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Canadian Election Firsts

Milestones in Canadian Federal Elections


Canadian Nurses Voting in 1917

Canadian Nurses Voting in 1917

William Rider-Rider / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-002279

In every election campaign, politicians are eager to claim historic firsts. Here are some factual milestones in Canadian federal elections.

The Secret Ballot

In 1874, legislation was passed adopting the use of the secret ballot in Canada.

Vote for Women

Women in what is now known as Canada could vote before Canadian Confederation if they owned property, but after Confederation in 1867 they were legally barred from voting. In 1917, women were allowed to vote if they met an exception for military personnel stationed abroad. "Bluebirds", nurses caring for wounded soldiers in Europe in World War I, were the first women to vote legally in a Canadian federal election. In 1918, women had the same voting rights as men in federal elections.

First Woman Member of Parliament

In 1919 women were given the right to hold public office at the federal level in Canada, and the election of 1921 was the first federal election that included female candidates. Four women ran, and Agnes MacPhail was the only one elected. For 14 years she was the only woman MP. In contrast, 64 women were elected to Parliament in the 2006 federal election.

First Chief Electoral Officer

In 1920, Colonel Oliver Mowat Biggar became Canada's first Chief Electoral Officer, an independent administrator of Canadian federal elections. The Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by a resolution of the House of Commons.

Status Indians Can Vote

By 1920, native people everywhere in Canada had the right to vote. But Status Indians had to give up their treaty rights and registered Indian status to do so. In 1960, that condition was removed from election legislation.

Voting Age Reduced to 18

In 1970, a newly revised Canada Elections Act lowered the voting age and the minimum age to be a candidate from 21 years to 18.

Party Names on the Ballot

The name of the candidate's party was first shown on election ballots in 1974.

First Woman Party Leader

Audrey McLaughlin was the first woman to lead a national Canadian political party. She became leader of the federal New Democratic Party in 1989.

Canadians Outside the Country Can Vote

In 1993 for the first time qualified voters living outside Canada were allowed to vote by special ballot in their home riding.

Homeless Allowed to Vote

In the 2000 federal election, for the first time homeless people were able to vote.

Prison Inmates Get to Vote

In 2002 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the section of the Canada Elections Act that prevented inmates serving sentences of more than two years from voting in federal elections was against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All incarcerated electors may now vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendums.

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