A polling station during the 2015 elections in Canada. Photo credit: Flickr/ishmael n. daro (CC BY 2.0)
Freedom House Rating
Federal Parliamentary Democracy (Parliament of Canada) under a Constitutional Monarchy; a Commonwealth Realm
Provincial and Municipal Elections
By October 16, 2023 (snap possible)
October 21, 2019
Provincial and Municipal Elections
Canada’s October 2019 general election was a competitive contest between the center-right Conservatives and incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s center-left Liberals. The Liberals won, but lost their majority.
Trudea, a darling of the global center-left, saw his popularity erode leading up to the 2019 elections. He faced controversies such as the SNC-Lavalin affair, in which the justice minister resigned from cabinet after a public conflict with Trudeau. In addition, during the campaign, photographs emerged of Trudeau in brownface. Ultimately, the Liberals won the most seats, but lost their majority, and formed a minority government.
Canada has six political parties that are considered to be the main players. The “big six” are the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, New Democratic Party, Greens, and People’s Party of Canada.
The two biggest parties, Trudeau’s Liberals and the Conservatives (led by Andrew Scheer), respectively have 154 and 121 seats in the House of Commons, out of a total of 338 seats.
The smaller four of the “big six” can have a major impact, especially when there is a minority government.
Secondly, the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) holds 24 seats. The NDP has roots in the organized labor movement, and sits to the left of the Liberals. In fact, it ran its most left-wing platform ever in 2019. Its leader, Jagmeet Singh, is the first-ever nonwhite leader of a Canadian political party.
Thirdly, the Greens hold three seats. Independents hold the remaining two seats. The last of the “big six” parties, the right-wing populist, anti-immigration People’s Party of Canada (PPC), failed to win any seats the House of Commons in the 2019 elections. PPC was founded in 2018 by one Maxime Bernier, a bombastic former foreign minister who rage-quit the Conservative Party after losing a contentious leadership election.
Although the “big six” parties are the most widely-known, Canada has a total of 21 federally-registered political parties.
Since taking office for a second term, Trudeau’s government has faced and survived a series of confidence votes, most recently on October 21. A clear majority of Canadians do not want a snap election during the pandemic. Nonetheless, snap elections are within the realm of possibility if the smaller parties do not come to the Liberals’ rescue in a confidence vote.
Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories hold provincial/territorial and municipal elections at different times. Provincial legislatures, as well as the Yukon territorial legislature, are organized along the lines of political parties. Conversely, most municipal elections, as well as the territorial elections in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, are nonpartisan. In other words, candidates run as independents, and governments are formed by consensus.
British Columbia holds general elections on October 24, 2020. The incumbent New Democratic Party hopes to keep its majority. The province is quite left-wing – the Conservatives have not won a seat in the Legislative Assembly since 1975. Meanwhile, the next municipal elections are due on October 15, 2022.
Saskatchewan holds provincial elections on October 26, 2020. Although the province was previously a stronghold of the left, the center-right Saskatchewan Party has won the last three elections, while the NDP is the official opposition. Moreover, the Conservatives swept Saskatchewan during the last federal elections. Currently, only the Saskatchewan Party and NDP have seats in the Assembly. Meanwhile, municipal elections are in progress. Resort villages held elections on August 29, 2020, northern municipalities are holding elections in fall of 2020, and urban municipalities hold elections on November 9, 2020.
New Brunswick held snap provincial elections on September 14, 2020, two years after the 2018 elections, in which no party won a majority. Following some wrangling after the 2018 elections, the Progressive Conservatives formed a minority government. Following two years of instability, Premier Blaine Higgs called for snap elections in September 2020, and the Progressive Conservatives subsequently won a majority. The next provincial elections are due by September 2024.
Meanwhile, municipal elections are overdue. Originally set for May 2020, they have been delayed due to COVID-19, and still haven’t been scheduled. Therefore, municipal governments are currently in their fifth year of a four-year term. Advocacy groups have called on the provincial government to set an election date.
Newfoundland and Labrador last held provincial elections on May 16, 2019. The Liberal Party lost the majority it had won in 2015 and subsequently formed a minority government. Normally, the next election would have been due on October 10, 2023.
However, embattled Liberal leader and premier Dwight Ball announced his resignation as premier in February 2020, and after that, stepped down following the Liberal Party’s leadership election on August 3, 2020. Given the cancellation of in-person voting due to COVID and a delay, and controversy over the current caretaker premier’s economic recovery plan, the whole thing has been described as strange.
Meanwhile, municipal elections – last held on September 26, 2017 – are due in September 2021.
Alberta last held provincial elections on April 16, 2019. The United Conservative Party, under the leadership of Jason Kenney, who had served in the cabinet of former prime minister Stephen Harper, defeated the New Democratic Party. The NDP had served only one term in government – Alberta has long been a conservative stronghold. Meanwhile, municipal elections – last held in October 2017 – are due on October 18, 2021.
Nunavut last held territorial elections on October 30, 2017, and the next will be by October 25, 2021. Like in the Northwest Territories, the Legislative Assembly does not recognize political parties – legislators are elected as independents and form the government according to a consensus model.
Quebec, the second most populous province and the only predominately Francophone one – last held provincial elections on October 1, 2018. Following the trend in neighboring Ontario, these elections marked a shift to the right in Quebec. The relatively-new center-right Quebec nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party won a majority, ending 48 years of rule that alternated between the Liberals and the left-wing Quebec nationalist Parti Québécois (PQ). Although CAQ’s founder, François Legault, is a former separatist, the party ran on a platform of remaining in Canada.
The next Quebec general elections are due on or before October 3, 2022. In addition, municipal elections (last held in November 2017) are due on November 7, 2021.
Yukon last held territorial elections on November 7, 2016. The Liberals defeated the incumbent Yukon Party, the successor party to the Progressive Conservatives.
Nova Scotia, whose legislative assembly is Canada’s oldest and dates back to 1758, last The province last held municipal elections on October 17, 2020, and the next round is therefore due by October 2024. The Liberals won a majority for the second time in a row.
Ontario (population 14.7 million – Canada’s most populous province) last held provincial elections on June 17, 2018, and will hold the next elections on or before June 22, 2022. The Progressive Conservatives, under populist leader Doug Ford, won in a landslide, ending 15 years of Liberal rule. Ontario last held municipal elections on October 18, 2018, so the next round is due by October 2022.
Manitoba last held provincial elections on September 10 ,2019. The Progressive Conservatives won a majority for the second time in a row. Meanwhile, the province held municipal elections on October 24, 2018; therefore, municipal elections are next due in October 2022.
Prince Edward Island (PEI) held general elections on April 27, 2019. PEI has an old legislature – dating back to 1773. Following the elections, the Progressive Conservatives formed a minority government, and the Greens became the official opposition – the first time that had happened in a Canadian province. Previously, the Liberals had governed for four terms. Meanwhile, municipal elections (last held on November 5, 2018) are due on November 7, 2022
Northwest Territories last held territorial elections on October 1, 2019. Like in Nunavut, the territory’s Legislative Assembly does not recognize political parties – legislators are elected as independents and form the government according to a consensus model.
David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer, Reuters (October 21, 2020): Canada PM Trudeau wins backing of opposition party to avoid snap election
Pam Berman, CBC News (October 12, 2020): Many Nova Scotia towns to have new mayors following fall election
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Updated October 21, 2020