Briefing book for the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada - 2021

[ * ] An asterisk appears where sensitive information has been removed in accordance with the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act.

On this page

1. DI overview

Executive Summary – Democratic Institutions landscape (placemat)

Text version

Democratic Institutions landscape

October 2021

44th general election - A few important pieces

  • 62.25% voter turnout compared to 67% in 2019, 68.3% in 2015 and 61.1% in 2011.
  • 5.895 million advance polling turnout, an increase of 19% (4.77 million voters in 2019).
  • Over 1 million mail-in ballots cast, compared with 50,000 in 2019.
  • In the electoral district of Brome-Missisquoi, the candidate in 2nd place on election night won after the count of mail-in votes.
  • 103 elected women MPs (30%) compared to 98 (28.7%) in 2019 and 88 (26%) in 2015.
  • 12 elected Indigenous MPs (3.5 %) compared to 11 in 2019 and 10 in 2015.
  • 2,010 candidates in 338 ridings.
  • 36 day campaign and first general election in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key partners

  • Elections Canada: administers federal elections and referenda. 
  • CEO: Stéphane Perrault, since 2018 on a 10 year term.
  • Commissioner of Canada Elections: investigates CEA offences. 
  • Commissioner: Yves Côté, since 2012 on a 10 year term.
  • Departmental support
    • 13 FTEs supporting the Minister
    • Leverages support from across PCO
  • Key domestic stakeholders: Samara Centre for Democracy; CIVIX; MediaSmarts; Apathy is Boring; Equal Voice; Centre for International Governance and Innovation.
  • Academic/Think tanks: Public Policy Forum; Institute for Research on Public Policy; SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue; Edelman; The Citizen Lab; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Macdonald-Laurier Institute; Centre for E-Democracy; Max Bell School of Public Policy.
  • Internet/Social media partners: Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube State of democracy in Canada.
  • International environment:
    • Canada ranked Top 5 in the Economist Democracy Index 2020 driven by civil liberties, political participation, and electoral process integrity.
    • Leading engagement with governments, private sector and civil society via forums such as the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.
    • Working with global media platforms and security agencies to protect electoral integrity and build a healthy information ecosystem.

State of democracy in Canada

  • Strengths:
    • Representative government with a strong legislative electoral framework.
    • Impartial election administration bodies.
    • Constitutionally-protected democratic rights.
    • Free media.
    • Independent judicial system.
  • Challenges:
    • Citizen participation in the electoral process and traditional political activities.
    • Foreign interference.
    • Disinformation of foreign and domestic origins.

Domestic stakeholders

  • Federal departments: Canadian Heritage; CSE; CSIS; Global Affairs; Innovation, Science and Economic Development; Justice; National Defence; Public Safety.
  • The House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
  • Elections Canada, P/T electoral bodies and P/T policy counterparts.

Top priorities

  • Protecting democracy initiatives:
    • Complete an independent evaluation of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol following GE44.
    • Review the renewed 2021 Canada Declaration on Electoral Integrity Online post-election to capture successes and lessons learned.
  • Leaders’ Debates Commission: Establish the Commission in legislation.
  • US Summit for Democracy: Develop potential Canadian contributions in partnership with domestic partners.
  • Response to Chief Electoral Officer Reports:
    • The Recommendations Report on GE43 (~fall 2021).
    • The Statutory Report on GE44 (~December 2021).
    • The Recommendations Report on GE44 (~spring 2022).

Key Ministerial Responsibilities

  • Canada Elections Act
  • Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
  • Referendum Act
  • Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy
  • Senate Reform
  • Leaders’ Debates Commission
  • Canada Elections Act: The Act regulates federal elections, including limits on contributions to political actors, how much political actors can spend during an election period, transparency and disclosure rules, and enforcement and compliance mechanisms. Most recently, the CEA was amended in 2021 in response to a court decision through Bill C-30 to prohibit knowingly making or publishing false statements.
  • Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act: Per the Constitution, federal electoral districts are reviewed after each 10 year census and adjusted or redistributed to reflect changes and movements in Canada’s population. The 2022 redistribution process is ongoing.
  • Protecting Democracy: Assessments following GE44 of key measures established to protect Canada’s general elections (e.g. the Protocol and the Declaration), coordination of whole-of-government engagement, and engagement with P/Ts, civil society, private sector and others.
  • The Senate
    • Support the Senate’s evolution to an independent, non-partisan institution.
    • Engage P/Ts on potential independent advisory board members.
    • 11 current vacancies, as of October 2021.
    • 28 projected vacancies from 2021 to 2025 (1 in 2021; 4 in 2022; 5 in 2023; 10 in 2024; and 8 in 2025).

Timeline - November 2019 to February 2024

  • October 15, 2021 - Allocation of seats for each P/T calculated by CEO for 2022 electoral boundary redistribution process
  • October 26, 20213 - Swearing in of new government
  • Fall 2021 - CEO releases Recommendations Report on GE43
  • November 1, 2021 - Latest date for EBRA commissions to be established
  • December 9-10, 2021 - US Summit on Democracy
  • December 2021 - CEO releases Statutory Report on GE44
  • February 2022 - 2021 Decennial Census data sent to CEO and Minister; start of boundary review by Commissions
  • February 2022 - Latest date the LDC can provide report to the Minister on GE44 debates
  • Spring 2022 - CEO releases Recommendations Report on GE44
  • July/August 2022 - Appointment of new Commissioner for Canada Elections (by the CEO)
  • December 2022 - Four new Senate vacancies for 2022
  • February 2023 - Latest date for Commissions to submit their redistribution reports to the House of Commons
  • December 2023 - Five new senate vacancies for 2023
  • Spring 20243 - Last opportunity to amend CEA
  • April 20243 - Earliest date new federal election districts come into effect
  • December 2024 - Nine new senate vacancies for 2024
  • October 2025 - GE45
  • December 2025 - Eight new senate vacancies for 2025

Summary of responsibilities

As the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions, you are the designated Minister responsible for the following statutes:

  • the Canada Elections Act;
  • the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act; and
  • the Referendum Act.

You also:

  • play a leadership role in advancing efforts to protect Canada’s democracy from threats of foreign interference;
  • have a role in determining the way forward for the Leaders’ Debates Commission;
  • are responsible for policy initiatives in relation to the Senate; and
  • are the instructing client for court cases related to your ministerial responsibilities.

While you are the Minister responsible for Elections Canada, this does not include a direct oversight function. Elections Canada, under the Chief Electoral Officer as an independent officer of Parliament, is the independent agency responsible for day-to-day administration of electoral legislation, the conduct of elections, and supporting the readjustment of electoral boundaries.

The Privy Council Office provides you with public service support related to your policy and legislative responsibilities. The Democratic Institutions Secretariat is the lead policy group for matters related to the reform of democratic institutions and processes.

Legislative and policy responsibilities

Protecting Canada’s democracy

To protect the September 2021 general election from interference, the Government of Canada implemented a range of measures to address threats, building on the existing activities contained in the 2019 plan to protect Canada’s democracy (the Plan). Post-election evaluations will take place in the coming months, which could inform potential adjustments in advance of the 45th general election. Your leadership will be required to initiate aspects of the review process and to determine what changes to the Plan should be made as a result. Further information on the Protecting Democracy Plan is attached at Tab 2B.

Canada Elections Act

The legislative framework governing federal elections in Canada is primarily set out in the Canada Elections Act (CEA). The CEA outlines the rules governing the overall administration of a federal election and the activities of political entities (candidates, political parties, electoral district associations, nomination contestants, and leadership contestants). These rules include limits on contributions to political parties and election candidates, spending limits for political actors during an election campaign, transparency and disclosure rules, and enforcement mechanisms designed to enhance compliance.

The CEA is amended periodically to address emerging issues and adapt to the evolving electoral environment. Amendments are informed by recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer following each general election. The most recent comprehensive amendment of the CEA was in 2018 through the Elections Modernization Act. More recently, the CEA was amended through the Budget Implementation Act (2021), in response to a February 2021 court decision. In addition, Bill C-19, which aimed to ensure that a federal election during the pandemic is safe and accessible, was introduced in December 2020, but did not pass before the election was called, and, therefore, died on the Order Paper.

