Canada, aka Canuckistan, is a parliamentary representative democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Which is a really fancy way of saying we’re technically a monarchy, but the monarch’s influence on politics has been narrowly defined such that they have no “real” power. All laws approved by the legislative body must be signed off by the monarch’s appointee, the Governor General.
We keep the Queen because she generates ~$50 million/year in tourist revenue, which is more than the allowance afforded to the Royal Family.
“Underneath” the monarchy is the legislative body with the real power. It is divided into two parts, the elected Parliament and the appointed Senate. Any law approved in Parliament has to also go through the Senate, at which point it is passed off to the Governor General. As both the Governor General and the Senate are appointed, rather than elected, they seldom oppose the direction of the Parliament. (If it sounds insane that two thirds of Canada’s legislative body is appointed, I agree!)
Parliament is elected with a similar First Past the Post system we discussed from the Alberta primer. The country is carved up into districts, also called ridings, and each riding corresponds to a seat in Parliament. A person who wins the riding is called a Member of Parliament (MP). Theoretically, it is the Governor General who selects the Prime Minister among the MPs, a person who “holds the confidence of Parliament.” In practice, it’s the party leader of the party that won the most seats that becomes Prime Minister.
To quickly review: the de jure head of state is the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The de facto head of state is the Prime Minister, but officially he is merely an adviser to the Queen. In essence, our elections are simply advisory directives to our monarch. Yes, we are talking about a so-called mature democracy. The main reason we aren’t rioting is that you can count on one hand the number of times the monarchy has fucked with Parliament.
Canada’s Cabinet is officially called “The Queen’s Privy Council of Canada,” and it is formed by the Prime Minister, with the PM at the head of Cabinet. It is informal practice to ensure a representative from each province has a position somewhere on the Cabinet. Ministries can be quickly formed, neglected, or dismantled. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is notable for creating the Ministry of “Environment and Climate Change.“*
Parliament has 338 seats, 182 of which are held by the Liberals, forming a majority government. The second place party, the Conservatives, have 97 seats and form the official opposition.
In addition to Parliament, there is a second chamber of the legislative body in the Senate. The Senate has 105 seats and is theoretically appointed by the Governor General, but at the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Senate’s appointments last until the Senator hits the age of 75. It’s theoretically non-partisan but in practice totally fucking partisan. Unlike the Governor General, the appointed Senate does occasionally fuck with laws created by democratic representatives. This jimmies the rustles of the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, and the Bloc Québécois a fair bit, as well as anyone who can be arsed to pay attention to federal politics. In other words, not nearly enough people. #ElectTheSenate
There are five political parties in play in federal politics: The Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, and the Bloc Québécois.
The Conservatives and the NDP are going to be rebranding for the next election, so it is difficult to characterize them right now. Both parties are undergoing leadership elections and the results of those elections could see the parties change quite dramatically. The Conservatives have traditionally been right-leaning and the NDP left-leaning.
The Liberals like to brand themselves as left-leaning. In reality they have a tendency to adopt the same “big tent” strategy that cinches so many successes for the Conservatives. In practice, this makes their record as conservative as it needs to be to win. They are to the Conservatives what Bud lite is to Bud.
The Green Party are probably the only consistently and unapologetically left-wing party in play. They have exactly one seat held by their party leader–Elizabeth May. Their policy ranges from “pretty good” to “cuckoo land.”
The Bloc Québécois are practically a swear word in some parts of the country. As implied by the name, it is a federal party representing Quebec’s interests. Historically the party was a Quebec separatist movement–having been given a great deal of autonomy from the Anglo-Canadian government, the party mostly works to maintain said autonomy these days. Every so often they rattle some pots and pans over more separatism, but the Quebec public seems ambivalent on actually separating. The BQ’s policies are an interesting blend of left-leaning socialism with right-leaning xenophobia. In other words, they’re a great party–if you’re the right kind of French.
Because the Conservatives and the NDP are major wildcards for the federal landscape, they will be the focus of my writings. I’ll comment on the Liberal’s record as it develops, but the gist of it so far is “still Conservative, just with better public relations.”
Up next: GOP North.
*Sure, we made a Ministry of Climate Change. Wonder if they’ll report on all the pipelines the Liberal government approved.