Basic Canadian politics + Election 2015!

This weekend, I saw this video on Facebook, poking some fun at how uneducated many Canadians are on basics of politics and the upcoming election on October 19th. Pretty funny - that is, if you do know about these topics. Haha, ignorance! Or is it...? Friends, mocking doesn't actually solve the problem of lack of understanding of the political system - because it's not really that funny when you think about it. Someone who doesn't know the basics about the parties and what they stand for may either A) vote for a party without understanding what they stand for, or B) not vote. Making fun of people who aren't into politics sure isn't going to help the situation, what might is if those of us who are can take a little time to try and help shed some light on the topic!

I've been following politics for most of my life, and took one politics class in university. There are way more knowledgeable people out there than me, but I feel lucky that I have a relatively good grasp on what's going on. And I actually enjoy learning about it! But I can only imagine that if I had ignored politics all this time, it would be horribly overwhelming to suddenly try to make sense of it all, and make an important decision - who to vote for! We have some terrible voting rates in this country, so what better way to encourage voting than trying to help those who are curious get a quick idea of what's going on? (Hint: it's not making fun of them.)

I shared the video and with it, I wrote (oops, I mixed up two different bits - Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" and Rick Mercer's "Talking to Americans"!)

This is like Jay Leno's old "Talking to Americans" except he's talking to people in Ontario about the election...

If anyone I know can't answer these questions for themselves or would like to know more about the parties, candidates, etc. please consider messaging me with any questions!

I'd be happy to answer them to the best of my ability with zero mocking or judgment, and as non-partisan (not taking sides) as possible - seriously, it would give me great joy to help you understand the political system, parties, etc. so you can make an educated vote on October 19th!

(I encourage anyone who feels like they're pretty knowledgeable about these topics to copy/paste and share this, and offer the same service to any of your FB friends who might be curious about voting!)

I'm not sure I was able to be completely non-partisan (it's hard when I have pretty strong beliefs about this stuff!) but one of my friends did ask me to tell them what I knew about the different parties and their platforms. I did my best to outline an answer, and I figured why not share it here as well - if you see any mistakes, please comment and let me know! And otherwise, if you have any questions, please also post them below (anonymously if you like, only I can see the emails) and I'll do my best to answer them.

Before I get into that, let's actually answer the questions in the video!

Q: Who is the Prime Minister of Canada?
A: Stephen Harper (leader of the Conservative party), he's been in power for the last decade give or take. (For the record, Jean Chretien was a previous prime minister who belonged to the Liberal party.)

Q: Which party does Stephen Harper lead?
A: The Conservatives.

Q: What is the name of that man (in the picture)?
A: It's Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP. (Not country singer Kenny Rogers! Also not CBC news broadcaster Peter Mansbridge, criminal/media mogul Conrad Black, or previous Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.)

Q: What was the name of Justin Trudeau's (current Liberal party leader) father?
A: Pierre Trudeau (former Prime Minister, also Liberal).

Q: How many provinces in Canada?
A: 10 provinces (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland & Labrador which to be clear is one province made up of Labrador on the mainland north of Quebec and the island of Newfoundland), and just for completeness, there are also 3 territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut).

Q: What's the population of Canada?
A: Just over 35 million.

Q: The name of Canada's national anthem?
A: "O, Canada"

Q: Which flag is this? (The blue flag with a white cross and white "fleur de lis" on it.)
A: That's the provincial flag of Quebec.

Q: What do you see in the middle of the Canadian flag?
A: The ever lovely red maple leaf.


Ok, so parties. There are pretty much 5 parties (and only 4 you would vote for if you don't live in Quebec) plus a handful of independents and other smaller parties.

1) The Parti Quebecois, leader is Gilles Duceppe (they only run in Quebec and are separatist, which means they want Quebec to be its own country). They kind of have their own combo of beliefs, some considered progressive, some not so much. (I didn't elaborate on this because the friend who contacted me doesn't live in Quebec, but if you do want to know more about the PQ let me know!)

