Ep. 14: All about Elections in Ontario



March 31, 2022 15 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast. Where we help spread the word on parliament. I’m Erin and I’m here with David for another exciting episode.



David: Yes, indeed Erin. It's great to be back. Thank you. Today’s episode is shaping up to be a good one!



Erin: Hey David – I have an idea for a game to start us off today.



David: Well, I’m certainly game to give it a try.



Erin: Now you’re stealing my jokes too!



David: It was too good an opportunity to pass up.



Erin: Well, I can’t deny you there. But, back to my game idea. I’m going to give you the beginning of a phrase and you need to complete it. Kind of like a verbal fill-in-the-blank if you will.



David: Sounds easy enough.



Erin: Hmm. Well I accept your challenge to try to make them harder then.



David: Oh no!



Erin: All right, first phrase. The card you receive in the mail to let you know where and when to go to vote is called a... what?



David: It’s called a notice of enumeration. That’s easy.



Erin: Very good. Okay what about this one smarty-pants. We often hear people talk about “Dropping the writ” right before an election. But in reality, there will be this number of writs of election that will need to be issued during Ontario’s next election.



David: Hmm. This seems like a bit of a trick question. But I’m going to try to reason it out. I believe that there are actually two writs of election issued per electoral district [one for the Returning Officer and one for record keeping] so that would mean that there would need to be a total of 248 issued for our next election. Right?



Erin: Right again! But I think I saved the hardest one for last.



David: Hit me with your best shot.



Erin: While I do appreciate the 80s song reference, I think this one might finally stump you. In Ontario, you must register new political party names with Elections Ontario. This word is not allowed to be part of any party name.



David: Oh no! You know what Erin; you finally stumped me. I have no idea. What word is it? Something crazy?



Erin: Ha! I knew I could do it! Actually, it isn’t a crazy word at all. Registered parties can’t contain the word “independent.”



David: The things I learn at work always amaze me.



Erin: I know right? Now in case you hadn’t guessed by now, today’s episode is going to be all about elections.



David: I was starting to get an inkling that might be the topic for today.



Erin: Well, then you would be right! Now before we get into discussing all of the steps that actually go into an election, I thought we might need a little more context about the history of the electoral process in Ontario – it's gone through a few changes over the years.



David: That is very true Erin. The first election that was ever held in the province took place in September of 1867. Back then, it took much longer to complete the voting process and only men over the age of 21 who owned land were able to participate. Fun fact: at this stage, all voting was done through a show of hands.



Erin: Luckily, they changed that pretty quickly – secret ballot voting was used for the first time in 1875. Despite the change in the style of voting to one that we recognize better today, the rest of the process would look pretty foreign to us. Women weren’t allowed to vote in provincial elections until 1917. And it took until 1919 until we saw the introduction of the Chief Election Officer – one person who is responsible for delivering fair and impartial elections across the province. Fun fact: there have been two Clerks of the Legislative Assembly who served concurrently as Chief Election Officer. They were also father and son.



David: I didn’t know that! But there have been more changes to our electoral system too. In 1971, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. And 4 years later, legislation related to financing was passed to ensure that there was a codified system to register and oversee the new and existing political parties and candidates.



Erin: And that brings us to more recent times - in 2007, the title of “Chief Election Officer” was changed to “Chief Electoral Officer” a subtle change, I know, but it was made to match with the other provinces and the federal system too. They also introduced fixed-date provincial elections and those took place for the first time in that same year. And that brings us up to today!



David: The actual steps that have to happen during the election process nowadays are pretty standard across the board – and by that, I mean it’s fairly similar at the provincial and federal levels.



Erin: The first thing that has to happen is that the current Parliament has to be dissolved. That’s not to be confused with a Parliament being prorogued. Those two terms mean very different things.



David: Prorogation refers to the termination of a session of Parliament whereas dissolution means the termination of Parliament. Period.



Erin: It’s understandable why these terms can be a little confusing. But let’s look at them more closely. When the House is prorogued, it means that the Members will not meet in the Chamber or in Committee, but they still represent their constituents and will come back and start meeting again on a specific date. The dissolution of a Parliament means that there are no more meetings in Committee or in the House and the MPPs can no longer call themselves Members of Provincial Parliament. The Queen’s Representative would also have been asked by the head of government to dissolve Parliament. The process of dissolution will usually automatically trigger a general election.



David: I think it's time for a... fun fact: did you know that before the time of Confederation, if the reigning Monarch were to pass away, Parliament would have automatically been dissolved and an election would have been called? This is because Parliament sits at the pleasure of the Crown, and if the Monarch were to die, the original summons was thought to die with them – hence the automatic dissolving of Parliament.



Erin: Now I learned something new today too!



David: Always happy to help Erin. Now, at the provincial level, it would be the Premier who would need to request the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve Parliament. If they agree, the next step would be the issuing of writs of election.



Erin: We’ve mentioned this term a couple times now. So, what does it actually mean? A writ is a physical legal document that is created by the Chief Electoral Officer and signed by the Lieutenant Governor. Separate writs are issued for each riding, and they empower the Returning Officer – basically the person appointed to run the entire election process in a designated electoral district – to hold the election. This process is sometimes referred to as “Dropping the writ.”



David: Sounds like a really cool song title...



Erin: Well, I don’t know about cool, but it would be quite something as a lyric, that’s for sure... Now after the writ is dropped, that’s when things really start to get going.



