More than 99% of the Members of Parliament (MPs) elected to Canada’s Parliament over the last 30 years were elected as representatives of a political party. This means that the way that parties choose their election candidates controls the pool of people who serve in Parliament. But how do parties pick who appears on the ballot?
In Canada, the choice was traditionally made through locally controlled nomination contests: party members in each constituency would gather and choose who would be their candidate in the next election. But in recent decades these contests have increasingly come under the control of the central party, and many stories have emerged of nomination meetings being biased in favour of one candidate or another. At the very least, those not well connected within a party may feel that they are at a disadvantage relative to insiders.
In this report, we examine how election candidates are chosen in Canada, looking at the law governing nominations, the parties’ own rules for nomination contests, reports from more than 4,000 local nominations, and, most importantly, how the nearly 7,000 people who ran for Canada’s major political parties over the last five elections (2004-2015) were actually selected to be on the ballot.
This report is the first in a new research series from the Samara Centre for Democracy that specifically examines the work and operation of Canada’s political parties. The Samara Centre has previously touched on parties in our research on Parliament and in our Democracy 360 report cards on the health of Canadian democracy. Through this work, it has become clear that several of the major steps to improving Canadian democracy, such as decentralizing decision-making and improving diversity in politics, can only come through changes by parties themselves.
To that end, the Samara Centre’s Parties Project seeks to improve the public’s understanding of political parties and their role in Canadian politics, increase the transparency of party operations, and identify potential reforms to strengthen parties’ role as open and effective facilitators of civic participation in Canada.