Voters in the 42nd Canadian federal election head to the polls on Monday, October 19, 2015.

The parties

The only recognized parties in the 41st Parliament were the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. (A political party needs a minimum of 12 seated MPs in the House of Commons to be a “recognized party” in parliamentary proceedings.)

Three other parties were represented in the House of Commons of the 41st Parliament, each with two representatives: the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party and Forces et Démocratie.

Including these six parties, there are currently a total of 19 parties registered for the 2015 election.

Major party leaders and platforms in the 2015 election

NDP: Thomas Mulcair

The leader of the Official Opposition in the 41st Parliament, Thomas Mulcair was born in 1954 and earned a law degree. His first entry into politics was in 1994, when he won the Quebec riding of Chomedey as a provincial Liberal. Prior to that he served as President of the Office of the Professions of Québec and taught law at Concordia and at the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières.

Click the link for the NDP's current platform.

Liberal Party: Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau was born in 1971 and earned his degrees in literature and education. He worked as a teacher in British Columbia before beginning his political career in 2007, winning the Liberal nomination for the Quebec riding of Papineau.

Click for the Liberal Party's current platform.

Conservative Party: Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper, born in 1959, worked for Imperial Oil in Calgary before obtaining a Masters Degree in economics. He first entered political life as an assistant to Calgary Progressive Conservative MP Jim Hawkes, later serving as chief policy officer to the Reform Party of Canada.

Click for the Conservative Party's current platform.

Green Party: Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May was born in 1954. A lawyer and activist, she first entered politics by helping form the "Small Party," a precursor to the Green Party, in 1980. She served as Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and in 2005 was awarded the Order of Canada. She became the federal leader of the Green Party in 2006.

Click for the Green Party's current platform.

Voting system basics

In Canada, Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected by voters separated into federal election districts, or ridings.

Canada currently uses a first-past-the-post system (FPTP) in which the MP with the most votes wins the representation of their riding. Candidates do not have to garner an absolute majority (50 per cent) in order to win.

Ridings are intended to represent a roughly equal number of voters in each province.

For example, Manitoba's 14 ridings represent populations of approximately 81,000 to 91,000 people. British Columbia's 42 ridings vary from a low of roughly 90,000 people to a high of 114,000.

New ridings and Canada's massive size

Canada's constitution requires that federal election districts, or ridings, be reviewed every 10 years.

Following the last review, for the 42nd federal election Elections Canada has redistributed the map of electoral districts and added 30 new ridings— which means 30 additional MPs in Parliament. There will be 338 MPs in Parliament following the 2015 election (up from the previous total of 308).

Canada's immense size, sprawling over six time zones, makes for wide divergence in the size of electoral districts.

The largest is the province of Nunavut, a single riding that spans over two million square kilometres with a population of approximately 32,000 people.

The smallest and densest is Papineau, Quebec, which fits a population of about 108,000 people into only nine square kilometres.

The Fair Elections Act and criticism

Bill C-23, controversially titled the "Fair Elections Act," was legislation introduced and passed in 2014 that changed the Canada Elections Act. The bill was developed by the Conservative government and promoted by Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre.

The bill originated in a 2012 motion by the NDP Official Opposition to strengthen the investigative abilities of Elections Canada after the “robocall” scandal—which later showed that on the morning of the 2011 federal election, Conservative staffers had placed at least 6,700 phone calls to voters, giving them intentionally misleading information.

In March of 2014, Marc Mayrand, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, told the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the Fair Elections Act was “problematic” and that many of its measures “undermine the bill's stated purpose and will not serve Canadians well.”

One of the most heavily criticized aspects of the bill was its elimination of vouching. Vouching allows a voter with improper identification or proof of address to have another person vouch for their identity and residence.

A lack of appropriate ID and proof of residence is often an issue for seniors, young people, students, and First Nations living outside urban centres.

The Neufeld report by Elections Canada noted that in the 2011 federal election about 1 per cent of voters used vouching, or 120,000 people.

The act also axed voters’ ability to use their Voter Information Card (VIC) as proof of address, a puzzling claw-back that seems difficult to justify, since VICs are given to voters through the mail.

In the 2011 election, 400,000 Canadians used their VIC as proof of address.

“It is worth noting that the VIC is the only document issued by the federal government that includes address information. The Canadian passport, for example, does not include an address,” said Mayrand.

“In fact, with an accuracy rate of 90%, the VIC is likely the most accurate and widely available government document.”

Poilievre’s bill also made it illegal for Elections Canada to increase voter turnout by running advertisements reminding and encouraging Canadians to vote.

Noting these changes, Mayrand told the Standing Committee: “It is essential to understand that the main challenge for our electoral democracy is not voter fraud, but voter participation. I do not believe that, if we eliminate vouching and the VIC as proof of address, we will have in any way improved the integrity of the voting process. However, we will have taken away the ability of many qualified electors to vote.”

The Conservative bill was criticized in separate editorials by international scholars, the Globe and Mail’s editorial board and Canadian academics for undermining Elections Canada and weakening, rather than strengthening, Canadian democracy.

Past voter turnout

In the 1970s and 1980s in Canada, voter turnout in federal elections averaged about 74 per cent.

It has since declined. In the 2008 election it was approximately 59 per cent; in 2011 it was about 61 per cent.

How and where to vote

Polls are open for 12 hours. If you're registered to vote, you should receive a voter information card by mail by October 1 that will tell you when and where to vote.

If you're not registered to vote, you can do so here.

To find out your riding by postal code, go to this page by the Elections Canada Voter Information Service.

Canadians living outside of Canada (for less than five years) are eligible to vote early in the 2015 federal election by applying for a special ballot. Applications must reach Elections Canada by 6:00 p.m. EST on October 13, 2015, and the mailed-in vote must be received by Elections Canada before 6:00 p.m. EST on Monday October 19, 2015.

Social media

The most popular Twitter hashtag for issues related to the 2015 elections is: #elxn42

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