As the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions, you are responsible for the CEA. This includes introducing any proposed amendments to the Act in the House of Commons. Further information on the CEA, [ * ] is included at Tab 2A.

Leaders’ Debates Commission

The Leaders’ Debates Commission was established in 2018 with a mandate to organize two leaders’ debates, one in each official language, for each federal election. Following the October 2019 election, the Commission produced a report, tabled in the House of Commons, outlining its findings and providing advice for the potential creation of a permanent Commission. A report based on the September 2021 election is expected in February 2022. [ * ] Further information on the Commission, [ * ] is included at Tab 2D.


As the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions, you would be responsible for policy initiatives in relation to the Senate and Senate reform. Where such initiatives affect the Parliament of Canada Act, collaboration would be required with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who has responsibility for this statute. Further information on the Senate, [ * ] is included at Tab 2E.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act

Canada’s Constitution requires that federal electoral districts be reviewed after each decennial (10 years) census and adjusted (or redistributed) to reflect changes and movements in Canada’s population.

The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (EBRA) sets out the roles and responsibilities, process, and criteria for redistribution, and establishes the independent commissions tasked with making final decisions with respect to changes to the electoral districts in each of the provinces. The 18 to 20 month process for establishing electoral boundaries is highly prescriptive, and enshrined in law to minimize opportunities for partisan politicization of the exercise or gerrymandering. To promote neutrality, timelines and activities are pre-established and transparent, and the 10-year cycle for re-evaluation limits the potential for parties to change boundaries to gain political advantage.

As the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions, your role under the Act is limited, [ * ]

Referendum Act

The Referendum Act (RA) provides the general statutory framework for holding a referendum, which is initiated at the discretion of the Governor in Council. The RA does not include the basic operational framework for holding a referendum. Instead, it delegates to the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to make regulations by adapting the CEA for the purpose of a referendum.

The RA was enacted in 1992 to consult Canadians on the Charlottetown Accord. The RA has not been used since the Charlottetown Accord, and there have been no substantial updates since its enactment. The RA would need to be updated or replaced prior to having a referendum given that it has not evolved in parallel with the CEA.

As the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions, you are responsible for the RA. [ * ]


The Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions is the instructing client for court cases related to your ministerial responsibilities, in particular with respect to Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenges to electoral laws and constitutional challenges concerning the Senate.

The Privy Council Office, in coordination with the Department of Justice and your Office, provides support and instructions on what positions the Attorney General of Canada should take in court on these cases. Information on litigation files can be found at Tab 3.

Elections administration responsibilities

The Prime Minister, supported by the Privy Council Office, plays a key role in the calling of general elections or by-elections by setting the dates for the issue of the writs and polling day, which is done through proclamation or order-in-council, respectively.

Elections Canada is the independent agency responsible for the day-to-day administration of electoral legislation and the conduct of elections. To preserve its independence, the Chief Electoral Officer has statutory authority under the Canada Elections Act to draw directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for most of its election-related activities, other than the salaries of permanent staff, which are funded by parliamentary appropriation.

While the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions is the minister responsible for Elections Canada, the Minister has no direct oversight function. The Minister submits Elections Canada’s Main and Supplementary Estimates, Departmental Plans, and Departmental Results Reports annually to Parliament, as well as submits Elections Canada’s Treasury Board submissions when the agency requires access to funding that is not covered by their statutory spending authority. We anticipate that Elections Canada will provide you further information on its role and operations under separate cover.

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for enforcement of the Canada Elections Act. The Commissioner conducts investigations into potential offences under the Act and, where he or she believes on reasonable grounds that an offence has been committed, decides whether to initiate a prosecution. The Commissioner is appointed for a 10-year term by the Chief Electoral Officer, after consulting with the Director of Public Prosecutions. The current Commissioner’s term expires in July 2022.

Public Service support

The Privy Council Office’s Democratic Institutions Secretariat supports the Government in the development and implementation of its democratic reform agenda. This includes providing policy analysis, departmental support, and advice to the Prime Minister, and the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions on matters related to the reform of Canada’s electoral processes and democratic institutions.

In particular, the Democratic Institutions Secretariat supports the policy and legislative responsibilities of the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions by:

The Deputy Minister responsible for the Democratic Institutions Secretariat is Paul MacKinnon (Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance) and Allen Sutherland is the Assistant Secretary to Cabinet (Machinery of Government and Democratic Institutions). The Secretariat currently includes thirteen staff, with an executive team comprised of Sarah Stinson (Director of Operations) and Rachel Pereira (Director).

Privy Council Office Communications provides you with communications support and support for any consultation activities you may wish to undertake.

Hot issues


A number of issues relating to your mandate may require action in the first few months following your appointment.

Protecting democracy: post-election review of measures

Evaluations of the measures put in place to bolster Canada’s defences against electoral interference will take place in the coming months and could inform potential changes to the Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy. In particular, the Cabinet Directive on the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol mandates that an independent report be prepared following each general election to assess the Protocol and inform any adjustments. This report will be presented to the Prime Minister and to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, while an unclassified version will be made public. Other elements of the Protecting Democracy plan will also be reviewed to capture successes and any lessons learned.

[ * ]

Chief Electoral Officer: reports to Parliament

Following each general election, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) is required to submit to the House of Commons, through the Speaker, several reports including a narrative report on the conduct of the election and a report with recommendations on potential amendments to the Canada Elections Act (the Act).

While the recommendations report for the 43rd general election (October 2019) has not yet been released, it is expected in fall 2021. The recommendations report for the 44th general election is expected in spring 2022. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) typically studies these recommendations reports and may request a formal Government Response to their Committee report. Finally, it is anticipated that a narrative report on the September 2021 election will be submitted by December 2021.

[ * ]

Leaders’ Debates Commission: report to Parliament and next steps

[ * ]

Next steps: [ * ]

U.S. Summit for Democracy: potential contributions to Canadian commitments

U.S. President Biden will host a virtual Summit for Democracy on December 9-10, 2021. Heads of Government and representatives from civil society, philanthropic institutions, and the private sector will be invited. The Summit will focus on three themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. Participating countries will be expected to announce both domestic (internally focused) and international (externally focused) reforms, initiatives and commitments developed in partnership with local civil society, media, private sector, and other stakeholders. Global Affairs Canada is leading Canada’s overall involvement in the Summit.

Next steps: [ * ]

Redistribution of federal electoral districts

Canada’s Constitution requires that federal electoral districts be reviewed after each decennial (10 year) census and adjusted (or redistributed) to reflect changes and movements in Canada’s population. A two-step process is involved in electoral redistribution: first, a constitutionally-prescribed process for allocating seats between the provinces; and second, a legislatively-prescribed process for drawing electoral district boundaries within a province.

The 2022 electoral redistribution is underway. On October 15, 2021, the Chief Electoral Officer announced that the number of seats allocated to the provinces and territories in the House of Commons following the next redistribution of seats will increase from 338 to 342. This calculation is based on the representation formula found in Section 51 and 51A of the Constitution Act 1867.

The Electoral Boundary Readjustment Act requires the establishment of electoral boundary commissions by November 1, 2021. This follows the appointments of all members of the commissions completed by the provincial chief justices and the Speaker of the House of Commons earlier in the year. The commissions will start reviewing electoral boundaries once provided with the final census return, expected in February 2022.

Next steps: [ * ]

2. Policy and legislative portfolio: Additional recommendations

Amendments to the Canada Elections Act


[ * ]


The CEA provides the legislative framework for federal elections, laying out rules on the electoral process, political contributions and spending limits, reporting requirements, and compliance and enforcement measures. Over the years, it has been amended on several occasions, including in targeted ways to address specific issues, and in more expansive ways to tackle multiples areas. The CEA is built on the principles of transparency, fairness and participation in the federal electoral process.

