The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada has announced the results of the annual election of six regional Baha’i Councils in Canada. The Councils serve the Atlantic area, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. They represent an intermediary level in the administration of Baha’i communities in Canada, between the National Assembly and Local Spiritual Assemblies.
As the national governing council, the National Spiritual Assembly is the head of the Baha’i Faith in Canada as there are no Baha’i clergy or ecclesiastical bodies. The Baha’i Regional Councils’ primary responsibilities centre on the work to accomplish the Five Year Plan, 2016-21, of the Baha’i world community. That Plan focuses on advancing the devotional character of Baha’i community life, multiplying efforts to provide for moral and spiritual education of children, and moral empowerment of youth - activities that open to all, regardless of religious or non-religious background. The Plan also aims to increase participation in other spiritual and moral education projects that aim to contribute to the betterment of both society and the individual. The Five Year Plan was designed by the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Baha’i Faith, and provides a framework for Baha’i community life around the world.
Those confirmed as members to the Baha’i Regional Councils by the National Assembly are identified in elections in which members of Baha’i Local Spiritual Assemblies participate. These local governing councils of Baha’i communities are established in more than 210 localities across Canada. Some 1,526 out of 1,872 members of Local Assemblies cast ballots in the election, a participation rate of more than 80%.
The Baha’i election reflects a unique democratic process in which there are no nominations of candidates, and no campaigning. In the case of the Baha’i regional election, the members of Local Assemblies write down in confidence the names of those they consider most suitable to serve on the Council in their region of the country. The names of those receiving the most votes in the confidential ballots of all voters are then confirmed by the National Assembly which supervises the election process in each region.
A similar electoral process takes place at the local and national levels in the Baha’i community every year in April. At the local level every adult member of the community is eligible to participate. He or she is encouraged to write down the names of nine adult believers whom the individual voter feels best meets the criteria that are appropriate for someone who will serve the interests of the community on the local governing council. Again, the ballots and voting decisions of each voter are entirely confidential and discussion of names, as takes place in an election campaign or in a nomination process, is prohibited. Voters write down the nine names of those they personally consider, through their own familiarity with the service of such individuals in the community that they consider best suited to membership on what are the authoritative agencies of the Baha’i community. Each elector is urged to consider the qualities of individuals who best combine loyalty, devotion, experience, a well-trained mind, and other qualities of moral character, wisdom, and experience whom each voter decides is well suited to the demanding service of helping to guide and administer the community.
The nature of the administration of the Baha’i community rests on the authority of sacred Baha’i scripture and teachings. The guidance that instituted democratically elected institutions, rather than clergy, is found in the sacred Baha’i Writings that were revealed by the three Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith: The Bab, Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Those Writings set out the laws and precepts that guide the conduct of Baha’i individuals, communities and institutions.
The election of Regional Baha’i Councils, with a mandate and jurisdiction lying between the local Assemblies and the National Assembly, is a recent development in the Baha’i worldwide community. Canada was one of the earliest countries to see the emergence of Baha’i Regional Councils more than a decade ago, though the three Territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not yet have regional councils. There are, however, Local Spiritual Assemblies in each of the Territories’ capitals. There were Local Baha’i Assemblies in Canada as early as the 1920s, and the National Assembly of Canada and the United States, a joint body, was first elected in 1925. The two countries formed their own distinct National Spiritual Assemblies in 1948, with Canada’s National Assembly incorporated by an Act of the Canadian Parliament in 1949. There have been Baha’i families in Canada since 1902, when May and William Sutherland Maxwell, who had met the Baha’i Faith in Paris in the late 1890s, established their home in Montreal. The community today numbers more than 35,000.