Election Day Set for October 19th
Canadian reformers are hoping that this year will be Canada’s “last unfair election.”
In the U.S., we hold regular elections for Congress once every two years. In Canada, as in many other countries, elections can happen anytime their parliament is dissolved. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially requested the dissolution of the 41st Parliament, which was subsequently accepted by Canada’s head of state. Now, what will be one of the longest federal election campaigns in the country’s history, begins.
Candidates will be running for 338 seats in the House of Commons -- with 30 new seats created in response to the 2011 census. Only the House of Commons is up for election in October. The Canadian Senate is not actually elected but appointed by the Governor-General based on the advice of the Prime Minister. As specified in the Canadian Constitution, the House of Commons is the dominant legislative chamber, with the appointed Senate rarely defying its will.
Canada, like the U.S., uses a winner-take-all election system with single-winner districts. In this system, the candidate who receives the most votes in each of the 338 districts (or ridings as they’re called) wins office. In Canada’s multi-party system, the percentage of votes needed to win is often low, 30% - 40%, because the vote is split between three or four parties.
While the long campaign is likely to favor the better-funded, right of center Conservative Party, a recent poll (based on how people would vote if the election were held today) suggests a neck-and-neck race with the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Conservatives tied with 127 seats each. In this 338 seat race, 170 are needed to form a majority government. If no party achieves 170 seats, either the largest party in parliament will have to form a minority government, or multiple parties will have to come together to form a ruling coalition.
Shifting Away from Winner-Take-All
One of the most remarkable aspects of this year’s election is the fact that, for the first time in Canadian history, three of the four opposition parties have vowed to make 2015 the last election in which winner-take-all will be used in Canadian federal elections, should they win or form a coalition government. This includes the two major opposition parties, the NDP and the Liberal Party, who both plan to make election reform a large part of their campaign. These calls are made in the context of an electoral system that often delivers control of the government to a party that did not win a majority of votes. Most recently, the 2011 Federal Election caused outrage because the incumbent Conservative Party won a majority government, winning 54% of the seats, with only 40% of the popular vote.
This should be an absolutely riveting, though drawn-out election, and if you don’t have interest in the GOP’s first debate this Thursday the 6th of August, you can catch the first 2015 Canadian federal election debate, featuring the country’s top four national parties the same night. Keep an eye-out for more news on Canada’s new push for representative government!