How long is too long? Most Canadians say elected officials should be subject to term limits

by David Korzinski | April 17, 2019 7:30 pm

Two terms of four years is the most preferred option for all offices

April 17, 2019 – U.S. President Donald Trump will run for re-election next year, but as U.S. law stands today, he won’t be eligible to run again in 2024.

No such limitation exists in Canada. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is far from a sure bet[1] for re-election later this year, nothing would prevent him from seeking as party leader and MP a hypothetical third mandate, or fourth, or fifth.

Nevertheless, some Canadian officials[2] – including the late former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice[3] – have argued for the introduction of term limits in Canada.

Now, a new public opinion poll from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute suggests that many Canadians would like to change this. More than half (54%) say term limits for elected politicians are necessary.

If term limits were imposed, a restriction of two four-year terms is the most popular. Nearly half of all respondents say people who are sworn in as prime ministers and provincial premiers should serve no longer than eight total years in those roles.

More Key Findings:


About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.




Most say term limits are necessary

Numerous arguments have been made[4] in favour and against term limits in Canada’s parliamentary system. This survey presented the following summaries of the opposing sides in this debate:

Some people say term limits for elected politicians are not necessary. They argue that having no term limits allows elected politicians to spend more time learning about their job, which creates better long-term connections between them and their constituents.

Other people say term limits are necessary. They argue term limits prevent politicians from building up too much power and financial support that new challengers do not have. They say that turnover is good for democracy because new voices can bring new ideas.

Asked to pick a side in this argument, Canadians mostly side with supporters of term limits: 54 per cent say such rules are necessary, while 29 per cent say they are unnecessary (the remaining 17% are uncertain). This preference can be seen across every region of the country:

The desire for term limits also transcends age and gender lines, though it’s notable that younger men are only slightly more likely to say term limits are necessary than unnecessary, while older men feel this way by a much wider margin:

Those with university degrees are more divided on this question – though they still lean toward term limits being worthwhile. Those with lower levels of formal education lean more strongly toward the view that term limits are necessary.

Political partisanship appears to be more heavily correlated with views on this question than demographic factors. Those open to voting for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the next election are more likely to say term limits are unnecessary (46%) than necessary (39%). Potential supporters of the opposition Conservative and New Democratic parties lean in the opposition direction, with those in the Conservative sphere doing so more strongly (*for a detailed explanation of political spheres, see notes on methodology at the end of this release).

Preferred limit is two terms

Term limits may not be making their way to Canadian legislatures any time soon, but if they did, the clear preference among the Canadian public is for a two-term limit.

Nearly half of respondents (48%) say those sworn in as premiers should be limited to two terms, and a similar number (46%) say this should be the limit for those serving as prime ministers as well.

Canadians are more divided on the length of time to which they would limit the service of MPs and MLAs, though eight years is still the most popular choice:

This question generates an unusual pattern in responses by age and gender.

Specifically, women 35 and older are considerably more likely than any other age-gender cohort to say each office should be limited to just one term, while men under 35 are more likely than other groups to say each office should have a limit of 3 terms or longer (see comprehensive tables for greater detail[5]).


Should a popular politician be able to run again after a term off?

Canadians’ preference for term limits doesn’t seem to translate into a lifetime ban from office for those who have already served the maximum amount of time.

Most (54%) believe that a politician who has already served a full term and left office because of term limits should be allowed to run for the same office again after taking some time off from the job.

This finding is especially notable because it reflects support not only from those who think term limits are unnecessary, but also from those who think they are necessary.

Nearly half of those who feel term limits are necessary say politicians who have already reached those limits once should be able to come back in the future after a term off:

Political Sphere Methodology

Rather than rely on respondents’ potentially faded memories regarding their vote in the 2015 federal election, ARI researchers constructed a measure of political partisanship based on willingness to vote for the main federal parties in a future election under their current leaders.

The question specifically asked respondents how likely they would be to vote for “The Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau,” “The Conservative Party led by Andrew Scheer,” and “The New Democratic Party led by Jagmeet Singh” in a future election. The response options were “definitely support” the party and leader in question, “certainly consider” them, “maybe consider” them, and “definitely not even consider” them.

Respondents choosing either of the first two options (definitely support or certainly consider) are considered to be a party’s “sphere.” They represent potential supporters of that party, not necessarily decided voters.

It should be noted that the categories are not mutually exclusive. Respondents were asked to give an opinion on each of the main parties and had the option to say they would “certainly consider” each one.

Thus, many respondents may appear in the spheres of multiple parties.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here[6].

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology[7]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[8]


Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693[9] @shachikurl

Ian Holliday, Research Associate: 604.442.3312[10]

  1. far from a sure bet:
  2. some Canadian officials:
  3. former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice:
  4. Numerous arguments have been made:
  5. see comprehensive tables for greater detail:
  6. click here:
  7. Click here for the full report including tables and methodology:
  8. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:

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