Overview of Canada’s current federal electoral system

For more information about Canada’s current federal electoral system, check out How Canadians Govern Themselves on the Library of Parliament website.

About the House of Commons

The House of Commons plays an important role in Canada’s system of government: it debates issues, votes on the passage of laws and ensures the Government is held accountable.

Members of Parliament (MPs) sit in the House of Commons to represent their local communities, known as electoral districts (also commonly referred to as constituencies or ridings).

Almost all Canadian MPs belong to a political party:

  • Political parties help Canadians understand the views of local candidates and their elected MP by presenting voters with a set of priorities the political party will pursue, known as a “platform.”
  • Platforms can indicate what Governments will do when they are in power, for example, what types of laws they will introduce and how they will handle certain issues.

In Canada’s system the Prime Minister and Cabinet sit in the House of Commons:

  • This allows MPs to question the Prime Minister and Government ministers directly in the House of Commons on behalf of Canadians.
  • To stay in power, the Government must have the support of a majority of MPs, also known as having the “confidence” of the House of Commons.

Elections and formation of Government under the current electoral system

Under the current voting system:

Today, the candidate who gets the most votes in your electoral district wins, often with less than 50% of the votes. The winning candidate goes to represent you in the House of Commons. This is what we call the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system:

  • You vote for your local MP by selecting one candidate on the ballot.
  • While candidates may be a member of a political party, you don’t vote directly for the political party but rather for the individual candidate.
  • You also don’t vote directly for the Prime Minister.

The political party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons usually forms the Government:

  • The leader of that political party becomes the Prime Minister.
  • If the political party has more than half of the seats in the House of Commons, we call this a majority government.

Elections usually happen every four years, unless a majority of MPs in the House of Commons determine they no longer want to support the Government on a matter of “confidence”.

For more information about the House of Commons and Canada’s current electoral system, see the Library of Parliament website.

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