Canada's electoral history from 1867 to today

More than 155 years of voting in Canada

by Maurice Y. Michaud (he/him)

IA sample ballot in Canadat never ceases to amaze me when people complain about "having yet another election." I only need to think about the failed attempt in the first 20 years of the 21st century to install some form of democracy in Afghanistan, or the current bloody struggle of Ukrainians to preserve their democracy, to come to a deep appreciation of how precious Canada's democracy is, despite its flawed electoral system.

Although Canadians are often accused of being smug when comparing themselves with their neighbours to the south, it is indisputable to me that the blush is off the rose that presents itself as "The Beacon of Democracy." Although we, too, are witnessing a sharper polarization within the electorate, at least we do not have to contend with systemic flaws that would make us vulnerable to shenanigans like gerrymandering, as is the case in the United States. As such, each time we are called to the polls, we should be celebrating and giving thanks to the fact that we have something that many people around the world would literally kill to have!

There! I am done editorializing, so let me tell you how many electoral events are recorded in this database and about which you can find all the details in this section of the website.

This table shows, by jurisdiction, the year of the earliest and latest recorded event as well as the number of the earliest and current assembly (or of the last one in the case of the North-Western Territory). Also keep in mind that, for each general election (Elec), there is an individual race in each riding, while more than one race could occur during any given by-election. What's more, note that this table makes a distinction between the absolute number of races (N) and the number of real races (n) by subtracting from the former the number of races won by acclamation (Accl.). This distinction is not made for referendums as they are by definition questions (Q) offering a choice between at least two options.

Size of database in terms of electoral events and races
Jurisdiction Elections Referendums
Juri. Year Assem. General By-Elections
Elec Races Elec Races
Min Max Min Max N Accl. n N Accl. n Q Races
1 CA 1867 2021 1 44 44 11,384 263 11,121 640 1,003 367 636 3 31
9 AB 1905 2022 1 30 30 2,066 29 2,037 87 110 19 91 5 769
8 BC 1871 2022 1 42 42 2,173 24 2,149 163 209 59 150 15 806
11 MB 1870 2022 1 42 42 2,062 114 1,948 139 180 57 123 4 245
3 NB 1866 2022 21 60 40 1,984 48 1,936 186 245 86 159 1 12
7 NL 1949 2021 29 50 22 967 17 950 58 69 9 60 2 100
2 NS 1867 2021 24 64 41 1,766 25 1,741 116 174 56 118 0 0
14 NT 1951 2022 1 19 19 283 38 245 15 17 6 11 3 47
13 NU 1999 2021 1 6 6 123 11 112 11 14 2 12 0 0
15 NW 1888 1903 1 5 5 143 36 107 13 21 9 12 0 0
6 ON 1867 2022 1 43 43 4,505 93 4,412 291 399 310 89 1 107
4 PE 1873 2021 26 66 41 1,227 41 1,186 97 150 80 70 3 70
5 QC 1867 2022 1 43 43 4,089 294 3,795 273 426 90 336 4 376
10 SK 1905 2022 1 29 29 1,652 24 1,628 103 128 31 97 0 0
12 YT 1970 2021 22 35 14 227 0 227 11 13 0 13 0 0
ΣElec+Q = 2,705  ΣN = 40,372 461 34,651 1,057 33,594 2,203 3,158 1,181 1,977 41 2,563
The jurisdiction numbers are arbitrary and only hold significance for the maintenance of the data.

The MMP simulator can be run on 405 of the 461 general elections.

A small handful of by-elections that did not really occur was added to this database to record when someone's election was overturned and the seat was handed over to the challenger who had lost.

Because it was a two-pronged question, the 2018 referendum in British Columbia on electoral reform had to be recorded as two separate events but is counted as a single event. What's more, at this time, only the aggregate results by provinces and territories are available for the 1992 Canada/Québec referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, although efforts are underway to obtain the results by riding.

In the Westminster parliamentary system as practised in most jurisdictions in Canada up until the early 1930s, a person who was named to the cabinet for the first time was required to resign their seat and run in a ministerial by-election soon after their resignation. Many of those by-elections were won by acclamation, and extremely rare were the times when a newly minted minister would fail to regain their seat even if it was challenged. In addition during that period, unseating a member was commonplace and the mechanism to challenge someone's election seems to have been very lax when viewed through presentist lens, as many by-elections were held merely because the challenger — often the defeated incumbent — did not like the result. Therefore, by-elections were far more frequent back then than they are today.

In short, this database contains about 2,700 "elections" from 1866 to today with more than 40,000 individual "races" within them. Although Confederation only began in 1867, New Brunswick's 1866 general election is widely viewed today as its first of the Confederation era, while the three other new provinces each held a general election in 1867. Similarly, the 1873 general election on Prince Edward Island was held a few months before the province formally joined Confederation.

The detailed results of some by-elections still have to be found and recorded.

  • I have little hope of ever finding the missing data for by-elections in Prince Edward Island prior to 1903. The reason is that, in the smallest provincial jurisdiction, Elections PEI has the most incomplete and chaotic record keeping practices. They produce beautiful statistical reports that consistently fail to give (or make hard to find) data points that really matter, like the number of eligible voters and the number of rejected votes. What's more, for more than 200 years, ridings were merely numbered slices of the three provincial counties, with each county having five two-member ridings (e.g. Kings / Prince / Queens 1st, 2nd, 3rd...), with Queens getting a sixth two-member riding for Charlottetown starting in 1966.
    PEI electoral map
    Despite switching to 27 named single-member districts in 1996, Elections PEI seems to remain stuck in thinking in numbered district terms: "See the results of the by-election in District 16" instead of "See the results of the by-election in Cornwall—Meadowbank." Let's just say that I struggled and still struggle to find, interpret and enter the electoral results of a province that has a smaller population than the City of Sherbrooke or 29 other Canadian cities!
  • On the other hand, the largest provincial jurisdiction, Ontario, has one of the most complete datasets online provided by Elections Ontario, but the details of by-elections prior to 1987 are not posted and are available only in hard copy at their office and in some public libraries. With the naive hope that if I gave a little I might get a little, I respectfully submitted to Elections Ontario in March 2021 a listing of 181 errors I had found in their "Data Explorer" application, wishing that, in exchange, they would consider adding the missing by-elections results. Not only did they decline to entertain the idea; the 181 errors I flagged remain in their application to this day. I suppose I failed to establish trust that my endeavour is serious and meticulous, so I might just have to go visit them in Toronto or an archive library in Ontario to get the missing data.
Nevertheless, nowhere other than PoliCan will you find almost all the results of the electoral events held in Canada since Confederation, in a standardized, searchable format and with links expanding on the people who successfully ran for office.

© 2022 Maurice Y. Michaud ::
Pub.: 12 Jun 2022 10:07
Rev.: 13 Jun 2022 18:57 (but data revised dynamically)