2) The Conservatives, leader is Stephen Harper (current government). The current Conservative party is considered very right wing (similar the George W. Bush Republicans in the US), not like the old version of the party from when we were kids which was called the "Progressive Conservatives". The Progressive Conservatives were more socially progressive but still quite economically conservative. The current Harper Conservatives are both socially and economically conservative. They are pretty anti-socialism - they don't want to have all the publicly/government owned corporations like everything that runs Healthcare, Canada Post, the public broadcasters CBC/Radio Canada, publicly run universities/education, publicly owned transportation (like railways, ferries, highways), public energy management (like electricity, gas, oil, etc.), the Wheat Pool (which helps farmers sell their crops in a group), publicly supervised food safety, etc. They want to privatize all of it, which some people think is good economics since the sale can bring in a lot of money. But because they are also super pro-free trade, that can result in other countries - China, the US, Russia, etc. actually buying and owning all those services that are really critical in the country.

They're also socially super conservative and largely religious-based at this point (not like the old Progressive Conservatives, who kept religion and right wing social beliefs more in check), so many of them are "pro life" (ie. anti-abortion rights), against gay marriage, don't care much about women's rights, tend to be more blatantly racist, etc. They don't like unions (for example, in jobs like healthcare, postal workers, teachers, etc.) because protecting worker rights, salaries, benefits, etc. is kind of against their view of capitalism and "economic growth" being the priority. They prioritize economics very highly, and since they are very attached to Canada having a resource based economy, that has meant focusing on selling raw resources (like wood, oil, minerals, etc.) to other countries and subsidizing those industries instead of more long term investment into research, education, skilled workers, manufacturing, green energy and economy, etc.

3) The Liberals, leader is Justin Trudeau (son of previous Prime Minister from when we were really little, Pierre Trudeau). Liberals are middle of the road on things economics - though depending on who's the leader, that can sway a bit - they actually had one of the most successful economies in the last few decades when Paul Martin (as Prime Minister and under Jean Chretien) was in charge, but tend towards socially progressive (still pro-women's rights, anti-racism, etc.) I think everyone was hoping that Trudeau would be more progressive on environmental issues, trade, etc. but he's been kind of erring to the right/more conservative side on those issues. He has said he'll support a lot of the pipeline projects (like the Conservatives will), and likely the big free-trade agreement (the TPP), which could really lead to a ton of privatization and loss of Canada's control over its own businesses and laws. I think more Ontario/Maritimes people tend to vote Liberals than out west. (Oh, and the Conservatives tend to do well in parts of Ontario, as well as parts of the prairies and rural BC).

4) The NDP, leader is Thomas Mulcair. NDP is really pro-union, pro-supporting middle class working families (in contrast, Conservatives are really into supporting the big businesses and people who are already rich, and giving them huge tax breaks). They really support improving the public healthcare system (Liberals are similar there), and supporting education, environmental issues (they're far more anti-pipeline, though not completely), very pro-equality (for women, elderly, immigration, anti-racism). They don't want to cut taxes and want to increase taxes for big businesses and rich people so that all these public services (that I listed in the Conservatives description) can keep functioning well and stay Canadian/publicly owned (ie. the government owns them rather than a private business), so that it's always the citizens of Canada that are the priority rather than a business's profits.

The NDP has typically done well all over the country and gained a ton of seats last election (mainly at the expense of the Parti Quebecois and the Liberals), but used to be really popular in the prairies and has lost a lot of ground to the Conservatives because people thought the Conservatives would be better for resource economy provinces. (I think that's been backfiring a bit in some industries since Harper's economic record has had its ups and downs and he tends to make a lot of decisions behind closed doors without consulting representatives of the people it will affect.) You'll probably see a lot of divisive opinions in the prairies between Conservative and NDP supporters because there are parts of each party's platforms that are important to people in resource heavy economies. The NDP also wants to establish an affordable $15/day national childcare program so people can put their kids in good day care without spending all their money on it (whereas Conservatives offer a tax cut for kids that only really benefits people who make a certain amount of money, and isn't nearly equal to the cost of the childcare plan).

