What Do You Know About How Canadian Elections Work?


By: Ashley Linkletter

7 Min Quiz

Image: artland/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Voting in Canada is one of the most patriotic acts you can participate in — but first, you'll need to understand how the Canadian electoral system works. Although Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's monarch, she has very little to do with the actual election process in Canada. (That is, of course, if you're not the governor general.) Knowing which riding you call home — or what a riding is! — can be confusing to first-time voters. Unlike some other governments, Canada has several main political parties and many fringe parties. The difference between a majority and minority government can make all the difference in terms of policy and decision-making — and the occasional coalition has been known to really shake things up!

Even if you're a veteran when it comes to the voting process, you'll learn something new in this quiz about how Canada conducts elections, including some interesting historical facts about how the current system came to be what it is today. If you're overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information you're about to consume, don't worry, the Elections Canada website has plenty of excellent additional resources online.

Grab your voter card — if you don't have one, you'll find out where to get one in a few minutes — and get serious. It's time to fill out this very Canadian quiz about how elections work!

What kind of electoral system does Canada have?

Canada uses a first-past-the-post voting system, also known as a "winner takes all" voting system, a form of plurality voting. Under this system, the person with the highest number of votes automatically wins, whether or not they earned a majority of the votes. This is currently a hot-button issue in Canada, with many voters arguing for a proportional representation electoral system.


How many times can the prime minister be consecutively re-elected when they're in office?

In Canada, there are no term limits for the prime minister. William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister for a total of 21 years and 154 days, from 1921 and 1926, 1926 and 1930, and then from 1935 to 1948. His terms were non-consecutive but spanned three majority and three minority governments.


Who represents the queen in Canada on the federal level?

The queen (or reigning sovereign at any particular time) is represented federally by the governor general of Canada. The governor general is selected by the Crown for an unspecified amount of time, usually five years, and the length of the appointment is defined as "serving at Her Majesty's pleasure."


Canada's political system is very close to that of the United Kingdom's — what is it called?

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means that while its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II (or whomever the sovereign ruler is at the time), the Constitution restricts her actual ruling powers. This political system is widely seen in Commonwealth countries, including the United Kingdom itself.


Do you know the name of the prime minister who participated in the first Canadian Leaders' Debate?

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, along with Robert Stanfield, Tommy Douglas and Réal Caouette, was present at the first Canadian Leaders' Debate in 1968. Trudeau debated in both French and English; Stanfield and Douglas only spoke in English, while Caouette spoke exclusively in French.


What is the name given to electoral districts in Canada?

Canada's electoral districts are called "ridings." However, if you guessed "counties," you wouldn't be completely incorrect — in French-speaking areas of Canada, a riding is technically called a "circonscription," but is colloquially known as a "comté," which means "county" in English.


How long does a prime minister's term in office typically last, before an election takes place?

Generally speaking, elections occur in Canada every four years. Beginning in May of 2007, the Canadian Elections Act set a fixed date for elections every four years, on the third Monday in October. Canadians will most likely be heading to the polls again on October 16, 2023.


Canadians also vote in by-elections — what is a by-election?

Canadians vote in by-elections when current members of Parliament need to be replaced, usually due to retirement, death or if the MP is stepping down from their position. More than one by-election can be held in different ridings on the same day.


Which of the following is not a registered political party in Canada?

Although the name is somewhat of an oxymoron, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was a major political party from 1942 to 2003. In 2003, the Progressive Conservatives voted to dissolve the party alongside the Canadian Alliance Party, in order to form the current Conservative Party of Canada.


Canada has had one female prime minister during its entire history as a constitutional monarchy — what is their name?

A member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, Kim Campbell, briefly served as prime minister from June 25, 1993, to November 4, 1993, after Prime Minister Brian Mulroney retired from politics. Despite her position, Campbell never sat in Parliament, due to the fact that her term coincided with the summer break and the election campaign that followed.


Under the Canada Elections Act, how long can an election campaign last?

Under section 57 of the Canadian Elections Act, the election campaign period needs to be at least 37 days long but no longer than 51 days. The intention behind this relatively short period of campaigning is to stay focussed on the most pressing issues at the time of the election.


To vote in a Canadian federal election, you'll need to meet one of the criteria listed below. Which one is it?

If you plan on voting in Canada, you'll need to be at least 18 years of age on the day of the election. You must be a Canadian citizen — this includes people who hold dual citizenship — and you'll also need to provide proof of your address and identity.


Voter information cards provide valuable information for registered voters. Which of the following pieces of information is not included on the card?

Registered Canadian voters receive voter information cards about three weeks before an election is scheduled. This card tells the voter where and when they should vote, including the dates, times and locations of advance polls. It does not, however, instruct anyone who they should vote for.


If you live abroad and want to vote, what is the name of the database you must sign up with?

Canadians who are eligible to vote can sign up to be included in the International Register of Electors online, or they can request forms from Elections Canada. Once registered, electors can participate in elections by voting with a special ballot that is mailed to their international address.


Are Canadians who have transient places of residence or who are homeless permitted to vote?

A Canadian without a fixed address is welcome to vote in an election, even if they are unable to provide proof of address. The individual needs to bring two pieces of identification with their name, take an oath and have someone from their polling station vouch for them.


What are provincial and territorial heads of government called in Canada?

Each province and territory has an elected head of government called a premier. (In the French language, "prime minister" and "premier" are used interchangeably as "premier" or "première ministre.") Premiers are referred to as "The Honourable" while they're serving in office; the title is only kept after their premiership if they become a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.


