Canadian Election Explained…

Since there isn’t a ton of US based third party news right now, but Canada is quite active, you’ll probably be seeing a little more coverage than usual of Canada. Their elections are only a few weeks away and several parties (specifically the Greens) are hoping to have break-out performances.

To help everyone brush up on the basics of the Canadian system, here’s an interesting article from Bloomberg. Take note of the section on “media” and how free advertising is allocated out:

Canada’s governing Liberal Party was toppled yesterday by opposition parties. Prime Minister Paul Martin today asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and chose Jan. 23 as the date of the next election. Following are facts and figures about what happens next.

Constituencies: Like other former British colonies including Australia and New Zealand, Canada has a parliamentary system modeled after the U.K. Parliament. Canada is divided into 308 electoral constituencies, or ridings. Seven seats were added in 2003 to reflect changes in population after the 2001 census. Election winners will sit in the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament. The prime minister is the head of the leading party in Parliament. Canada doesn’t have a directly elected leader like the president in the U.S. or in France.

Parties: There are four parties with seats in Parliament: the governing Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party. Elections Canada’s Web site lists eight more registered parties, which promote causes such as cannabis decriminalization, the environment or communism.

Campaign: Elections are triggered when the prime minister chooses or when he loses the confidence of Parliament. By convention, the prime minister calls an election in the fourth year of his mandate, even if he is officially elected for five years. The Governor General, the Queen’s symbolic representative in Canada, dissolves Parliament and an election date is set at least 36 days thereafter. Elections are traditionally held on Mondays, unless there is a holiday, in which case they are held on the following Tuesday.

Winners: Canada uses a system known as ``first past the post.’’ The candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins. If the leading candidates are separated by less than one one- thousandth of the total vote, a judicial recount is triggered. There were six judicial recounts in the 2004 election. If two candidates have the same number of votes after the judicial recount, a by-election is set up.

Government: If one party wins an outright majority in the Commons, 155 seats or more, it forms the government. If no party has a majority, the previous governing party can attempt to govern with the support of other parties. If it can’t, the party with the most seats will form the government. The ruling Liberals won 135 seats in the June 2004 election, the Conservatives got 99, the Bloc Quebecois, 54, and the NDP, 19.

Minority Governments: A government lacking a majority, like the incumbent Liberal Party, must get support from other parties to get bills passed. While some parties have collaborated on a continuing basis, such as the Liberals and the NDP in the 1970s, historically, there have been no formal coalitions in Canada. A minority government can be toppled by opposition parties on so- called confidence votes: the speech of the throne, in which the prime minister details his plans for the coming year, the budget, or any other bill deemed to be of confidence by the government. Opposition parties can also bring forward no-confidence motions periodically. Of the nine minority governments Canada has had, only one lasted to the mid-point of its five-year electoral mandate. The last minority government, before the current one, was in 1979 and fell after nine months.

Popular Vote: Because of Canada’s first-past-the-post system, a party doesn’t need to win the popular vote to win an election. The Progressive Conservative Party won the most seats in the 1979 election while losing the popular vote. The Liberal Party won a majority of seats in 1997 while receiving 38.5 percent of the popular vote, the lowest level since 1867 for a majority government. Current polls suggest there might be a second consecutive minority government (see the Polls section).

Spending Limits and Financing: The chief electoral officer determines the spending limits for each party and candidate. Parties that had candidates standing for election in each electoral district could spend as much as C$17.5 million ($14.7 million) in the June 2004 election, C$4.8 million more than the campaign spending limit in 2000. The cap is set using a formula approved by Parliament. Parties also will receive public funding from the government in proportion to the number of votes they got in the last election. Individuals can contribute a maximum of C$5,200 to candidates of one party, while unions, companies and other entities can give a maximum of C$1,000.

Who Can Stand for Election: Canadian citizens over the age of 18 on the day of the vote. Among those barred from standing for Parliament are: members of a provincial or territorial legislature, prisoners, police officers, and federally appointed judges. Requirements are established by the ``Canada Elections Act,’’ the latest version of which was adopted in May 2000.

The Closest Vote: The closest election in 2004 was in the Western Arctic constituency in the Northwest Territories, where Liberal Ethel Blondin-Andrew won by 53 votes out of 13,478 ballots. She defeated Dennis Bevington, a candidate for the New Democratic Party. There have been two tied votes in modern times, in 1896 and 1963. During the same period, 11 ridings have been won by a majority of one vote, the most recent in 1930.

Martin’s Seat: The prime minister’s Lasalle-Emard constituency in Montreal re-elected him in 2004 with a majority of 19,826, or 43 percent. If he loses his seat, Martin can remain in office as long as his party has sufficient support in Parliament. Custom would require Martin to win a seat promptly.

Turnout: The Electoral Commission said 60.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2004, the lowest level in Canada’s history.

Advance and Special Voting: Canadian voters who aren’t available to vote on election day can vote in advance. In June 2004, 1,248,469, or 9.2 percent of all Canadian voters, voted this way, according to Elections Canada. Canadians living abroad, members of the Canadian armed forces and prisoners can vote using special procedures. In 2004, 246,011 votes were cast using special voting rules, or 1.8 percent of the vote.

The Ballots: Canada uses a uniform paper ballot across the country. Voters mark their choice by an `X’ or a `+.’

The Media: Broadcasters must make a set amount of advertising available to political parties, allocated to each party based on the number of votes. In the 2004 election, a total of 390 minutes from each broadcaster was distributed to the parties. The Liberal Party received the most, 105 minutes, and the Libertarian Party the least, 11 minutes. Canada prohibits the broadcast of political advertising or the publication of opinion polls on election day.

The Betting: A contract favoring the Liberals to win the most seats in an election traded at 71, according to Dublin-based online betting company TradeSports Exchange Limited. A winning contract pays 100. A contract favoring the Conservatives traded at 26.5.

The Polls: Following is a roundup of recent Canadian opinion polls showing support for the parties in percentages. The table shows the polling company and the news organization that commissioned a survey, as well as the date it was published.

Date Pollster/Paper Liberal Conservative NDP Bloc

% % % % Nov. 29 Strategic/Globe 35 29 17 14 Nov. 26 Ekos/Toronto Star 39 29 17 11 Nov. 26 Ipsos-Reird/CanWest 34 30 16 15 Nov. 12 Ekos/Toronto Star 33 28 21 13 Nov. 12 Ipsos-Reid/CanWest 34 28 19 14 Nov. 4 Ipsos-Reid/CanWest 31 30 19 13 Oct. 3 Ipsos-Reid/CanWest 37 27 17 14 Sept. 19 Leger/CP 40 24 15 13 Aug. 22 Ipsos-Reid/CanWest 36 28 18 11 May 4 SES/CPAC 36 30 18 12 April 29 GPC/CP 27 25 11 11 April 18 SES/CPAC 32 38 15 12 April 9 Ekos/Toronto Star 25 36 21 13 April 6 Environics 38 30 19 11

2004 Election 37 30 16 12

2 Responses to “Canadian Election Explained…”

  1. T. Knight Says:

    Thank you for an accurate article on Canadian politics. Refreshing from our neighbours to the South to take an interest in a very different sort of political system.

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