Should election day be a holiday or held on a weekend in Canada?

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Canada’s electoral laws say that our federal polling day should be a Monday — except when the Monday is a public holiday, or would be in conflict with a day of cultural significance or a local election.

Many people have been asking CBC News why Canada’s federal election doesn’t happen on the weekend, as in other jurisdictions, such as Australia, and why it isn’t a holiday.

Why isn’t Canada’s election day on the weekend or a holiday?

The convention of holding a federal election on a weekday has deep Protestant roots, says University of British Columbia political scientist Richard Johnston.

“There’s an old history of what’s called Sabbatarianism in this country — a resistance to doing anything on Sunday, other than go to church and be pious,” he said.

That’s in contrast to traditionally Catholic countries, such as France and Spain, which each hold general elections on Sundays, Johnston said. They’re encouraged by the church to engage in social activities on the holy day: not only attending mass, but also spending time with family. (And sometimes going out to vote.)

St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto is shown. The Canadian convention of holding a federal election on a weekday can be traced back to the Protestant tradition of observing the Sabbath on the weekend, says University of British Columbia political scientist Richard Johnston. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Further, under a 2007 amendment to the Canada Elections Act, a federal election is required to occur on the third Monday of October, four calendar years after the last election. 

But the law doesn’t limit the governor general’s power to dissolve Parliament at his or her discretion, on the prime minister’s advice. And an election period must be a minimum of 36 days and a maximum of 50 days, meaning the actual polling date is moving target.

WATCH︱Richard Johnston explains why the federal election is held on a weekday:

Canada doesn’t have federal elections on weekends due to Protestant tradition, says UBC prof

University of British Columbia political scientist Richard Johnston says early Canadians resisted voting on the weekend, the time for observing the Sabbath. 1:50

Case in point: The 2007 amendment states that the first federal election afterward would happen on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. But former prime minister Stephen Harper called an election early, and it was held on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008, one day after the Thanksgiving holiday.

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As for making the election day a statutory holiday, Johnston says political barriers remain strong against that idea. It’s partly because employers don’t want to pay workers a higher rate, he said, but the bigger challenge is the prime…



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