The Cost of the 2021 Canadian Elections

Posted on Friday 03 September 2021


Cost of 2021 Canadian Elections

Election season comes with a high price tag. From sponsorships to campaign trails, there is no shortage of costs to prime minister candidates. But the federal government has their own costs to consider, too.

The government needs to set up election sites, voting booths, print mail-in ballots, and make sure that there’s enough advertising to direct citizens to polling places. Beyond that, they’ll also need to make sure that all the voting sites are properly staffed and stocked with supplies and voting booths.

From election sites to election attendants, there are plenty of costs that fall upon the federal government. This year, Canada is set to make history with its most expensive election season yet.

In 2019, federal election costs came in around $502 million. In 2021, however, estimated costs will rise to $608 million, an increase of more than $100 million. That means that when you vote on September 20th, you’ll be participating in the most expensive election in Canadian history!

If you’re interested in learning more about where your tax dollars are going this year, keep reading: we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the costs of the 2021 Canadian elections. Some people say these guys are over spending but we'll leave that to your judgement.

Why do elections cost so much?

If you’re like most Canadians, you probably haven’t spent much time researching how much a general election typically costs. (Don’t worry, we’re right there with you!) The good news is that this information is easy to find: it’s publicly available online and accessible free of charge.

Elections Canada publishes updates on election costs from one year to the next. To understand how money will get spent for the 2021 election, let’s take a look at the overall costs of the 2019 election cycle. Here’s the breakdown according to Elections Canada:

  • In 2019, the total election cost was $502 million.
  • With more than 27.3 voters, the overall cost is about $18.35 for each registered voter.
  • $438 million went to recruiting, training, and hiring more than 232,000 election workers; printing ballots; leasing voting spaces; election materials; communication campaigns, and to IT equipment.
  • $64.4 million went to reimbursing election expenses to parties and candidates.

Why would political parties and candidates get reimbursed? Well, not everyone is eligible for reimbursement, so this part can get a little tricky. Candidates can only get reimbursed if they are elected, or if they get a minimum of 10 percent of votes. Registered parties, however, only need to get 2 percent of national votes (or 5 percent of votes for endorsed candidates in electoral districts).

Once you factor in variables like changing availability of voting space and how many election workers are needed, there’s certainly a lot of margin for costs to rise and fall within any given election cycle.

Why are the Canadian elections so expensive this year?

The biggest factor in rising costs for 2021 is – not surprisingly – the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, the federal government needs to follow safety measures to ensure that people are kept safe and healthy while voting. That means having things like:

  • Providing masks for in-person voters (masks will be required or recommended based on territorial or provincial regulations).
  • Requiring election workers, candidates, and representatives of candidates to wear a mask at all times when in polling sites.
  • Face shields and other types of personal protective equipment will be available for election workers.
  • Hand sanitizing stations at the entrances and exits of all polling sites.
  • Plexiglass barriers between election workers and voters.
  • Sanitizing equipment to keep door handles, desk surfaces, and other common areas clean throughout the day
  • Single-use pencils and large-grip pencils
  • Space between voting booths to provide room for social distancing

While it won’t be mandatory for polling workers to be vaccinated, there will be plenty of additional measures taken to ensure that Canadians feel safe and secure voting in-person. As mentioned in the list above, this includes personal protective equipment, plexiglass barriers, and social distancing.

But there’s another cost to consider that is uniquely higher this year: mail-in ballots. In total, the 2021 election is projected to utilize anywhere between 2 to 3 million mail-in ballots. Compared to only 50,000 mail-in ballots during the 2019 voting season, that’s a huge increase!

The Canadian government will not only need to print and distribute millions of ballots, but they’ll also need to make sure they have the workforce on hand to count and record each vote. It could take days for all votes to be counted (even with thousands of workers), and that payroll can certainly take a toll on the overall election budget. Plus re-evaluating policies also cost time which equates to money. Whether they are discussing new car insurance laws or anything else.

Why is the election happening now?

With a fourth wave of Covid-19 spreading across Canada, there’s a good deal of skepticism over whether now is really the right time to hold an election. But with the 43rd Parliament officially dissolved, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for an earlier election in the hopes of gathering a Liberal Party majority to help rebuild the country after the pandemic.

It’s a bold move, but one that could pay off huge for the Liberal Party. Having majority rule in Parliament will make it much easier to pass party-led bills, particularly bills that are designed to support post-pandemic growth and restructuring.

But this election is going to be a closely contested one. According to analyst Eric Grenier, at the time of writing, the Conservatives had a 33.8 percent chance of winning the majority of seats, while the Liberals were at a 31.2 percent chance.

With two major parties neck-in-neck, the 2021 elections are gearing up to be not only the most expensive we’ve seen yet, but they’ll also be anything but boring!