The Snarky Guide for Americans to the Canadian Election
Canada just started having a federal election and it will be over before you select a Democratic Candidate
The Government of Canada was just dissolved by the Queen of England! On September 11th, when you were sensibly paying attention to 9/11 memorials and Trump hosting/not-hosting the Taliban at Camp David. On October 21st — of this year! — we’ll be going to the polls to elect our new government. You know that long, drawn out process you’ve been living through since sometime last year and will be suffering through until November 2020? Well, we do it in six weeks.
In case you are wondering who is going to win and just want the tl’dr, the Liberal Party is about 85% likely to form the Government of Canada with Justin Trudeau returning as Prime Minister. That takes some explaining. I’ll compare and contrast to the US system so you won’t get too bored. Also, I’ll be snarky here and there. Remember, all your comedians are actually Canadians, so we know how to entertain you so that you don’t hurt us, and will occasionally give us money.
First, we have electoral districts, but we call them ridings. There are 338 of them.
Second, we have no gerrymandering of those districts. The last conservative government formed an independent commission to redraw districts between federal elections based on transparent rules. That’s nice, you guys should do that too.
Third, we have a parliamentary democracy with a hint of left over monarchy. That means we elect members of parliament for each of the districts. In general in Canada, we vote for a lot fewer governmental roles, and thankfully that includes judges, prosecutors and police chiefs. That’s nice, and you guys should do that too.
Fourth, we have a Senate that’s a chamber of drunken second thought, but they are appointed, not elected. They aren’t an equal house with separate responsibilities like the US model. That’s just different, your model is fine there too, and probably better.
Fifth, that means we don’t vote for our Prime Minister as you do for your President. In general, the party with the most seats forms the government, and whoever is the leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister. We have our version of the primaries where the leaders get selected, but after that it’s all about winning districts. There is no Electoral College where all the ridings in a province are assigned to one side or the other. However the riding votes is counted by itself. That’s nice, and you guys should do that too.
Right now, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is a second-generation PM, in that his Dad was PM back in the 1960s and 1970s. You might have seen the current Trudeau on the cover of fashion magazines looking handsome and buff, possibly with the impossibly attractive woman and children that round out his family. You might also have seen pictures of Melania and Ivanka apparently drooling over someone tall and dark-haired; that would be Trudeau too. Also, he boxes, white-water canoes, and loves to photobomb groups while out jogging in whatever country he’s in. He’s also a lot more intelligent, disciplined and effective than most people realize, but dazzling teeth and hair are a really good disguise.
Sixth, we have a bunch of parties that end up with some seats in Parliament. Most of the time the Conservative Party of Canada or the Liberal Party of Canada are running things. Then the New Democratic Party (NDP) typically has a 6–50 seats, the Green Party has 1–2 and the Bloc Quebecois has 10–15.
Seventh, our politics is a lot more left leaning than US politics. Our Conservative Party is a lot like your Democratic Party circa 2008, but with a white insurance saleman as the leader not Barack Obama, and similar fairly right-of-center policies. See this Manifesto Project chart to understand what I mean. Our Liberal Party is positioned a lot more like Clinton’s 2016 Democratic campaign as heavily influenced by Bernie Sanders, pretty centrist with a left-leaning tinge by western democratic standards. Thanks to the Democratic Party for realizing that the USA was way out of whack and swinging back to the center, by the way. We like that.
To really confuse you, the Bloc Quebecois is a federal party that elects politicians to the federal government, but its premise for existing is to separate Quebec from Canada. Yeah, we scratch our heads too. The NDP used to be much more left leaning and an ideological protest vote party, but they are just a left over that hasn’t realized it’s dead and been replaced by the Green Party yet. That party is the current ideologically pure protest vote party. Note that the primary purpose of the NDP and Green Party, which are incredibly more likely to support Liberal Party policies, is to give elections to the Conservatives by splitting the vote.
Finally, we also have a new party that’s been formed for this election by a jawline with a Libertarian attached, the People’s Party of Canada. It’s a far-right, racist, free-market ideology, climate-change denying populist party that’s hard to distinguish from the Republican Party in the USA except that it’s not as beholden to young Earth Creationists (the Canadians who deny evolution exists are in the Conservative Party). It has no chance of ever forming a government, never mind being an influence on anything. That’s nice, and you should consider doing that to your Republican Party until they realize it’s the 21st Century.
Eighth, our Conservative Party is a western-only party at present. It’s going to win the vast majority of ridings in two western provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, in large part because they still hate stuff Trudeau’s Dad did 40 years ago. Yes, they are stuck in the 20th Century with the Republicans, so they have that much in common. Also, they are firmly tied to oil and gas and while they pretend that they accept climate change, their campaign’s primary promise is to eliminate action on climate change. But those aren’t the provinces with the most ridings, so it’s irrelevant but deeply annoying to them that having an absurd percentage of the popular vote there doesn’t translate to the rest of Canada wanting anything to do with them.
Ninth, the hint of monarchy shows up now. The basic rule is that the party with the most elected members of parliament is asked to form the government by our Governor General. They pretend to be the representative of the Queen of England, but are appointed by whichever party is in power when their term ends. (By the way, it was actually the governor general that dissolved parliament after Trudeau asked her politely.) The Queen has nothing do to with it really, but she is on some of our currency and we fuss over the Royals when they tour the provinces.
Tenth, that rule about who forms the government is flexible. Majority of seats, 170+, easy. Minority of seats, <170, then they have to convince the governor general that they can form a stable government with support of other parties for key votes, confidence votes, for example budgets. If they can’t convince the governor general that they can form a stable government, then the GG has the option of offering the government to the party with fewer seats but a better coalition.
Eleventh, that all means that that the Liberals are extremely likely to form the next government with Justin Trudeau continuing as Prime Minister. We have something a lot like 538 up here, but it’s call 338Canada because of the number of ridings and because we’re modest that way. Also, the person who runs it isn’t a celebrity, also due to modesty, one assumes.
What does 338Canada’s seat projection show us? First, the margin of error is big. While the seat projection for the Liberals puts them a hair under the majority of 170 seats, that only turns into an ~52% chance of having a majority right now. They are about 70% likely to have the most seats.
There’s actually a chance of the Conservatives gaining the most seats, about 31% right now. But that’s immaterial, because even with the most seats but not a majority, they won’t be able to convince the governor general that they can form a stable party. To do that, they’d need all of the other parties that aren’t the Liberal Party commit to supporting them come hell or high water, and none of them will except maybe the far-right racist party, and the jawline hates the insurance salesman. The NDP are seriously ideologically opposed to the Conservatives, the Greens aren’t as averse but would require the Conservatives to be Green and that ain’t happening, and the Bloc Quebecois would vote against them just to see the country burn.
And then that hint of monarchy shows up again. If the Conservatives get the most seats but not a majority, the governor general will be hard pressed to ask them to form the government, but would much more likely ask the Liberals to keep governing with the support of the NDP and the Greens, who are much more ideologically aligned, and also present in the 21st Century regarding little things like climate change.
So the only path to the Conservatives holding power, and their insurance salesman leader — seriously, his only job before politics was insurance — , forming the government of Canada is if they get a majority. And they are only about 15% likely to have that happen now. That will piss them off, but a large majority of Canadians don’t want them, so they can be pissed off until they stop sulking and join the 21st Century with the rest of us. Time out until then.