What happens in a Canadian election? Let’s follow your vote!

(One day when I’m super talented, I’ll make you a fun video about this, but for now I’m still very uncool, so fun words will have to suffice.)

Peter Mansbridge is airing some interviews with the party leaders this week. He did them outside which I can only imagine his producers were less than thrilled about accomodating because it’s rarely a good idea to have Canadian geese honking their way through Justin Trudeau’s incredibly vague three point plan on demoralizing ISIS. What has come up in the first few interviews is an apparent confusion point about how our government is indeed formed. That sounds crazytown, right? Like, shouldn’t you have to complete some kind of proficiency exam in order to run for Prime Minister which includes you knowing things like how our votes add up to who is in power? The answer is yes, they should know this. I’m not shocked they don’t. I won’t be shocked if you don’t. So let’s try to help.

Let’s follow your vote.

October 19, 2015, 5:47pm. <insert Hockey Night in Canada theme song here. The old one. C’mon now.> Sure you worked all day, but you know it’s pretty badass to vote, so you strut through the doors of your polling station. You visited this sweet website, The Voting Project (!!), and got all the info you needed. You know who you’re voting for. Inside you find a desk or table, you give a sincere “good evening” to those Elections Canada volunteers, because they’ve had a long day & you’re Canadian, and that’s what we do here. You present your approved identification, and they hand you a ballot, and give you some instructions on how to fill it out properly, how to fold it when you’re finished, and where to take it. You nod, and walk behind an odd makeshift cardboard fort thing. It’s your fort. Forts are fun. You colour in the dot, you fold it correctly (probably) and bring it to the clerk. Depending on your particular station’s technology, you feed your filled out ballot FACE DOWN into a machine that scans and records your vote, or you drop your still folded ballot into a box where your vote will be counted by human brains later.

Sample ballot- Elections Canada

Then you go home and wait. While you wait, your vote is very busy.

(Parts of this are fictional for fun, cause there isn’t a line up outside Parliament Hill on election night, you guys. Let’s just be fun and consider it a metaphor of sorts. Don’t ruin my fun here, political dorks.)

It can get tallied in a few ways. First and foremost, it’s added to the pile of all the other votes for the same candidate you voted for. The candidate with the biggest pile of votes in your area becomes your Member of Parliament. (More on what they do tomorrow.) Let’s just say your vote was for the person who becomes the MP of your riding, so your vote’s job is not yet done. Your new MP takes his/her winning pile and gets in it’s party line with all the other winning MPs from allllll the other ridings across Canada. There are 338 of them, Ontario has the most and each of the territories only have 1. (One Member of Parliament for the entire territory. Crazytowns.)

So outside Parliament Hill, there’s a Liberal line, a Conservative line, a Green line and an NDP line. One by one, the elected MPs take a number and take a seat in their section of the House of Commons like polite Canadians.

In its simplest form: the party with the most seats wins the election and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister of Canada.

Only it’s rarely been so simple. Many things can happen, and it starts to get tricky. Because we have so many parties to choose from, our votes can get quite spread out. And we have to do some fancy footwork to form a government that most closely represents how Canadians voted.

Scenario 1: Majority Government (hahahaha…) The magic number of seats needed for a government to declare a majority is 170 seats. 170 Members of Parliament voted in by Canadians would all be from the same party. That party’s leader becomes Prime Minister and they’re probably able to pass legislation quite easily. (Ok, so there’s an extra step in here which involves basically asking the Governor General and by extension, the Queen of England for the right to form the government we’ve selected but it’s just a formality. It’s kind of funny and kind of depressing at the same time. Like, “Mom, I own a home and pay my own bills and junk but can I buy this TV with my own dollars? Thanks.” Whatever.)

Our Canadian voting system is based on plurality/first-past-the-post. Coles Notes version of plurality is: the party with the highest number of votes is the winner- we are very careful not to say “the majority of votes” because that means something different altogether (see above). See also: Could we BE more Canadian?!!? (We’ll talk election reform soon.)

Scenario 2(a): Minority Government, the clean version. There aren’t 170 seats held by any one party, but instead they are spread usually between two parties. The party with the most votes gets to form the government, and the party with the second most essentially becomes second in power. This is unstable, as you can imagine. Usually the second party just makes it incredibly difficult to get anything passed in the House of Commons and eventually the governing party, through the Prime Minister, can no longer hold the confidence of the House and calls another election. (This is so bastardized, but it’s the quick and dirty version.)

Scenario 2(b): Minority Governmentthe coalition version. So this is where it gets super confusing and, in my opinion, pretty shady. So this version assumes that not only is there very few more votes for the winning party, there isn’t even that many votes separating the second and third place parties. Canadians, they just ain’t really sure. So this gives at least two parties an idea: “What if we joined together and formed a coalition? Together, our two parties have tons of MPs and we could pass some laws and not piss off too many people! High fives, new team!” So this can happen in two ways: the barely winning party strengthens its top position by bringing another party & more MPs into its weak hold (which is what Mansbridge was baiting Harper to admit he wants to do) OR the second and third place parties join together and just stick it to the winning party, virtually no legislation gets passed and the governing party loses confidence of the House and we’re back to an election again again again. AGAIN.

I hate the coalition option. I didn’t vote for you jointly together, I maybe wouldn’t have voted for you at all had you told me from the beginning you wanted to partner up with that guy. You’re taking my vote and playing with it for your own power. No. Also: no more goddamn elections before it’s time. We can’t keep up, folks. We just voted for…something, I can’t even remember what, but I’m pretty sure there were signs up and I’m confused and overwhelmed and if you’re not going to just accept the defeat I fed you, then what is the damn point anyway?!

So this is over 1200 words on the possibilities that may arise on October 19th, 2015. It’s complicated.

Your vote is important, it really really is. It does good work.


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