David: Next, the list of registered voters is consulted and that’s when you’ll receive your notice of enumeration in the mail. Another term that we’ve mentioned a few times now.



Erin: A notice of enumeration is basically a fancy way of saying your voter registration card – that card you receive in the mail before an election that tells you when, where and how to go out and vote.



David: At this stage, the campaign period has officially begun too. That’s when political parties will have chosen their candidates for each of the ridings, and they will be out letting voters know why they should elect them specifically. You’ll often hear a lot about different party platforms and sometimes there will even be debates held between competing candidates.



Erin: But it’s not just political parties who are allowed to campaign like this. Independent candidates can run as well. Typically, the majority of candidates running will have the backing of a party, but not always.


[00:08:02] David:

Have you ever noticed on election day, that there are always more candidates and party names on the ballot than you ever realized?



Erin: That’s because anyone can register a new party as long as they follow the proper guidelines. It’s actually a 2-part process. You have to register the name with Elections Ontario and once the name is approved, you can register the actual party. Many people register the name but don’t actually complete the full registration process. Fun fact: as of when we recorded this episode, there were 23 registered political parties in the province of Ontario, with a further 21 registered names only.



David: Regardless of whether or not someone is running on behalf of a party, they must meet the eligibility requirements of being a candidate. This includes being at least 18 years old, a Canadian citizen, a resident of Ontario for at least 6 months before the election, not being disqualified for any reason set out in the Legislative Assembly Act and receiving a Certificate of Nomination from Elections Ontario.



Erin: The time when candidates actively campaign will run from the day the writs are issued until election day, which is typically around 30 days. Fun fact: this allotted campaigning time is actually called the “election period”. The “campaign period” actually refers to the time between when the writs are issued and three months after the election date.



David: Then it’s time for the big day! Election Day!



Erin: That’s right David – Election Day is a pretty big deal. It’s an important civic duty to get out and cast your vote. These days, Elections Ontario has been making some changes to ensure that the voting process runs smoother and is more accessible. They’ve introduced mail-in ballots, advanced polling dates and locations, and new counting machines to facilitate the process for everyone.



David: We’ve certainly come a long way from raised hand voting, that’s for sure. In fact, this calls for another... Fun fact: in the 2018 general provincial election, ePoll books and vote tabulators were used across Ontario making it the first significant change to how we vote in the province since the switch from hands up voting to a secret ballot system over 100 years ago.



Erin: But even after all that, the process still isn’t quite finished. After the polls have closed and all the votes have been cast, they have to be counted. While the counting is taking place, the doors of the polling station are locked: no one is allowed to enter or leave until the counting is complete.



David: It’s quite a process to count the ballots as well. First, the election officers open the ballot boxes and count the votes. Seems easy enough. Then they record the number of votes for each candidate on a Statement of the Vote. They keep track of the number of rejected ballots too. Then finally, the ballots are sealed in the ballot box and delivered to the Returning Officer.



Erin: Fun fact: in the 2018 provincial election, 5,806,286 people cast their vote. Of those, just over 61,000 ballots were either rejected, unmarked, or declined ballots.



David: Erin, I would just like to say that I was one of the people to cast my vote in the 2018 Election.



Erin: Good to know.



David: In most cases, a clear winner emerges after the ballots are counted, and in that case, the Returning Officer would report their totals to the Chief Electoral Officer who would then declare the results official and would publish them in the Ontario Gazette – the document that contains all official government notices for the province.



Erin: But sometimes, the count can be extremely close. And so, the votes will be counted again. There are two ways that a recount can be initiated: first, by the Returning Officer if the difference in votes between two candidates is 25 or less, and second, by an elector or candidate in a specific riding who believes that an error may have been made.



David: In either case, a recount must be presided over by a Judge of the Ontario Court of Justice. The Returning Officer must be present at the recount and the affected candidates may also be present if they wish. Once the Returning Officer receives the Judge’s final verdict in the form of a certificate, the Returning Officer declares the candidate with the largest number of votes to have won. Fun fact: since the general election of 1975, there have been 17 recounts in Ontario – all but one occurred after a general election and all in different ridings.



Erin: The entire process of counting the votes and validating them can take up to a week but the public is often informed of the results “unofficially” the day following the election. Once the results are announced, Ontarians will learn who their government will be. The political party that has the most candidates elected across all ridings usually forms the government. The leader of that party normally becomes the Premier.



David: The Premier would then meet with the Lieutenant Governor and request that a proclamation be issued to convene the new Parliament.



Erin: And that Parliament would continue to sit and pass new laws until it is dissolved and then the election process would start all over again. Typically, there are about 4 years between elections, but Parliament can be dissolved sooner.



David: Here we are again. Full circle back to the beginning. How do we manage that every time?



Erin: Magic! Or we’re just really skilled. But I like my guess about magic best.



David: Speaking of magic, how many magical fun facts did we have today?



Erin: Well, by my count we had a total of 8 fun facts this time. One of our best records yet!



David: Maybe we can beat it next time.



Erin: Maybe. I guess you’ll have to tune in to find out.



David: Thanks for listening to the ON Parliament Podcast. Where we help spread the word on Parliament.



Erin: Got to go, I think I hear the bells.



Erin: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing. For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter and Instagram : @onparleducation. Et en français : @parloneducation . Thanks again and see you next time.