Employers must give employees time off from work if their work hours prevent them from voting. Only one employment sector is potentially exempt from this law — which one is it?

The transportation sector can refuse to give an employee time off to vote if the employer transports goods or people by land, water or air, if the employee works outside of their polling division, if the employee works in the operation of a means of transportation and if the time off would interfere with transportation services.


Canada has 105 Senators — how are they appointed?

The governor general is officially responsible for appointing Canadian senators. Symbolically, the decision is made by the governor general on behalf of the queen (or ruling sovereign). In practice, the decision to appoint senators is made under the advisement of the prime minister.


Who takes on the role of the leader of the opposition?

The leader of the opposition is the head of the party with the second largest constituency in the House of Commons. As of 2019, the leader of the opposition is Andrew Scheer, who is a member of Parliament and the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada.


Who is responsible for choosing the cabinet ministers in the House of Commons?

Cabinet members in Canada are selected by the governor general, who appoints members based on the counsel of the prime minister. Generally speaking, Cabinet members are chosen from the House of Commons, although senators are occasionally chosen when certain areas of the country lack representation.


Out of all ten provinces in Canada, which one has the most ridings?

With 121 seats, Ontario has the most ridings out of any province by far. The province with the second-most ridings is Quebec, which has 78 seats. The number of ridings in the remaining provinces are as follows: British Columbia, with 42; Alberta, with 34; Manitoba, with 14; Saskatchewan, with 14); Nova Scotia, with 11; New Brunswick, with 10; Newfoundland and Labrador, with 7; and Prince Edward Island, with 4.


Canada's three territories each have the same number of ridings. How many do they have?

Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories only have one riding each, with the riding sharing the name of its respective territory. Until 2014, the Northwest Territories riding was known as "Western Arctic" — under Bill C-37, the riding was changed to its current name.


Unlike the prime minister or other elected officials, members of the Canadian Senate hold on to their appointments for a longer period of time. How long can they remain in the Senate?

Canadian senators are allowed to keep their positions until they turn 75, but this wasn't always the case. Until the Constitution Act of 1965, members of the Senate could hold onto their appointments for their entire lives. The Act stated that those who were appointed before the change would be permitted to keep their place in the senate for life.


Are Canadian employers allowed to dock the pay of employees who need time off to vote?

Canadian employers are prohibited from refusing to pay or paying less than what is owed to employees who need to take three consecutive hours off to vote. It is also illegal for employers to use intimidation tactics or unwarranted influence to bully their employees into not taking the time to vote.


During a federal election, who do Canadians vote for on the actual ballot?

Canadians vote for their preferred local member of Parliament who, if elected, will go on to represent one constituency or seat in the House of Commons. Whichever party has the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the governing body, with the leader of that party becoming prime minister.


What is the main purpose of Elections Canada?

Elections Canada is a non-partisan entity that is more formally known as the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. This agency is responsible for ensuring Canadian federal elections and referendums are administered accurately and without bias.


Are Canadian permanent residents allowed to vote in elections?

Permanent residents of Canada are not allowed to vote in Canadian elections. They are also barred from running for any position in the Canadian government or holding high-level security clearance positions in both the private and public sectors.


Providing a voter with transportation or travel fare can be considered a bribe under certain circumstances. Which of the following options is not an example of illegal bribery?

If an offer of travel assistance is given without any strings attached, then it is not considered an illegal bribe under Canadian law. The phrase "no strings attached" means that the driver or person providing assistance doesn't attempt to sway the opinion of the voter and that travel costs cover the estimated expenses and nothing more.


How many Cabinet members does Canada have, as of 2018?

There are 35 Cabinet members in Canada, including the prime minister. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added five new ministry positions to the Cabinet on July 18, 2018. A number of new Cabinet committees were also formed on that date.


True or false: Canadians can only be part of the International Register of Electors if they have been living outside the country for less than five years.

The Supreme Court of Canada made a ruling on January 11, 2019, that any Canadian voter who is currently living abroad and who has previously lived in Canada can vote in a federal election via special ballot, no matter how long they have lived out of the country.


When can Canadian electors vote in the advance polls?

Canadians who are eligible to vote can head to advance voting polls on the 10th, ninth, eighth and seventh days before the actual day of the election. Information on when and where advance voting polls are located can be found on voting information cards, online or by contacting Elections Canada.


As of 2019, how many members of Parliament are in the House of Commons?

There are currently 338 members of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons. Unlike senators, who are appointed by the governor general on the advisement of the prime minister, members of Parliament are voted in by their constituents.


True or false: Elections Canada will call voters to let them know if their polling location has moved.

It is against policy for Elections Canada to ever call, text or email voters to let them know where their polling place is located or if it has moved. All of this information is available on Elections Canada voter cards, local media or on the Elections Canada Voter Information website.


Other than Elections Canada, who is responsible for ensuring the voting process follows proper procedures?

It is the job of the commissioner of Canada elections to make sure that the protocol for both the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act is followed throughout the election period. Since 2012, Yves Côté has served as the commissioner of Canada elections.


Members of the legislative assembly are called MLAs in every province and territory, with the exception of three locations. Which of the following provinces has a different name for this position?

Ontario refers to a member of the legislature as an MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament). Newfoundland and Labrador use the term MHA (Member of the House of Assembly), and in Quebec, the term is MNA (Member of the National Assembly).


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