During the 42nd and 43rd Parliaments, legislation to amend the CEA included:


[ * ]

Lessons from Bill C-19 and the COVID-19 pandemic

Bill C-19 would have established a variety of pandemic-specific temporary measures, including a three-day polling period and increased access to voting by mail (e.g., secure mail drop boxes at polling stations). Amendments to Bill C-19 by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) would have established additional components, including a campus vote program.

[ * ]

Issues raised in the 43rd Parliament

A number of CEA and federal elections-related issues were debated, including committee motions to undertake studies on the advisability of establishing a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform, and providing Indigenous languages on ballots, Private Members’ Bills on electoral reform, and a Senate Public Bill on lowering the voting age to 16 (Annex A).

Issues raised in the 44th general election

During the 44th general election, the CEO issued nine adaptations under section 17—the authority to adapt the CEA in the event of an error, emergency or unusual circumstance—and nine instructions under section 179—the authority to issue instructions to adapt/apply the Special Voting Rules to a particular circumstance. Notably, three of these aligned with, or contained, elements proposed in Bill C-19, including a safe vote in long-term care facilities and mail-in vote measures.

Potential recommendations from the CEO

Following each general election, the CEO is required to table a legislative recommendations report; although the 43rd general election report has not yet been released, it is expected in fall 2021. While the precise date of release of the 44th general election recommendations report is unknown, it is likely to be issued in 2022.

In addition, a legislative recommendations report from the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE), the independent body tasked with ensuring compliance and enforcement with the CEA, will be annexed to those of the CEO.

[ * ]

Other recommendations

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) each committed to amending the CEA in different ways. The CPC proposed restricting access to advertising by third parties that collect a certain percentage of donations from foreign sources, while the NDP proposed the creation of a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform, and “legislation to encourage political parties to run more women candidates” (Annex A).

The CEA’s third party regime has long been a focus of reform by stakeholders. While some have argued for increased restrictions (e.g., extending the length of the pre-election period), others contend that smaller third parties (e.g., community-based groups) should face less onerous regulations than large, well-funded ones (e.g., unions).


[ * ]

Efforts in this policy area should also align with responsibilities that the Prime Minister has entrusted to you in your mandate letter, alongside the Government’s overall legislative agenda.

[ * ]


[ * ]

Annex A: Issues of potential interest

Pandemic election measures

Weekend or holiday voting: Recommended by the CEO in his October 2020 recommendations report on administering an election during the pandemic, weekend voting has long been the subject of debate in Canada. [ * ]

Improvements to the mail-in vote system: Although the mail-in vote system, an aspect of the CEA’s Special Voting Rules, has been in place since 1993, the 44th general election was the first time it saw significant uptake, largely because of the safety of voting in this manner during a pandemic. EC has made important changes to facilitate access (e.g., online registration), [ * ]

A legislated campus vote program: The decision to cancel the on-campus voting program for the 44th general election was made by the CEO very early on in the pandemic. It was done because of uncertainty around the extent to which buildings on campus would remain opened, together with significant operational challenges in light of the absence of a fixed-date general election. [ * ]

Political party platforms and statements from leaders

Removing any possible foreign sources of funding: The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) committed to amending the CEA to enact further restrictions on the use of donations from foreign sources. Specifically, the CPC would prohibit access to advertising by third parties that received more than 2.5% of its total donations from foreign sources, and create a positive obligation to trace funds spent during an election to Canadian sources.

During debate on Bill C-76, there was significant discussion on the issue of foreign funding in elections by third parties, [ * ]

Mandatory voting: Although not in the CPC platform, in April 2021, the Leader of the Official Opposition indicated he was “in listening mode” when it comes to the notion of mandatory voting. Mandatory voting is used in some other countries (e.g. Australia), and to varying degrees has helped improve voter turnout in those countries. The topic has garnered some discussion in Canada over the years, most recently when it was considered, but ultimately not recommended, in the final report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.

Electoral reform: The New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) platform committed to bringing in electoral reform—in the form of mixed-member proportional representation—which it would put in place through the establishment of an independent citizens’ assembly.

Legislation to encourage the participation of women candidates: The NDP platform also committed to “tackle obstacles to women's political participation by…introducing legislation to encourage political parties to run more women candidates.” This topic has been examined by parliamentarians in the past, and a similar idea was examined as part of the policy development work on Bill C-76.

Issues raised in the 43rd Parliament

National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform: On June 22, 2021, PROC adopted a motion to undertake a study on “establishing a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, and how citizen assemblies and engagement more broadly can be better integrated into the policy development process”. [ * ]

Indigenous languages on ballots: A second motion passed by PROC at that same June 22 meeting would undertake a study on the measures needed to allow the CEO to require ballots be prepared and printed in the Indigenous language or languages of electors. Prior to that, outgoing NDP Member of Parliament (MP) Mumilaaq Qaqqaq tabled a Private Member’s Bill (PMB), Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (Indigenous languages), on June 14, 2021, and tabled amendments to Bill C-19 that would have temporarily added Indigenous languages to ballots. [ * ]

Lowering the voting age: Bill C-240, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voting age), was a PMB, while Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age) was a Senate Public Bill. [ * ]

[ * ]

Political communications: In June 2020, EC published three discussion papers entitled “The Regulation of Political Communications under the Canada Elections Act”, “The Impact of Social Media Platforms in Elections”, and “The Protection of Electors’ Personal Information in the Federal Electoral Context”. In doing so, EC sought to engage experts and other actors on aspects of the CEA that govern political communications, and to inform the CEO’s recommendations on the 43rd general election. These papers point to potential recommendations that would yield significant changes to the political communications regime, with one paper asking, “Should the CEA cease to regulate issues-based communications and restrict its regulations to communications that specifically mention a party or candidate?” A related topic is that of the CEA’s political broadcasting regime—which regulates the allocation of free and paid broadcasting to political parties—and whether it should be reformed. Finally, the third discussion paper addresses an issue that continues to be raised by stakeholders: calls for political parties to be subject to a more rigorous legislative privacy regime.

Religious observances and the date of the election: In July 2019, an application for a judicial review was granted in relation to a decision of the CEO not to recommend that the date of the general election be moved even though it conflicted with an Orthodox Jewish High Holiday (Shemini Atzeret). While the CEO ultimately decided against changing the date and instead provided special service points for those electors unable to vote at advance polls or on polling day, EC also initiated a consultation process on this topic with the aim of informing the CEO’s legislative recommendations.

The recruitment of election workers: During the 43rd general election, EC had a number of issues recruiting and retaining poll workers. In its April 2021 retrospective report, EC revealed that approximately 10,470 poll workers failed to show up for work, which resulted in 83 polls on election day opening late. EC also indicated it had particular challenges in recruiting election workers who can serve in both official languages. [ * ] In 2021, the Federal Elections Fees Tariff (which fixes the wages of election workers) was amended upon request from the CEO, [ * ]

Hate speech and political parties: In February 2021, it was reported that because the Canadian Nationalist Party (CNP) was a registered federal political party, it has access to the list of electors, and the ability to issue tax rebates. In response, some anti-hate activists had “deregistered themselves as voters to remove their information from the list”. Anti-hate organizations called for the Government of Canada address this issue, particularly in light of the fact that CNP’s leader has been charged with anti-Semitic hate crimes. [ * ]

[ * ]

Third parties: The CCE has highlighted two areas related to the CEA’s third party regime. The first pertains to third parties and collusion, which the CCE indicated centres on the wording of the associated CEA provisions, which “appear to prohibit eligible individual contributors from making otherwise legal non-monetary contributions”. To address this, some political parties have called for more exemptions in the regime, for example, to account for the size of third parties or regular advocacy work on public policy issues. The second topic stems from media reports (and associated public complaints) during the 43rd general election that groups were collecting contributions with the purpose of then providing them to third parties, without the identity of the real contributors being revealed.

False statements: Many of the CCE’s complaints from the public are about making or publishing a false statement, and foreign attempts to influence electors to vote or refrain from voting. The CCE’s view on this subject is that, although the amended version of section 91 provides greater clarity as to what constitutes prohibited conduct, the provision no longer extends to allegations of “moral turpitude” that do not constitute criminal conduct.

