Canadian Communists welcome court decision lifting election restrictions
Communist Party of Canada members at a demonstration in Toronto. | People's Voice

TORONTO—The Communist Party of Canada has welcomed a court ruling which nullifies the requirement that candidates pay a $1,000 financial deposit to run in federal elections. The case was launched by Kieran Szuchewycz in November 2015, shortly after the most recent federal election. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench found that the deposit requirement violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is considering an appeal, it appears that the ruling may have widespread implications for Canadian electoral laws, removing a financial barrier which restricted the ability of independents and smaller parties to take part in elections.

Szuchewycz had unsuccessfully attempted to run as an independent candidate in former PM Stephen Harper’s riding (electoral district) of Calgary Heritage. His case cited several arguments, two of which were rejected by Justice Avril Inglis, who upheld the Elections Canada requirement to submit 100 signatures of eligible voters resident in the riding as well as the $1,000 deposit.

On that point, Inglis declared the $1,000 deposit requirement “is of no force and effect.” Szuchewycz had argued that while the deposit was refundable to candidates who meet other reporting obligations, it constitutes a wealth test deterring poor and marginalized people from becoming candidates.

Election deposits have been required since 1874, with the aim of preventing so-called “frivolous” candidates from ballot status. Deposits were half refundable until 2000, when they were made fully refundable as part of the ruling in the Figueroa case. Named for the leader of the Communist Party of Canada at the time, that historic case was a major victory over arbitrary Election Act rules which hindered smaller parties and independents.

The Supreme Court and an Ontario Court had both previously found constitutional issues with deposit requirements. In the Ontario case, a justice had argued, based on the Ontario elections law, that “a right is limited if one must pay $1,000 before one can exercise it.”

In the wake of the Alberta ruling, acting chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault stated Nov. 8 that the deposit requirement provision will no longer be applied by Elections Canada “effective immediately.” That could still change if the government made a successful appeal, but this appears unlikely.

Paul Cavalluzzo of Cavalluzzo Shilton McIntyre Cornish LLP, who practices constitutional and electoral law, said the decision was “fair and not particularly surprising.”

“The judge found there are less intrusive or more proportional ways to ensure a candidate is serious and protect the integrity of the electoral system,” he said. “Obviously she felt by demanding the deposit it is a disincentive for people with impecunious means to run for office.”

He also noted that, “If you’re wealthy, you can afford the $1,000 and still be a frivolous candidate…. The focus should be on encouraging people to run for office, and if you impose this for people who can’t afford it that shouldn’t be lawful.”

Responding to the ruling, the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Canada issued a statement saying:

“We welcome the ruling in the Szuchewycz case as another important victory over the historic application of unfair and undemocratic restrictions against electoral rights in this country. By its very nature, any requirement for a financial deposit targets working class and low-income people who seek to become candidates in elections.

“The exorbitant requirement for a $1,000 deposit was a significant barrier for independents, and particularly for smaller parties which rely on the support of their members rather than donations from wealthy individuals and corporations.”


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People’s Voice
People’s Voice

Canada's English-language socialist newspaper, in the tradition of The Worker, Canadian Tribune and Pacific Tribune. Publishing 20 issues per year.

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