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Understanding voting

History of the right to vote in Québec

Summary

The right to vote in Quebec has evolved gradually over the years. Its history has been punctuated by many advances and a few setbacks. Here are the pivotal stages of its evolution.

In this section

1791 to 1792: The Constitutional Act and its repercussions

The Constitutional Act of 1791 granted the right to vote to certain landowners and tenants in Lower Canada. This right was not reserved for British subjects by birth, it also extended the right to vote to anyone who became a British subject when France ceded Canada to England in 1763. Persons convicted of serious crimes or treason did not have the right to vote.

English customary law did not apply in Lower Canada. For this reason, an elector’s right to vote was not subject to restrictions based on gender, religion or race, as was the case in other British North American colonies. For example, some women and Aboriginal people in Lower Canada who were either landowners or tenants had the right to vote.1

1867 to 1935: Wealth, capacity, and gender-related criteria

Between 1867 and 1935, electors were required to meet three criteria to vote.

  • They were required to have a certain amount of wealth: i.e., they had to own a building with a minimum value. If they were tenants, they had to have equivalent income.
  • They had to meet the criterion for capacity: the right to vote was reserved for categories of people who met certain educational or scholastic requirements (i.e., teachers, priests, etc.).
  • They had to be male.

Female landowners or tenants with sufficient income lost their right to vote in 1849. Similarly, some Aboriginal people in Quebec who had been able to vote during the 19th century lost this right following the adoption of an Act by the Legislative Assembly in 1915.2

As a result of these restrictions, only 14.8% of the total population could vote in the 1871 general election.

1936 to 1939: Lifting of restrictions on wealth and capacity

Starting in 1899, various amendments to the electoral laws gradually reduced the wealth requirement. In 1936, the Quebec government abolished all restrictions based on wealth and education. All men 21 years of age and older were now eligible to vote.

Women continue to be excluded from the electoral process, despite the suffrage movement which began at the end of the 19th century.

1940: Women’s suffrage

In other Canadian provinces, and federally, women gained the right to vote between 1916 and 1925. Quebec, however, lagged behind. It was not until the passage of the Act granting women the right to vote and to be eligible as candidates of April 11, 1940, that women’s electoral rights were recognized.

Thanks to this change, for the first time in Quebec’s political history, the number of people eligible to vote became greater than 50% of the total population. In the 1944 general elections, the percentage of people eligible to vote increased by 28.5%: 53% of the total population could vote.

1963: The voting age is changed to 18

In 1963, the minimum voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. This change further increased the percentage of people eligible to vote between the 1962 and 1966 general elections by 18%.

1969: Aboriginal people living on reserves

In 1969, another discriminatory ruling was removed with the passage of a bill that lifted the ban on voting for Aboriginal people living on reserves.3

Since 1978: Judges, prisoners, and voters outside Quebec

  • In 1978, judges were granted the right to vote.
  • As of 1979, incarcerated persons have been allowed to vote.
  • In 1989, the electoral rights of persons with intellectual disabilities were recognized.
  • Also in 1989, provisions were adopted to allow electors temporarily residing outside Quebec to exercise their right to vote by mail.

  1. ÉLECTIONS QUÉBEC. Right of Québec women to vote and to stand for office.; ELECTIONS CANADA. A History of the Vote in Canada.
  2. S. Q. 1915, 5 Geo. V, c. 17, in DIRECTOR GENERAL OF ELECTIONS. Cinquante ans au cœur de la démocratie : Le Directeur général des élections et l’évolution de la législation électorale de 1945 à 1995, 1996, p. 3 (in French only).
  3. L. Q. 1969, c. 13, a. 1, in DIRECTOR GENERAL OF ELECTIONS. Cinquante ans au cœur de la démocratie : Le Directeur général des élections et l’évolution de la législation électorale de 1945 à 1995, 1996, p. 8 (in French only).

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