is election day a holiday in canada

This is why election day is not a holiday in Canada

Much to the surprise of many Canadians, a federal election has been added to the books for Sept. 20 — as in five weeks from now — and voters have a lot of questions, including the perennial favourite: Is election day a holiday in Canada?

The short (and disappointing) answer is "no." Unlike Singapore, South Korea and Israel, Canada has not declared election days as public holidays.

Rather, federal elections are held on the third Monday of October, every four years — unless Parliament has been dissolved by the Governor General, as it was yesterday at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada's 44th general election will take place on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, after just 36 days of campaigning (the minimum length permitted by law for a campaign to run). Had an early election not been called, the next national vote would have been in October of 2023.

Whatever the date, the fact remains that federal elections are on weekdays and that your place of work is not mandated to close. Election day is not a statutory holiday anywhere in Canada.

More than half of Canadians indicated in a poll before 2019's federal election that they wished voting day were a holiday so that they could participate in the democratic process without having to plan around work or school. 

But would having the day off actually increase voter turnout, or would people just head off to the cottage for an unexpected long weekend?

"Having such a holiday would cheapen the the democratic process," wrote political theorist David Moscrop for the National Post in 2019. 

"With the exception of Remembrance Day, which is necessarily somber and respectful, our holidays mostly revolve around fireworks, shopping, vacations, family squabbles and long lines at the liquor store. This is not a climate that encourages people to research party policies and head to the polls."

There's also the issue of how much money major corporations might lose if forced to close down for an additional day, not to mention employees who rely on hourly wages at said jobs to make ends meet.

Arguments on both sides of the fence have been put forward often over the decades, but the fact remains that Canadians don't get a day off to vote every time an election is called.

The good news is that the Elections Canada Act requires employers to give their workers at least three consecutive hours off to vote when election day rolls around.

"By law, everyone who is eligible to vote must have three consecutive hours to cast their vote on election day. If your hours of work do not allow for three consecutive hours to vote, your employer must give you time off," reads the Elections Canada website.

"Your employer has the right to decide when during the work day to give this time off."

Employers cannot penalize an employee or deduct a portion of their pay for taking time off to vote. "An employee must be paid what he or she would have earned during the time allowed off for voting," notes Elections Canada.

There are, however, some exceptions to these rules:

"For employers in the transportation industry, the obligation to provide three consecutive hours off to vote does not apply if these four conditions are met," reads the federal government site.

"The employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water; the employee is employed outside of his or her polling division; the employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation; and the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service."

The bottom line is that, unless you work in transportation, you are almost definitely guaranteed the right to leave work and vote on this and all forthcoming election days — but, this time around at least, you won't be able to spend your entire Monday chilling at the beach.

Lead photo by

Elections Canada

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