First off I'd like to admit that I was honestly surprised that the current Parliament hasn't gone much above average number of by-elections. It certainly feels like they are occurring more often. Although at 13 by-elections with a year to go in this Parliament it is slightly above average for the preceding ten Parliaments. The last Parliament to have more by-elections was the 30th (1974-1979) with 25!
41st Parliament (2011-present) Summary
By-elections so far: 13 (9 completed, 4 pending)
Parliament's Term: 3 years and counting
Causes: Resignations 12, Deaths 1
Just for fun lets compare with the 1st Parliament (1867-72) to see what differences there were.
1st Parliament (1867-72) Summary
Parliament's Term: 5 years
Causes: Appointments 16, New riding 9, Deaths 9, To become a cabinet minister 6, Voided elections 1,
No election due to riots 1
The large number of appointments gives you an idea how much patronage was going on back then. I've included senate appointments in this total (although the technical terminology is 'being called to the Senate'). Regardless, of what you think of patronage appointments it is arguable that the ones made during this term kept Nova Scotia in the Dominion as one Anti-confederate was appointed to the Senate and Joseph Howe, a leader in the movement, joined the Conservative cabinet.
Nine by-elections also had to be held when Manitoba and British Columbia joined Confederation. Results were pretty evenly split between the Conservative and Liberal Parties with the addition of one independent rounding out the total.
Interestingly one of the nine deaths during the 1st Parliament was Thomas D'Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, the only federal politician ever to be assassinated. He was killed by a radical Irish Fenian after leaving Parliament late one night.
The six by-elections held because the MPs became cabinet ministers were due to an old rule that required you to run in an election if you were named to the cabinet. The theory being that voters should get to decide if they were ok with
their representative splitting time between the riding and their cabinet portfolio. In practice these by-elections were not usually contested. The practice was finally done away with in 1931 after a previous government was brought down because of them (part of the King-Byng Affair).
Conservative Barthélemy Pouliot's election was annulled and he stood in the subsequent by-election and won.
And finally there was one riding that did not hold an election in 1867 due to riots. As to what the riot was about I am not immediately able to find any information.
Hope you liked this look back at by-election history. In a short while I will post about Canada's unlucky 7th Parliament and its 83 by-elections.