Foreign interference: The CCE has reiterated the potential value in amending the undue foreign influence provision in the CEA (section 282.4) to account for instances “where foreigners knowingly make false statements with a view to influencing Canadian electors”.

Voting by non-Canadians: In late 2019, EC identified a number of cases during the 2015 election where non-Canadians may have voted. The CCE decided against investigating those cases, stating that “the resources and energies of his Office would be better invested in addressing potential cases of illegal voting that occurred during the 2019 general election”. The CCE also indicated that obtaining evidence would likely have been difficult, and trials would have been unlikely to begin until at least six years following the 2015 election. [ * ]

Expanding the Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) Regime: Although the AMPs regime is an “extremely positive development”, the CCE notes that there are areas where criminal prosecution may not be in the public interest, but where AMPs cannot be used to address a particular violation. [ * ]

Protecting Canada’s democracy


How to build on ongoing efforts to protect Canada’s democracy and safeguard its electoral and democratic processes.


The plan to protect Canada’s democracy

Attempts by foreign actors to interfere in democracies around the world have become commonplace. Canadian security officials assess that the threat of foreign interference is real and evolving.

To address this challenge, the whole-of-government Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy was launched in 2019 and renewed in 2021. The Plan is structured around four pillars of action:

The Plan, which received $48M by 2024 via Budget 2019, has been well-received domestically and internationally, and has established Canada as a leader in protecting electoral integrity. Key measures include:

The Plan was first implemented during the 2019 election, after which several components of the Plan were evaluated, either independently or internally. All assessments confirmed the Plan’s utility and relevance, and no fundamental gaps were identified in the framework. The Plan’s 2021 renewal drew on these evaluations in making the following key amendments:

The updated Plan was implemented for the 44th general election. While the various measures will be evaluated in greater detail over the coming months, the election did not reveal any significant gaps in the framework, nor did any interference efforts reach the threshold for an announcement by the Panel.


An evolving threat picture

[ * ]

Meanwhile, malign domestic actors such as hate groups seek to further their agendas through disinformation, violence, intimidation and other means.

The COVID pandemic has created new opportunities for disinformation.

Often, foreign and domestic actors use similar methods (e.g. disinformation) or pursue similar objectives (e.g. weakened social cohesion); occasionally, foreign actors cloak their activities to appear as domestic ones. As a result, attribution of interference activities to a foreign or a domestic specific actor is difficult.

[ * ] particularly in the face of disinformation driven by domestic actors using social media. These same actors increasingly perceive election results as an acceptable target for disinformation.

Against this background, the Government of Canada has taken action, not only through the Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy, but also by improving public awareness of the threat, by building relationships with social media companies to increase their willingness to act, and by enhancing government-wide engagement to ensure an agile response.

Opportunities for leadership

As Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions, you are responsible for leading the Government of Canada’s efforts to protect federal democratic institutions and processes from interference. While some components of the Protecting Democracy Plan fall under the responsibility of other ministers, you exercise leadership by providing strategic vision, coordinating implementation and, when required, contributing to resource discussions.

Along with those of other ministers, your efforts in this area will directly support the Liberal Party election platform commitment to “implement domestic measures to protect Canadians and work closely with our friends, allies, and partners to respond to illegal and unacceptable behaviour by authoritarian states.”

Evaluations of the Protecting Democracy Plan will take place in the coming months; in particular, the Protocol must be independently evaluated following each general election. Following these assessments, there may be a need to adjust the Protecting Democracy Plan. While major changes are not anticipated, your leadership will be required in this process.

In renewing the Protecting Democracy Plan in 2021, resource needs were identified for the RPM, the DCI and the CSE. While these do not fall under your responsibility, post-election assessments may reveal areas under your responsibility needing resources. [ * ]

[ * ]

Opportunities for new partnerships

Since 2019, a number of jurisdictions worldwide have launched their own initiatives aimed at maintaining democratic security. While there has been some engagement at the working level – for instance, with Australia, France, Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and the Countering Foreign Interference Summit –, enhanced exchanges at senior levels represent an opportunity to further Canada’s global leadership in this area and develop new partnerships.

[ * ]


[ * ]

[ * ]

Disinformation and Canada’s democratic institutions


Whether to advance work to identify gaps in our understanding of disinformation as it relates to Canadian elections and democratic institutions, with a view to identifying concrete areas for action.


Disinformation refers to misleading and false information that is purposefully shared with the intent to deceive (e.g., COVID-19 is a hoax; vaccinations include 5G tracking capabilities). Disinformation exacerbates social tensions, harms citizens’ ability to make informed choices, and erodes public confidence in democratic institutions, electoral processes and outcomes.

While disinformation is not new, the proliferation of social media platforms and their ability to easily and rapidly replicate and spread disinformation has made the issue a pressing one. Canada and other global democracies are grappling with how to combat disinformation in the digital age, while respecting citizens’ freedom of expression.

Internationally, governments have implemented a wide variety of policies to combat disinformation, and while a number of novel and promising policies and practices have been introduced, there is no single solution.

For example, the United Kingdom developed a counter-disinformation toolkit for its government communications experts. The European Union (EU) developed a Code of Practice on Disinformation that outlines how major tech companies should approach disinformation issues. Numerous think tanks, civil society organizations and academic institutions have also put forward recommendations for how governments can effectively address disinformation. Recommendations include enhancing regulations around transparency, privacy and political advertising, and supporting further research and greater cross-sector collaboration.

Canada has been a leader in addressing disinformation from both foreign and domestic sources, particularly with respect to protecting federal elections. Canada’s whole-of-government Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy, launched in 2019, was renewed in 2021. Key measures aimed at combatting disinformation include:

In addition, amendments to the Canada Elections Act were introduced in 2018 to ensure greater transparency with respect to political advertising on social media platforms during elections, thereby ensuring that truthful and verifiable information is easily accessible for Canadians.

Finally, in May 2020, Canada announced, alongside Microsoft and the Alliance for Securing Democracy, its leadership on the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace on Principle 3: Defending Electoral Processes. Under Principle 3 Canada led, with its two partners, a series of six cross-sectoral, international workshops, resulting in the publication of a compendium of good practices on countering election interference.

However, given the complex and borderless challenges that disinformation presents, there are still many gaps to identify and potential solutions to consider as part of the government’s ongoing efforts to tackle harmful disinformation narratives as they relate to electoral integrity and the protection of Canada’s democratic institutions.


Disinformation has broad impacts that exacerbate existing challenges facing Canadian democracy. While some challenges are known, there is still a lack of understanding regarding the scale and societal impacts of disinformation, as well as which measures are most effective in combatting these challenges.

Protecting Canada’s democratic institutions from disinformation is a shared responsibility. Other government departments, provinces and territories (P/Ts), social media companies, traditional media, academia and civil society are all part of an information ecosystem. As such, each plays a critical role in countering disinformation and any approaches to combatting disinformation should be developed in collaboration with partners and stakeholders.

[ * ]


[ * ]


[ * ]

Leaders’ Debates Commission


[ * ]


Creation of the Leaders’ Debates Commission

Prior to 2018, leaders’ debates were organized by a consortium of Canada’s five major broadcast networks. The consortium negotiated key elements directly with political parties, such as the debate format and the leaders that would be invited to participate. Concerns around the closed door nature of the organization of debates were raised during the 2015 election, raising questions around how debates were organized, how participation criteria were determined, how formats and themes were chosen, and how greater access could be achieved through new means of transmission and outreach.

During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada committed to bring forward options to establish an independent commissioner to organize leaders’ debates for future federal elections, intended to serve the public interest and improve Canadians’ knowledge of the parties, their leaders and their policy positions. Budget 2018 reaffirmed this commitment and provided a total of $5.505 million for debates organization in every pre-election year ($700K), and election year ($4.8M).

[ * ]

[ * ] the Commission was established by Order in Council (OIC) in October 2018, in time to organize the leaders’ debates for the 2019 general election. In addition, on the recommendation of the minister, the Right Honourable David Johnston was appointed to the position of Debates Commissioner until March 31, 2020.

Pursuant to its OIC mandate, the Commission drafted a report on its experience during the 2019 election, with findings and recommendations meant to inform the establishment of a permanent arms-length entity to organize federal leaders’ debates. The report was tabled in the House of Commons on June 1, 2020.

