already holding a ministerial position and to further disqualify sheriffs, registrars of deeds, clerks of the peace, and county Crown attorneys.108 In 1931, an amendment to the Senate and House of Commons Act freed Ministers appointed after an election from the necessity of vacating their seats and seeking re-election.109

In 1992, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, also known as the Lortie Commission, recommended the removal of the office of profit or emolument disqualification from the Canada Elections Act, arguing that public officers and employees had the right to a leave of absence to seek a nomination and contest an election.110 Once elected to the House of Commons, the individual’s employment with the Crown would then be deemed terminated in order to avoid any conflict of interest issues. In regard to the eligibility of a candidate holding a government contract, the Lortie Commission recommended the removal of this disqualification, reasoning that, if elected, the Member would then have to bring the contractual relationship in line with the rules governing the conduct of Members. In 1993, these recommendations were included in legislation introduced, and subsequently passed, to amend the Canada Elections Act.111

Qualifications for Membership

As stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein”.112 Thus, with few exceptions, any Canadian citizen at least 18 years of age on polling day who is qualified as an elector is eligible to be a candidate in an election.113 A candidate must have established residency somewhere in Canada but not necessarily in the constituency where he or she is seeking election.114 The candidate is not required to have the backing of a registered political party. In addition, a candidate may seek election in only one electoral district.115

The Canada Elections Act also sets out a series of disqualifications for electoral candidacy. Inmates of correctional institutions are disqualified from seeking election.116 Certain officials such as sheriffs, clerks of the peace, and provincial Crown attorneys may not seek election.117 Similarly, federally appointed judges (citizenship judges excepted) and election officials are disqualified from seeking election.118 Members of provincial and territorial legislatures are also ineligible to run in federal elections.119 Furthermore, any person who had been a candidate in a previous election but who did not file required election documents with the Chief Electoral Officer is not eligible to seek election.120

A person found guilty of an offence that is a corrupt practice under the Canada Elections Act, such as voting more than once, obstructing an election officer, or offering a bribe, is disqualified from seeking election for seven years following the date of the conviction.121 A person guilty of an offence that is an illegal practice under the Canada Elections Act, such as exceeding election expense limits, obstructing the electoral process or taking a false oath, is disqualified from seeking election for five years from the date of conviction.122

Senators must resign their seats to seek election to the House; similarly, if a Member accepts an appointment to the Senate,123 or an appointment to the office of Governor General, a judgeship or any other public office that renders that person incapable of being elected to, or of sitting or voting in, the House of Commons, his or her seat will be declared vacant.124