The other night Canadians were reminded, in what is already said to be a historic election, that (sometimes) democracy actually works. In order for you to understand what made that night historic, you need to have a basic understanding of Canadian politics.
Canadian politics can be confusing, especially for my American friends just over the border from me. Our government is essentially a “British Government” style. In fact our Head of State is the Queen of England (still today, albeit mostly for symbolic purposes). We don’t vote for a person (like a President), we vote for a party and the leader of that party becomes our Prime Minister (PM). Actually it gets confusing because we vote for the person running in our “district” who represents a particular party. This is frustrating because you may not like the individual who is in your district, but if you want to see your favorite party become the government, you must vote for that individual anyways.
The geography of Canada is divided up into 308 (presently) different districts. When someone in a particular district wins a vote of those in their district they become their representative in the “House of Common”. The elected individual becomes an MP (Member of Parliament), and the party that receives the most amount of elected members becomes “the government”.
Canada has two types of government. A “Majority Government” which means that a particular party has filled a majority of the seats in parliament. Simply put, a majority government works well because when something has to be voted on, all the members of the party have to do is vote consistently, and the vote will go through. The other parties, even combined, do not have much power.
In a “Minority Government” things are quite different. A Minority Government is when the largest party has less than half the seats in parliament. They still form the government because they have the most seats, but they do not have the same power or ability to keep to their platform. If the other parties in government (traditionally there has been at least three other party represented in parliament) join voices, they can block the government from doing what it wishes and even vote something in and make something happen against the wishes of the government. The other parties form a “coalition” against the government. This is extremely rare, but possible. In a Minority Government nothing typically gets done. Parliament looks more like a kindergarten class out of control (complete with shouting matches, name calling, et cetera).
What eventually may happen is the “official opposition” (the party with the second most seats) will lead the charge with the other parties for a “vote of no-confidence”. When that happens the “Governor General” (the Queen of England’s representative) will disperse Parliament prematurely. The elections begin.
This happened several weeks ago when the Conservative Minority Government received a vote of no-confident by the other parties. The Liberal Party fast-tracked the election period (the campaign was only 6 weeks long) hoping that Canadian’s would vote Liberal amidst all the confusion so that they might become the next government.
Historically the map has always been RED and BLUE. Canadians have always voted Liberal (red) or Conservative (blue). The NDP (New Democrat Party – orange) has traditionally been the third largest party, but never a real contender. The “Bloc Quebecois” has traditionally been a minor presence on the map, they are a separatist party whose main (perhaps we might say, only) platform is to see the French province of Quebec become its own sovereign country.
With this background, here’s what made Monday’s elections historic:
- The Conservative Party received a vote of no-confidence by the opposition MP’s, but Canadians voted the Conservatives back into government and gave them a Majority Government (167 seats)!
- The Liberal Party received its worse defeat in history. This is the first time in history that the Liberals are neither the government (position 1) nor the opposition (position 2). They received only a measly 34 seats in parliament.
- The NDP rose in their place having received a staggering 102 seats in parliament. For the first time in history the Canadian map is Blue and Orange.
- The separatist Bloc Quebecois party was crushed in Quebec by the NDP – it’s leader resigned.
- A new party arrived in parliament, the “Green Party of Canada”, filling one seat.
Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged and think, how can my one voice make a difference? Does democracy really work? Monday’s elections proved that when enough people feel strongly about something, if given a chance, they will unite to make a change. The message from the election is that Canadians want to see a government that will get things done (kindergarten is out, time to grow up). The only way for that to happen is for their to be a Majority Government. But Canadians also emphatically decided that they wanted no more of what the Liberal’s have to offer (for whatever number of reasons including the scandals last time they were in office and mixed feelings about the current – now resigned – leader). Thus the Conservative party made the best sense for a strong Canadian government. And naturally those who were usually inclined to vote Liberal would cast one for the NDP.
This just goes to show that sometimes Democracy does work.
Winston Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”