Mandate extension and amendment to the Order in Council

In November 2020, it was announced that the Commission would remain in place to ensure that there would be debates for the next general election, regardless of its precise timing. [ * ]

In addition, the mandate of the Commission was amended to increase its independence. Notably, the Commissioner was made responsible for setting the participation criteria for the leaders’ debates and was given final approval of the format and production of the debates while respecting journalistic independence. Additional minor amendments were also made to clarify language regarding the public release of the participation criteria and the availability of the debates’ in other languages beyond English and French.


Public reaction: While there was some criticism over the format of the English language debate, the Commission’s experience with the 2019 federal leaders’ debates was generally well-received, and their reach and degree of accessibility were unprecedented. According to the Commissioner’s report, the debates were live on 15 television networks, three national radio networks and 24 digital platforms; and available in 12 languages, including sign language and Indigenous languages. Over 14 million Canadians tuned into the 2019 English language debate and over 5 million tuned into the French language debate, a 24% and 73% increase over 2011 viewership respectively.2 The level of transparency and openness that guided the organization of the debates was also well received. [ * ]

Reactions following the 2021 federal leaders’ debates were mixed. Many media commentators and viewers were highly critical of the format and content of the 2021 debates relative to others, citing inadequate time given to leaders to explain their policies and rebut attacks, over-moderation and excessive interruptions by journalists - decisions that were made independently from the Commission. [ * ]

Independence and transparency: The Commission’s independence and neutrality will continue to be crucial to the success of its mission. [ * ]

In addition, while having voiced general support for the creation of an independent commissioner responsible for leaders’ debates, opposition parties criticized the non-legislative approach taken in establishing the Commission in 2018. [ * ]

[ * ]

Advisory and administrative support: The Commissioner is authorized to hire Commission staff, engage legal counsel and appoint persons to the mandatory advisory board of experts. Those arrangements help ensure independence and appropriate expertise. The Privy Council Office’s Corporate Services Branch has a memorandum of understanding in place with the Commission to allow for the provision of a variety of back-office supports to the Commission (e.g., finance, procurement, security and IT). [ * ]

Commissioner’s report: The Debate Commissioner’s report from the 44th general election is expected in February 2022, and in addition to being informed by stakeholder feedback from the 2021 leaders’ debates, [ * ]

Parliamentary study: Given time constraints during the 43rd Parliament, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedural and House Affairs (PROC) did not undertake a study of the Commission’s initial report tabled in June 2020. As a result, PROC may propose to study the Commission’s post-election reports in spring 2022 and may provide additional recommendations to inform the way forward. [ * ]

[ * ]


[ * ]


[ * ]



Whether to continue moving forward on the non-partisan and merit-based Senate appointment process.


Senate appointments

The power to appoint individuals to the Senate is entrusted in the Governor General. By convention, the Governor General calls individuals to the Senate on the advice of the Prime Minister.

On December 3, 2015, the Government established a new, non-partisan, merit-based process for Senate appointments. Under the new process, the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments (IABSA, or Advisory Board) was created to provide advice to the Prime Minister on candidates for the Senate.

In 2016, the selection process for Senators was opened to all Canadians. Candidate submissions are reviewed by the Advisory Board, which is guided by public, transparent, non-partisan, and merit-based criteria to identify highly qualified candidates. Once appointed by the Governor General, new Senators join their peers to examine and revise legislation, investigate national issues, and represent regional, provincial, and minority interests.

Responsibilities for the Senate

Responsibilities for the Senate are shared; these areas are briefly highlighted below:

Current composition of the Senate

The introduction of the independent appointments process brought significant changes to the composition of the Senate during the 42nd Parliament, with independent Senators constituting the majority of its members for the first time in its history. The Independent Senators Group (ISG) was formed in March 2016 to provide a vehicle for non-partisan senators to advocate for funding and committee memberships, is now comprised of 40 members. Further, at the onset of the 43rd Parliament, Senate membership continued to change with the introduction of the Canadian Senators Group (CSG) and the Progressive Senate Group (PSG).

With 105 members in total, as of October 18, 2021, the Senate is comprised of the following: 43 ISG senators, 18 Conservative senators, 13 CSG senators, 14 PSG senators, 6 non-affiliated senators, and 11 vacancies. Annex A provides further details on current and projected Senate vacancies, based on mandatory retirements that will take place from 2021 to 2025. Additional vacancies may also result from Senators resigning from the Senate before the mandatory retirement age of 75.


Legislative changes to the Parliament of Canada Act - Bill S-4

In line with mandate letter commitments for the 43rd Parliament that sought to reflect the Senate’s new, non-partisan role, the Government introduced Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts on April 30, 2021. Among other things, Bill S-4 would have ensured that the recognized parties or groups within the Senate receive allowances to assist the recognized parties or groups.

Responsibility for the Parliament of Canada Act lies with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, [ * ]

[ * ]

Non-legislative options to improve the transparency and flexibility of the IABSA

[ * ]

When the IABSA was established in 2016, Terms of Reference were also adopted, which set out many of the key elements of the process, including, among other details:

[ * ]

Federal-provincial-territorial engagement

The Senate's composition aims to ensure regional representation within the Upper Chamber, serving to represent the respective interests of each of the provinces and territories. As policy lead for the Senate, your role includes consulting provinces and territories on potential nominees for the ad hoc provincial and territorial members of the Advisory Board.

Since the Advisory Board was first implemented, [ * ] An outline of provincial and territorial engagement efforts to date, as well as an update on memberships for the IABSA, has been provided in Annex B.

Of particular note, Alberta held what it has termed “Senate nominee elections” to select members to fill vacancies for Alberta on October 18, 2021.3 While Senators have been chosen from this process in the past,4 individuals would still be required to apply for a Senate appointment through the open application process to ensure continued alignment with the Advisory Board’s mandate and the Government’s commitment to move towards a more independent Senate. Further, no other province or territory has established, or announced similar intentions to introduce, elections for potential Senate nominees.


[ * ]


[ * ]

Annex A: Projected Senate vacancies

As of October 18, 2021, the composition of the Senate is as follows:

In addition, on August 11, 2021, Senator Doug Black announced his early retirement from the Senate, which will be effective on October 31, 2021. This will create an additional vacancy for Alberta in 2021, and will follow the province’s 2021 municipal elections and vote on Senate representation.

The following table outlines the projected annual and cumulative Senate vacancies through 2025, assuming vacancies arise only from mandatory retirements. All provinces will have at least one vacant seat over the next four years and Nunavut will have one vacancy in 2023. The exception to this will be Yukon and the Northwest Territories, which will have no vacancies.

Projected Senate vacancies through 2025
  2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
British Columbia 0 0 Campbell (CSG) Jaffer (ISG) 0
Alberta Black (CSG) 0 0 0 0
Saskatchewan 0 0 0 Cotter (ISG) 0
Manitoba 0 0 Bovey (ISG) 0 Plett (C)
Ontario 0 Ngo (C)
Wetston (ISG)
0 Oh (C)
Omidvar (ISG)
Quebec 0 0 0 Dupuis (ISG)
Boisvenu (C)
Dawson (PSG)
Bellemare (ISG)
Dagenais (CSG)
Gold (N-A)
Seidman (C)
Mégie (ISG)
New Brunswick 0 0 Lovelace-Nicholas (PSG) Mockler (C) Hartling (ISG)
Richards (CSG)
Nova Scotia 0 Mercer (PSG) 0 Greene (CSG) Cordy (PSG)
Prince Edward Island 0 Griffin (CSG) 0 0 0
Newfoundland and Labrador 0 0 Furey (N-A) 0 0
Yukon 0 0 0 0 0
Northwest Territories 0 0 0 0 0
Nunavut 0 0 Patterson (C) 0 0
Total per year 1 4 5 10 8
Projected total for 44th Parliament 28

Annex B: Update on IABSA Provincial/Territorial membership appointments

Province/Territory [ * ] Current IABSA membership Current Senate vacancies Next anticipated Senate vacancies
British Columbia [ * ] Both positions are
currently vacant.
1 vacancy February 2023
August 2024
Alberta [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. 1 vacancy October 2021
Saskatchewan [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. 1 vacancy December 2024
Manitoba [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. 1 vacancy May 2023
Ontario [ * ] Anthony Primerano and Murray Segal appointed until December 9, 2021. 2 vacancies January 2022
June 2022
Quebec [ * ] Both positions are
currently vacant.
No vacancies January 2024
February 2024
September 2024
October 2024
New Brunswick [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. 2 vacancies April 2023
April 2024
Nova Scotia [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. 1 vacancy May 2022
December 2024
Prince Edward Island [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. 1 vacancy March 2022
and Labrador
[ * ] Gerald Glavine was
appointed until August 10, 2022. One position is currently vacant.
1 vacancy May 2023
Yukon [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. No vacancies April 2035
Northwest Territories [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. No vacancies April 2042
Nunavut [ * ] Both positions are currently vacant. No vacancies December 2023

Note: In addition to the provincial members, the Advisory Board also consists of three federal members appointed to hold office during pleasure for terms of two years.

