Canada's electoral history from 1867 to today
Guess we should replace 'em, huh?
by Maurice Y. Michaud (he/him)
In 2023, there are far fewer by-elections than there were a century ago. Seats just don't seem to become vacant as frequently as they used to. A few factors might explain why.
- People didn't live as long as they do today, so deaths in office were a far more common occurrence until the late 20th century.
- Up until the 1930s in most jurisdictions, 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 afterwards. That's what happened in April 1869 when Joseph Howe, portrayed here, accepted Confederation as a fait accompli and joined the Liberal-Conservative cabinet of John A. Macdonald.
- Up until the middle of the 20th century, 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 government or the defeated incumbent — did not like the result.
All jurisdictions combined, there have been 3,182 by-elections since 1866. However, what the table below strikingly illustrates is that their frequency dropped significantly after 1925. In fact, 1,817 (or 57.10%) of all by-elections were held in the first 34 years of the Confederation era (1866 to 1924).
- Between 1866 and 1874 inclusively — that's only nine years, compared to the other slices which are 25 years — there had only been three federal general elections, the last of those being held in January 1874. Nevertheless, in good part due to a frenzy of declaring elections void and unseating members, coupled with ministerial by-elections and normal reasons for seats becoming vacant like resignations, appointments and deaths, 108 by-elections were held from mid-1867 to December 1874. The third parliament alone, which was dissolved in the summer of 1878, had a total of 90 by-elections!
- Between 1875 and 1899, the provincial and territorial legislatures held 505 by-elections, which is an astonishing number considering that Alberta and Saskatchewan did not exist yet, although the North-West Territory, which was their equivalent, did have a legislature from 1888. In addition to those, four provincial or territorial legislatures that exist today were more than three-quarter of a century from coming into existence, which means that none of them contributed to that total of 505.
However, starting in 1950, the frequency of by-elections stabilized to more or less what is it today.
© 2019, 2023 :: PoliCan.ca (Maurice Y. Michaud
Pub.: 5 Nov 2022 10:05
Rev.: 12 Nov 2023 23:59 (but data presented dynamically)