A crash course on Canadian politics

With the federal election coming up on October 21, Canadians will head to the polls to elect a new government. But how does Canadian governance work?

According to Dr. Richard Johnston, professor of political science at UBC, Canada keeps things simple when it comes to elections.

“The basic presumption is that the party with the largest number of members elected gets the chance to govern,” he said.

In Canada, the form of government is based on the British parliamentary system, but — naturally — it’s called the Canadian parliamentary system instead.

It differs from the system of government in the US in that a party is mandated to govern once they secure a majority, whereas the US has three separate branches that must work together to govern.

“In the specifically British/Canadian legislature, as supposed to American, is that because it’s a parliamentary system, the moral right to govern rests on the ability [for one party] to secure a majority,” said Johnston.

The Canadian national parliament is split into two chambers: The House of Commons and the Senate.

The House of Commons is made up of 338 Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected every four years in a federal election.

The Senate is comprised of 105 senators appointed by the Prime Minister when the need arises. Senators cannot be fired and serve until they retire or turn 75.

“[The Senate] is still here because it’s hard to get rid of,” said Johnston. “It exists as part of [the British] tradition.” Also the Queen of England is Canada’s monarch but does not hold any power in the government and is represented by the Governor General instead.

In the 2019 election, 338 MPs will be elected — so why 338?

Canada is divided geographically into 338 sections called ridings. In each riding, one representative from each party will campaign in the hopes of being elected as an MP. This means that when you vote, you are not voting for the Prime Minister, but rather voting for the individual responsible for your riding.

In Canada, our MPs are elected using the plurality formula. This means that the winner is the person who gets more votes than anyone else, not more votes than all the votes combined.

“We just put an ‘x’ in the box, count the ballots and whoever gets the most ‘x’s wins,” Johnston explained.

When all 338 MPs have been elected, the party with the most elected MPs becomes the Government, with the leader of that party becoming Canada’s Prime Minister. The second most represented party becomes the Official Opposition and the rest of the parties don’t get fancy titles.

This system allows for a diversity of ideas within the House of Commons, which is beneficial not only because there are a variety of perspectives provided on every issue, but also because one party is not able to hold all the power.

On the other hand, there can be a minority government, meaning the government party holds less than 50 per cent of the seats within the house. Due to the governing party’s lack of dominance, they have to negotiate with the other parties to gain votes. This can sometimes be inefficient, making it difficult to get any policies passed.

When asked if he had any advice for first-time voters, Johnston said, “Just vote for the party you like the best.”