Huguette Labelle Chairperson Resides in Ottawa, Ontario Term expires July 19, 2022
Melissa Blake Federal member Resides in Fort McMurray, Alberta Term expires July 19, 2022
François Rolland Federal member Resides in Montreal, Quebec Term expires July 19, 2022

Redistribution of Federal electoral districts


[ * ]


The redistribution process at a glance

Canada’s Constitution requires that federal electoral districts be reviewed after each decennial (10-year) census and adjusted (or redistributed) to reflect changes and movements in Canada’s population. An in-depth process is involved in electoral redistribution:

The Fair Representation Act (FRA), adopted during the last decennial census in 2011, was the last legislative change amending the EBRA and the seat allocation formula set out in the Constitution Act. The FRA introduced the “representation rule,” which altered the formula for the calculation of the number of seats in the House of Commons in order to protect provinces that were historically overrepresented. The amendment sought to improve representation for faster-growing provinces, such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, while maintaining the effective representation of slower-growing provinces. Following the last decennial census in 2011, based on the representation formula, the number of seats in the House of Commons went from 308 to 338. Ontario gained fifteen seats, Alberta and British Columbia each gained six seats, and Quebec gained three seats.

The FRA also amended the statutory redistribution timelines considerably to accelerate the boundary readjustment process. Notably, the timeline for the commissions to produce their reports was reduced from 12 months to 10 months, and time for the implementation of the representation order was reduced from 12 months to seven months.

The 2022 redistribution process

On October 15, 2021, as per the representation formula found in the Constitution and population estimates provided by Statistics Canada in May 2021, the CEO calculated that the number of seats allocated to the provinces and territories in the House of Commons for the next decennial redistribution of seats will increase from 338 to 342 as follows: Alberta + 3 seats; British Columbia + 1 seat; Ontario + 1 seat; Québec - 1 seat.

For the 2021-22 redistribution of federal electoral districts, EBRA requires that electoral boundary commissions be established by November 1, 2021 through an Order in Council (OIC). This follows the appointments of all members of the electoral boundary commissions completed by the provincial chief justices and the Speaker of the House of Commons earlier in the year. [ * ] Once established, the commissions will begin their work reviewing electoral boundaries following receipt of the official census return, expected in February 2022.

As part of the commissions’ study, public consultations will be held and a study by parliamentary committee will also follow. Finally, a representation order identifying Canada's future electoral districts is expected to be completed in September 2023. Changes to electoral districts will be applied in the first general election called at least seven months after the representation order is proclaimed. PCO-DI expects that these changes will not come into effect before April 1, 2024, at the earliest.


Public and parliamentary awareness and participation

Increased seat allocations announced by the CEO on October 15, 2021 garnered significant media attention, [ * ]

The EBRA includes provisions to promote public awareness and participation in the boundaries assessment and redistribution process and provides opportunities for Members of Parliament (MP) to voice their views. However, following the 2012 redistribution process, many commissioners felt that the general public, media and parliamentarians should have been better informed, both early in the process and as the work progressed.

In his report assessing the 2012 redistribution process, the CEO noted that holding a second round of public hearings, where warranted, could promote public acceptance of the new boundaries. It could also help to anticipate and address objections from MPs, thus reducing the time needed for review by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC).

The CEO also commented on the requirement for public hearings to be advertised in one or more newspapers of general circulation in the province. Commissions could also be encouraged to make more and better use of new media, not only to broadcast information, but also to engage Canadians in a dialogue about redistribution.

Time constraints

[ * ]

Deviation from the electoral quotient

The EBRA requires that commissions divide a province into electoral districts with population numbers as close as possible to the electoral quotient (i.e., the population of the province divided by the number of seats). However, commissions may deviate from the electoral quotient where they deem it necessary or desirable to account for communities of interest or identity, historical patterns or manageable geographic size. Commissions are required to ensure that such deviations do not exceed ±25%, except in extraordinary circumstances.

[ * ]

In 2007, PROC recommended in its Thirty-First Report that an amendment to the Act to reduce the electoral quotient to 15% would only be advisable if accompanied by other amendments, such as granting specific, remote and sparsely populated ridings special status entrenched in legislation, and/or allow for different electoral quotients to be used within a province (e.g., northern and southern Ontario).

The CEO’s 2005 report noted that, for the 2003 redistribution, only 5.6% of ridings (17 out of 305 electoral districts) showed greater than a 15% deviation from the quotient. Based on that evidence, the report concluded that a reduction of the deviation from 25% to 15% would not place a great additional burden on commissions.

“Community of interest”

Pursuant to section 15 of the EBRA, commissions must draw electoral boundaries so that the population of each electoral district “shall, as closely as reasonably possible, correspond to the electoral quotient for that province.” The commissions may depart from the rule to “respect the community of interest or community of identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province” or to “maintain a manageable geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of the province.”

[ * ]

The representation formula

The representation formula set out in the Constitution Act, 1867 has been updated only seven times since Confederation. Each reformulation has sought to strike a balance between providing provinces with representation in the House of Commons in a manner that is roughly proportional to their populations while ensuring that smaller or slower-growing provinces continue to be represented in a fair manner.

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

Alternatively, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs could also be given the opportunity to study the legislation. This approach could offer a more neutral perspective on potential changes to the legislation; however, MPs may be less supportive of proposals emerging from the Senate given its unelected nature.

[ * ]

Trust in Canadian democratic institutions

Background / context

Public trust in political institutions such as the legislature, Parliament, courts, and elected representatives is commonly thought to shape both the stability and health of democracy. Trust in democracy has been identified as one of the most important foundations upon which the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems are built, and is closely linked to other outcomes including social cohesion, the efficacy of public policy measures, and the fair functioning of institutions (e.g. police). A decline in trust is therefore believed to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy and its institutions. 5 Major historical events and trends, including the 2008 global financial crisis, the threats of the climate crisis and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, have severely tested the capacity for democratic governments to earn public confidence and reinforce trust in democratic institutions.

Public trust in democracy and its institutions face multiple challenges that are not defined by geographic boundaries. According to a report from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Future of Democracy, satisfaction with democracy has eroded in most parts of the world, with an especially notable drop over the past decade. 6 Public confidence in democracy is at the lowest point on record in the United States, the major democracies of Western Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. In some countries, including the United States, this metric is now reaching an important threshold: the number of people who are dissatisfied with democracy is greater than the number of people who are satisfied with it. 7 This phenomenon is unfolding even within some long-established democracies through declining voter turnout, deteriorating levels of trust in both government officials and institutions, greater polarization and public backlash.

In Canada, trust in the system of government and the functioning of its institutions has remained relatively stable over time. As of 2019, Canadians’ satisfaction with the way democracy works in Canada has never been higher – three-quarters of citizens are “very” or “fairly” satisfied with the state of affairs. Other findings, including that 95% of Canadians find it “very” or “rather” important to live in a democratic country, point to a strong foundation of democratic values. 8

This purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of why trust matters for effective democratic governance; an examination of the state of trust in democratic institutions both internationally and domestically; and an analysis of how Canada can reinforce the relatively high and stable levels of trust that exist.

