Canadians stampeded to advance polls over the long weekend, exceeding turnout in the past election's early voting window by 71 per cent.
In total, some 3.6 million people cast ballots between Friday and Monday, according to Elections Canada – a four-day spread that was a day longer than the advance polling period in 2011. Still, the turnout surge is being hailed by observers as a promising sign of interest in this federal campaign, despite a decades-long trend toward voter apathy.
"It's a great story," said Peter Loewen, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "Overall, it's a big increase."
Elections Canada estimated that 850,000 people voted on Friday; 780,000 on Saturday; 767,000 on Sunday; and a full 1.2 million people on Monday.
Mr. Loewen said the spike in voting was likely driven by relatively good weather, the extra day of the long weekend and political passions flaring as families assembled for Thanksgiving.
The parties were also likely trying to drive partisans to the polls, so they could focus on winning over potential supporters in the campaign's home stretch, Mr. Loewen said.
This election is also unusually competitive, with three parties making a serious push to form government, though polls have shown the NDP in free fall since late September. The three-way race, coupled with the extraordinary length of this year's campaign – at 78 days, the longest in modern Canadian history – may have contributed to the eagerness of early voters.
Still, Mr. Loewen cautioned against expecting a breakthrough in voter turnout on Oct. 19. For one thing, he noted, advance voters would likely have voted on election day anyway. And historically in Canada, competitiveness doesn't have much impact on overall turnout.
Voter participation has been declining since the early 1990s, reaching a low point of 58.8 per cent in 2008, before rebounding slightly to 61.1 per cent in 2011. Mr. Loewen said this year's election was unlikely to witness a return to the glory days of more than 70-per-cent turnout.
"I think it may be high 60s if we're lucky," he said, before adding, "that's the kind of thing that political scientists say and then they're wrong."