Cheat Sheet on the Canadian Election (for my American Friends)
How the System Works
Canadians do not vote directly for our Prime Ministers the way you vote for Presidents; rather, Canadians elect representatives (called ‘Members of Parliament’ or ‘MPs’) for their local district (called a ‘riding’), to control one seat in the House of Commons (roughly analogous to Congress).
Each candidate in a riding represents one political party. When all of the votes are counted in every riding, the party that controls the most seats in the House of Commons forms the government and their leader becomes the Prime Minister.
A candidate wins the election in a particular riding if they get more votes than any one of the other candidates; note, that I didn’t say “the majority of the votes.” This system is called ‘First-Past-the-Post’ and it can create serious problems.
There are more than two parties here. Depending on where you live in the country, there could be as many as five parties with a serious shot at winning your seat. What this means is that it’s possible (common, in fact) for a candidate to be elected with most of the population voting for other parties.
There is one right-wing party and three or four left-wing or centre-left parties. This means that vote-splitting is a much bigger problem for left-wing voters than it is for right-wing voters.
Who the Players Are
Conservative Party of Canada (AKA ‘the CPC;’ ‘the Tories’) - Leader: Stephen Harper - Colour: Blue
The farthest right of the parties and the government for the last ten years. Created from a merger between the old Progressive Conservative (moderate right-wing) and Reform (far-right wing) parties. Roughly analogous to your Republican Party the mainstream wing of your Democratic Party.
New Democratic Party (AKA ‘the NDP;’ ‘Dippers’) - Leader: Thomas Mulcair - Colour: Orange
Formerly a perennially third-place socialist party but, since 2011, it has been the largest of the opposition parties. It now lists its politics as ‘social democratic.’ Roughly analogous to Bernie Sanders.
Liberal Party of Canada (AKA ‘the LPC;’ ‘Grits’) - Leader: Justin Trudeau - Colour: Red
A centre-left party. Once upon a time, the Liberals were so secure in their power that people called them ‘Canada’s Natural Governing Party,’ but they have since been humbled into third party status; now trying to recapture their former glory. Their leader is the eldest son of one Canada’s most popular and longest-serving Prime Ministers. Roughly analogous to the left-wing of your Democratic Party.
Green Party of Canada (AKA ‘GPC’) - Leader: Elizabeth May - Colour: Green (obviously!)
An Environmentalist party. Only really a force in a few specific ridings on the West Coast. Battling against the perception of being a one-issue party, they have staked out a policy platform somewhat to the left of the present position of the NDP. Roughly analogous to your Green Party, except somewhat more successful.
Their ultimate goal is separating the province of Quebec from the rest of the country and as such, they only run candidates in Quebec. Politically, they tend to be socialist on economic issues, but in recent years they have adopted right-wing policies on immigration and accommodation of religious minorities (especially Muslims and, to a lesser extent, Jews). For twenty years, they dominated Quebec politics, but were humiliated in the last election, when they lost all but four of their seats to the NDP. There is no analogue to Bloc in American politics.
What the Issues Are:
Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister for 10 years, and a widespread sentiment has developed that it may be time for a change. Thus, many have charged that this election is a “referendum on the Harper years”
As the price of oil has plummeted, Canada has become the only country in the G7 to lapse into recession. Opposition parties charge that Stephen Harper is to blame for developing Canada’s oil sector at the expense of every other sector in the economy. Moreover, the unemployment rate, particularly the youth unemployment rate, has yet to fully recover from the last recession in 2008, and the value of the Canadian dollar has fallen sharply.
The Harper Government has imposed severe cuts on spending in the wake of the recession in the name of balancing the budget. The opposition parties call for more focus to be placed on reducing income inequality by increasing taxes, either on the wealthiest 1% of Canadians or on corporations. The Liberals in particular have promised deficit spending on infrastructure to stimulate the economy.
In his zeal to develop Canada’s oil sector, Stephen Harper has all-but-eliminated Canada’s regulatory framework for approving resource-extraction projects, and also withdrawn Canada from the Kyoto accord to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions. Relatedly, he has also strictly curbed environmental oversight, forbidden scientists in the civil service from publishing research or talking publicly about environmental issues, and destroyed research data with findings that would be inconvenient to the oil and gas sector.
The Harper Government has introduced a series a new laws, which prominent critics have denounced as being anti-democratic and authoritarian. Most notably is Bill C-51, which essentially converts the Canadian Security Intelligence Service into a secret police force with limited oversight, tasked with disrupting extremely loosely-defined “terrorist activities,” and Bill C-24, which allows the government to strip any citizen eligible for citizenship in any other country of their Canadian citizenship if they are determined to be a “terrorist” (again, very broadly defined).
The election is taking place in the context of a major scandal involving Senators (especially Tory Senators appointed by Harper) illegitimately claiming expenses on the taxpayer dime.
One issue that has blown-up in the middle of the campaign has been that of immigration. The Harper government has made it more difficult for refugees to come to Canada during its time in office and refused to offer such refugees healthcare. In an unrelated incident, the issue of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear a face-veil (Niqab) while reading the oath of citizenship has become a wedge-issue in the hands of both the Tories and the BQ.
“Saturday, March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”
Some of us got talking (sorta) about some Canadian politicians.
It got me to thinking…
In my opinion, the guy on the left, Gilles Duceppe, was the last truly suave leader we had before he resigned (granted, he was leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois). Now that he’s gone, interim leader of the Liberal Party, Bob Rae (on the right), is the next best thing.