What is trust – and why does it matter?

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines institutional trust as a “citizen’s belief that institutions of government fulfill their mandates with competence and integrity, acting in pursuit of the broader benefit of society.”9 Further, trust is considered the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions—business, governments, NGOs and media—build with their stakeholders or public. 10

At a broad level, trust in government builds on two main components: 1) social trust, that represents citizens’ confidence in their social community; and 2) political trust, when citizens have confidence in their government and its institutions. Within a democratic system, political confidence in political institutions is linked to higher levels of generalized trust. 11

Trust in government is viewed as one of the most important foundations upon which the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems are built and as crucial for maintaining social cohesion. 12 With lower levels of trust in political institutions, citizens engage less often in institutionalized forms of political participation. 13 Core levels of trust in government are also necessary for the fair and effective functioning of government institutions – such as adherence to the rule of law, the delivery of basic public services and the provision of infrastructure. Researchers have also demonstrated how key institutions such as the police and independent judiciary are particularly important, as their proper functioning is a key driver of trust in government. 14 Trust in government institutions at the same time influences individual behavior in ways that support desired policy outcomes. 15 For example, research has shown that the degree to which individuals have trust in policy makers and public health authorities has been associated with their willingness to engage in public health measures such as vaccinations.16 Trust ultimately underpins the success of a wide range of public policies that depend on behavioural responses from the public.17 With a lessened or complete loss of trust in democratic institutions and confidence that their system is working for them, citizens are less willing to comply with government advice and guidance, which reduces the range of viable public policy instruments and ultimately to a worsening of public policy outcomes. In particular, the absence of trust means that citizens are unlikely to be receptive to and comply with government communications and advice; as observed during the pandemic, the strategic use of information provision has an increasingly important role in effective public policy.

Current state of trust – internationally and domestically

Observations on a global scale

Over the last decade and a half, as populist leaders and anti-system parties have won high-profile electoral victories (e.g. President Trump), some have presented falling levels of political trust as a crisis for established democracies; for example, from 2010-2014, citizens reported alarmingly low levels of trust in their governments in places as varied as Spain, Tunisia, Poland and Australia.18 Even though around 40% of the world’s population live in countries that hold free and fair elections, democracy’s global advance has faltered, and may have even begun to backslide. Freedom House reports that 2021 was the 15th year of decline in global freedom, where 75 % of the global population lived in a country that faced deterioration.19 Globally, threat actors are also challenging and undermining democratic governance, including authoritarian powers demonstrating and promoting other governance models and, in some cases, working actively to undermine both the idea and value of democracy.

Further, according to Edelman, the world is witnessing a growing “trust gap”, and as trust declines worldwide, individuals are looking for leadership and solutions as they reject “talking heads” who they deem not credible. In 2021, of the societal leaders Edelman’s research tracks – government leaders, CEOs, journalists and even religious leaders – none is trusted to do what is right, with drops over the last year in trust scores for all (notably, the COVID-19 pandemic and response is considered an influential factor).20 Where trust in government is found, it tends to be highest at the local level, where services are more directly delivered and where the link with government performance is most concrete.21 Research suggests that good local public services have a positive impact on individuals’ trust in local institutions.22

While government interactions with citizens play a large role in building greater public trust, it is not the only factor. Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer reports that disillusionment with rising inequality can also have a detrimental impact to undermining public trust; moreover, there is a growing disparity in trust between the informed and the less informed mass public, in part due to rampant growth in misinformation, disinformation and fake news.23 These external factors dent public confidence in government institutional processes, systems, data-collection initiatives, and much more.

Canadian context

While Canada is not immune to these forces, the domestic picture is less dire; many of the observations about declining trust in institutions globally have not to date presented as fundamental a challenge for Canada. Several global indices have situated Canada as a strong democracy, including the Economist Democracy Index, which has ranked Canada as the top North American performer since 2006. Positive indicators of Canada’s ranking have included top scores on fundamental rights, representative democracy, and an impartial administration.

According to national indices, Canadians have at least some trust in the institutions of government, and trust in these institutions has been increasing gradually over the past decade. According to a 2021 study by Environics Institute, the proportion of Canadians that have a strong degree of trust in elections has more than doubled since 2014. Specifically, the proportion of Canadians with a high level of trust in elections jumped from 21 to 41% between 2014 and 2017, and has now risen further to 47%.24 Further, as of 2019, 83% of Canadians have either high or medium trust in Parliament – with the figures for the Prime Minister and political parties being 69% and 76% respectively.25 This represents relatively strong and stable levels of trust in democratic institutions, even when compared to previous Canadian data; for example, trust in political institutions has gradually improved over the past decade. The proportion having high or medium trust in Parliament has risen six points since 2010; in the case of political parties, there has been a six-point increase since a low of 70% was recorded in 2012.26

Text version
Trust in elections - 2014 – 2021
Year Strong trust (6-7) Medium trust (3-5) Low trust (1-2)
2014 21 57 22
2017 41 50 9
2019 41 49 9
2021 47 46 8
Strong trust = 6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; medium trust = 3-5; low trust = 1 or 2.
To what extent do you trust election in this county?

Further, Canadians’ satisfaction in the way their democracy works has increased over time or remained stable; in 2020, eight in ten Canadians reported being very or fairly satisfied with their democracy.27 In comparison to other jurisdictions, Canadians’ trust in government and its institutions has also increased since the early 2000s, maintaining a level that is significantly higher than the OECD average-based on OECD reporting, Canada ranks 12/40.28 Comparatively, in the U.S., since 2007 the proportion of Americans saying they can trust the government “always” or “most of the time” has not surpassed 30%.29

[ * ]

[ * ]

COVID-19 context

A key indicator for democracy is the public perception of how governments are serving citizens and responding to their needs. Recent OECD analysis points to how the COVID-19 pandemic has been a true test case in this respect, as we have observed how individuals can move from a lack of trust in government institutions to a manifested distrust. In many parts of the world, trust in governments saw a significant surge in 2020, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – citizens around the globe relied on government protection in a manner not observed since World War II. People looked to their governments to provide economic relief, contain the virus’ spread, and provide a steady flow of reliable information. For the first time in two decades, government was considered the most trusted institution globally, according to the May 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer report.30

Researchers contend that people’s trust in government tends to grow during times of crisis, as they rely on public institutions to address complex challenges, a phenomenon known as “rallying around the flag.”31 While this trust is vital during such times, it is also fragile, and research suggests that large gains in trust are often quickly lost.32 As quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic cultivated trust in government, with more than 1.9 million lives lost and joblessness equivalent to the Great Depression, it has just as quickly declined.33 By January 2021, trust in government had fallen by 8 points globally, highlighting the challenges in sustaining high trust for an extended period.34

The COVID-19 pandemic also ushered in the arrival of a parallel “infodemic” of disinformation seeking to undermine both the pandemic response and confidence in government institutions more broadly. This surge in disinformation demonstrated the extent of its negative effects on policy implementation, as well as society’s trust and cohesion.35 As previously noted, trust is important for the success of public policies that depend on behavioural responses from the public. Throughout the pandemic, trust was found to be strongly correlated with citizens’ compliance to measures designed to flatten the COVID-19 infection curve.36

Research undertaken by Impact Canada37 to analyze data on tackling misinformation during the pandemic found that where Canadians turned to for COVID-19 information tightly linked to the level of compliance with public health measures:

While there was an initial “trust bubble” that had formed at the outset of the pandemic, by 2021 it had burst, with widespread disinformation being cited as one of the most influential factors impacting the rise in distrust. Research from Edelman cited an environment of “information bankruptcy” that caused distrust across all institutions, including government. Notably, Canada’s experience has been somewhat atypical in that trust has still been increasing – as of January 2021, post-bubble levels of trust in government are higher than pre-pandemic;38 however, anti-vaccination and disinformation narratives surrounding COVID-19 still present a risk to the confidence in government health measures and the effective recovery from the pandemic.