5) Finally the Greens, Elizabeth May leader. Probably easier to guess - they're really pro environment, green economy, etc. They're totally against pipelines and industrial development that hurts the environment. They like and want to invest in science (as do the NDP and Liberals as far as I know), and I think they also want to keep things like public healthcare, Canada Post, the CBC, etc. Although Elizabeth May is religious, she keeps that fairly out of her policy making, and is still pro-choice (abortion rights), and pro-equality as far as government goes (not sure what her personal beliefs really are, it seems she's not a fan of abortion, but believes it's a personal choice that each person should make). They are basically going to prioritize the environment, and then vote along with whatever parties they believe are doing the right thing on other issues. Most popular in coastal BC, though gathering some more support elsewhere.


I feel like I ought to cap this off with a quick explanation of how the votes are counted up to choose the winning party. Our party is called a "First Past The Post" (FPTP) system. It just means that in each riding (voting area), the candidate (person chosen from each party to run in that riding) who gets the most votes wins that riding's MP seat (the title of "Minister of Parliament" or "MP" and an actual seat/chair in the Parliament building, where the government does business). The party that gets the most votes ends up becoming the governing party of Canada, and their leader ends up becoming the Prime Minister (leader of Canada). 

You might have heard people talking about the voting system and "Electoral Reform" (changing the voting system). Or also about "strategic voting". Electoral Reform is an issue because for example an MP can win their seat with a minority of votes in their riding. Say a Liberal wins a seat with 40% of the votes, where the NDP got 35%, the Conservatives got 23%, and the Green party got 2%. The Liberal MP gets the seat even though they didn't actually get a majority (more than half or 50% of the votes in that riding). And if that happens in all the ridings, then it can end up that the winning party doesn't actually have the support of the majority of Canadians, they just have more support than the other parties. Some people believe that is a problem - those people want Electoral Reform.

There are different types of voting systems other than the one we use, and one that a lot of people believe would be better is called "Proportional Representation" which is pretty literal - instead of the number of MPs from each party being relative to who won in each riding, the system is changed so they're relative to the actual percentage of votes they got in the country. So it's a more accurate representation of every person's vote, but it can mean that smaller provinces or various other groups of people end up kind of getting screwed out of being represented because they just don't have as big a population.

Since we do have a "first past the post" system, and lots of the ridings have had really close votes between 2 or 3 of the parties, this is where "strategic voting" comes in. Let's say only 40% of people in your riding support the Conservatives - that's probably enough for them to win because the other 60% of the voters, despite not wanting the Conservatives have split their votes among 2 or 3 other parties. Strategic voting means that other 60% strategically bands together and tries to all vote for one party (that's not Conservative) that has the best chance of winning in that area so their vote isn't split apart. This helps to compensate for the fact that we don't have proportional representation. So then at least we end up with a leader who doesn't have such a low percentage of support just because of how the system is set up. There's a strategic voting website (though some of its data is kind of out of date) called Vote Together that can help show you how your riding votes if you want to try and vote strategically.

Some people believe it's wrong to vote strategically and that you should vote for the party that best represents your personal beliefs every time. It's especially tricky in this election because the Liberals, NDP, and Greens all want to change the voting system to be more representative of the individual votes (probably to a "Proportional Representation" system). But to do that, they need to actually win and be able to make changes - this is only possible if either the Liberals or NDP win a majority (unlikely) or the Conservatives win a minority and then the Liberals and NDP could band together to try and take over the government. We'll see if that happens, seems so far like the Liberals don't want to do it, but if they did they could possibly change the voting system before the next election comes up.

Ok, that's probably more than enough for now, post any questions below and I'll do my best to respond! And also please comment below with any corrections, I'm not a pro just doing my best here and had to over-simplify a lot of this just so it didn't get too long. Hope this was helpful! :)