Consultation on Religious Observances and Fixed Date Elections
Since the 2007 introduction of fixed election dates in Canada, the Canada Elections Act (the Act) provides that, subject to the government's discretion to call an election at any time, each general election must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth year following the last general election (election day).
In 2019, year of the 43rd general election, the third Monday of October fell on October 21st. This date presented a direct conflict with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, two Holy Days in the Jewish religious calendar. In addition, the election period (including four days of advance polls) coincided or overlapped with other Jewish Holy Days. The conflict between the Jewish religious calendar and the 2019 electoral calendar impacted in different ways and different degrees the ability of observant Jewish electors and candidates to fully participate in the electoral process.
The Act currently grants the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) the discretion to recommend to the government an alternate day for the general election if the CEO is of the opinion that the date is not suitable, including by reason of its being in conflict with a day of cultural or religious significance or a provincial or municipal election. Under the Act, if a recommendation is made and is accepted, the alternate day must be either the next day or the following Monday. Advance polling days also need to be adjusted if there is a change of election day. Any such recommendation must be decided upon by August 1 of the election year.
In this case, upon learning of the full implications in 2019, the CEO had to assess whether he should exercise his discretion to recommend moving the election date. After a thorough analysis of the impacts of this decision, and given that it was late in the electoral calendar, the CEO did not recommend a change to the date, as it would have negatively impacted the ability of Elections Canada to provide accessible voting services across the country. However, in consultation with the affected communities, we put in place many alternate voting options to accommodate the needs of electors.
Following the 2019 election, the CEO committed to a post-election review of the fixed election date which would take into account considerations from a variety of religious and cultural communities. This input will inform the CEO's recommendations to Parliament regarding the electoral calendar and the fixed election date currently set out in the Canada Elections Act.
As part of this review, Elections Canada is seeking written submissions from key stakeholders on the impact of religious and cultural observances on participation in the federal election, with the following assumptions in mind:
- That while election day continues to be the most important day in the federal electoral calendar, the four days of advance polls are of increasing importance for electors and conflicts with advance polling days are also to be avoided to the extent possible.
- That the nature of the conflict between days of religious significance and important days in the electoral calendar will be qualitatively different from community to community and will also be experienced differently from individual to individual. For example, some religious holidays or practices may not preclude voting whereas others prohibit voting and campaigning.
- That conflicts may be experienced differently by electors and candidates. Candidates manage campaign teams and engage in activities distinct from those of a typical elector, including public speaking and fundraising. Conflicts may have heightened consequences for candidates and their campaigns.
Elections Canada is sending the following consultation questions to stakeholders with instructions for providing feedback by the end of August 2020.
- Recognizing that, in the foreseeable future, religious holidays and cultural practices may not fall on the same dates one year to the next:
- What would be a suitable fixed election date in October that would not prevent electoral participation and observation of religious or cultural practices in your community? (recognizing that advance polls must be on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the week before election day)
- If you answered "no", are there other possible dates that should be considered?
- What are other dates throughout the year that should be avoided, as they would prevent members from your community from participating in a federal election?
- What are your thoughts on how early voting opportunities could address some of the barriers to voting created by conflicts with religious practices? (Please see the list of early voting options)
- What are the potential impacts of such conflicts in election dates with religious holidays on candidates for federal election and their campaign volunteers?
- If Parliament were to amend the Canada Elections Act to move ordinary polls from a Monday to a two-day period over Saturday and Sunday, would this address barriers to voting for your community?
- Briefly describe your community or organization and the membership you represent where applicable (number of members, location, primarily urban or rural membership, etc.).
We are seeking written responses to these questions. You can email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions or would like to speak to us over the phone regarding this initiative, please send your contact details to the same email address to schedule a call.
After receiving the written submissions, we will follow up as necessary with key stakeholders when developing the Recommendations Report to Parliament and use this input in our operational planning for the next election. The CEO's recommendations are only one element that may influence any future legislative change, and many factors determine the timing of new legislation considered by Parliament. We are counting on a broad range of submissions to make our analysis on this matter as robust and inclusive as possible.