[ * ]

[ * ]

When the National Election Study began asking about trust in government in 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing usually or most of the time. Americans’ trust in government institutions to “do the right thing” has steadily eroded over time. Since 2007, the share saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%.39 U.S. political analysts have contended that the built up lack of trust has manifested into a more threatening issue – that citizens are losing faith in their democratic system of government itself.40

[ * ]

The instability and violence that characterized the period following the 2020 U.S. election was a reminder that even established democracies are vulnerable to democratic backsliding and provides a cautionary tale. The prominence and global influence of the United States mean that its challenges with the norms of democratic governance and trust can have a uniquely damaging effect on democracy in the rest of the world.

[ * ]

Text version
Confidence in the honesty of elections: Canada and the U.S. 2006 - 2019
Year Canada U.S.
2006 58 52
2007 72 N/A
2008 67 47
2009 70 59
2010 67 44
2011 72 48
2012 66 42
2013 59 39
2014 66 40
2015 68 40
2016 69 30
2017 76 47
2018 70 37
6 or 7 on a 7-point scale (1=not at all, 7=a lot)
Source: Gallup World Poll

Comparatively, Canada’ strong democratic foundation has endured and helped avoid long-standing issues with confidence in institutions. Key distinctions between the U.S. and Canada’s system of democratic governance and institutional pillars include a multi-party system; independent electoral financing and system of administration; voting rights; process for redistributing electoral boundaries responsive to population changes; degree of societal polarization; and levels of trust and confidence in the electoral process are all essential to the stability Canada has maintained. These institutional pillars play a significant role in mitigating attempts to undermine Canadian democracy as observed in the U.S. and elsewhere. Other defining features of Canada’s system – and their positive impact in reinforcing trust and integrity of democratic institutions – include a generally trusted media and freedom of the press, respected oversight, transparency and accountability measures (e.g. the Auditor General of Canada, other independent commissioners and agents of Parliament, non-partisan public service and an independent judiciary) and open government policy and practice. Further, the emphasis the Canadian government has placed on protecting democratic institutions and the electoral process – including the establishment of the Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy – and the vigilance with which there are institutional checks on the balance of power and accountability, fundamentally differentiate the two countries and their institutions.

While there are important fundamental distinctions between the U.S. and Canada’s democratic systems, there are also key similarities that represent challenges to fostering trust in institutions. For example, instances of a fracturing of social cohesion has manifested itself in both countries. Importantly, the ability of Canada’s system of democracy to provide expression and a platform to various perspectives without presenting a significant threat to our institutions can be considered a strength of our democratic structure. While divisive issues and movements are present throughout Canada [ * ] such cleavages have not, [ * ] fundamentally undermined public trust in the ability of Canada’s democratic system to function effectively.

The use of social media platforms by malign actors is also evident in both countries, in some cases with the aim to undermine the confidence in key democratic systems (e.g. the validity of mail-in voting processes). Actions taken by both the U.S. and Canadian government have underscored the role that the online information environment can play in eroding trust in institutions. In particular, where Canada’s media ecosystem is so closely intertwined with that of the U.S., Canadians are also exposed to disinformation efforts targeting an American audience; this can present challenges where disinformation narratives originating in the U.S. that aim to undermine democratic integrity filter into the Canadian environment. More generally, there is a long history of continued circulation of political ideas from the United States into Canada. Many of the groups associated with U.S.-based disinformation have resonance and sometimes a foothold in Canada.

Building on trust in Canada

Canada benefits from a strong institutional foundation with practices and values embedded in the democratic system, but there are always opportunities for improvement and enhancement to demonstrate to citizens that their institutions merit their trust and confidence. Overall, government must deliver – and be seen to deliver – on the challenges that Canadians feel are most important, as trust must be earned through superior performance and commitment to citizens. In this context, action must be guided by the following principles: focusing on Canadians’ top priorities, as identified through active engagement; delivering high quality and responsive public services that Canadians can rely on; outperforming peer countries in the delivery of key services; and, when mistakes occur, institutions must acknowledge them, correct them, and work relentlessly to demonstrate that these mistakes will not be repeated such that government is worthy of future trust.

Based on these principles, existing international research and literature on this topic, and informed by the challenges outlined in the Canadian context, there may be opportunities for Canada to build on its foundation of trust, and in some cases existing work. This includes supporting initiatives that enhance diversity, tackling disinformation, and reinforcing the pillars of institutional trust.

[ * ]


As Canada and other countries look to a post-pandemic world, it is clear how trust is necessary in the good times, and how imperative it is during the challenging ones. Specifically, trust in democratic institutions remains one of the most important foundations to a healthy democracy, in helping build public confidence and participation in our democratic processes. In Canada, trust and confidence in our democracy’s institutional pillars has remained relatively stable over time. This is a tribute to the resilience of Canada’s civic culture, which has generally rewarded government performance in such recent crises as the financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic with continued trust. In addition, government’s long-standing commitments to freedom of the press, transparency and accountability measures, and the emphasis placed on protecting and defending our institutions have created a stable basis for our democratic society. However, global insights, and particularly lessons learned from the recent U.S. experience, underscore the need to remain vigilant and continue to demonstrate to Canadians that their institutions are worthy of their trust and confidence.

U.S. Summit for Democracy


U.S. President Biden will host a Summit for Democracy on 9-10 December 2021. This will be a virtual event for leaders, followed by an in-person event in 2022.


The 2021 Summit will focus on three themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. The 2022 Summit will follow-up on commitments made in 2021. In addition to Heads of Government, both summits will include participation by civil society, philanthropic institutions, and the private sector. The U.S. has not yet finalized which governments it will invite to the first Summit. To receive an invitation, governments will be expected to demonstrate commitments towards revitalizing democracy both at home and abroad. The second Summit will be a stocktaking to demonstrate progress on countries’ commitments.

The aim of the Summit will be to address challenges facing democracy, improve collaboration, and galvanize commitments for democratic renewal, both domestically and internationally. [ * ]

The Summit may offer opportunities for Canada to build on areas of Canadian leadership, [ * ] Canada and likeminded partners are exploring how to leverage this Summit to build a more coherent and coordinated approach to shaping global norms around democracy, including on the governance of digital technologies and other policy areas of interest to PCO-Democratic Institutions (PCO-DI). PCO-DI is exploring opportunities for potential ministerial participation in developing Summit deliverables and what role ministers might have at the Summit itself.

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ] Canada has a strong record on strengthening and protecting democracy both at home and abroad; however, this meeting will shine a light on all aspects of Canada’s domestic context.


Opportunities to advance your mandate and share Canadian successes

The Summit could be an opportunity to share lessons learned from Canada’s successful Protecting Democracy initiative (see Tab 2B) and strong legislative electoral framework (see Tab 2A) as part of advancing the Summit objective of defending against authoritarianism.

In addition, there may be opportunities to advance elements of the Protecting Democracy initiative by strengthening co-operation with like-minded countries [ * ] This could include building on Canada’s successful co-leadership of Principle 3 (Electoral Integrity) of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, which brought together governments, industry, and civil society.

Working toward potential Canadian commitments

At the Summit, countries will be expected to announce both domestic (inward-focused) and regional/international (externally focused) initiatives, and commitments developed in partnership with local civil society, media, private sector, and other stakeholders.

Officials at Global Affairs Canada (GAC) lead Canada’s engagement and are in close contact with their U.S. counterparts as the agenda is developed. GAC and the Treasury Board Secretariat have launched an interdepartmental process to develop potential Canadian contributions, building on the existing Open Government Partnership (OGP) mechanism to develop, advance, and track domestic commitments. PCO-DI will continue to engage on next steps.

The OGP brings together governments and civil society to promote transparent, participatory, inclusive and accountable governance. In consultation with civil society, governments develop multi-year action plans that are open to public comment prior to release and monitored during implementation. Canada has been a leading member of the OGP, under the leadership of the President of the Treasury Board. PCO-DI has contributed to the development of Canada’s action plans.

Next steps

PCO-DI will continue to work with colleagues in other departments to monitor Summit developments, shape Canada’s approach, and develop potential Canadian Summit commitments. [ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

[ * ]

Page details

Date modified: