There is a general election in Canada on October 14 and it looks like Canada is heading for another Conservative Prime Minister as well as a conservative majority in Parliament. National polls have the Conservatives at 34%, the Liberals at 25%, the New Democratic Party at 19% and the Green Party at 11%. In the last general election, 2006, of all 30,007,094 Canadian citizens, 64.7% of those registered to vote, 14,908,703 turned out to vote. Those numbers are extremely high compared to American numbers, which are somewhere between 33% and 38% in a good year. That is slightly low for a typical Canadian general election. The U.S. is at the bottom of the list of western nations for voter turn out: Belgium-93%,Turkey- 92%, Sweden-86%, Norway-86%, Ireland-69%, France-63%.
The current Prime Minister of Canada is Stephen Harper, a Conservative. His party does not have a majority in Parliament.
In the Canadian parliamentary system, national elections are really 308 simultaneous elections in what are known as ridings, or constituencies. Ridings are determined by postal code. Elections are held across the country at the same time. The 2008 general election will be conducted using the same 308 ridings contested in the 2006 & 2004 elections; by contrast there were 301 constituencies in the 1997 and 2000 elections. Canadians choose a representative who then becomes their Member of Parliament (MP). In a federal general election, the voters in each riding, or constituency, elect a representative to the House of Commons. The other branch of Parliament is the Senate. The Senate is the Upper Chamber of Parliament, and is composed of 105 members. Senators are appointed by the Governor General (appointed by Queen Elizabeth II as her vice-regal to Canada) for each province and territory on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and hold office until age 75. They examine and revise legislation, investigate national issues, and represent regional, provincial and minority interests. Senators can also introduce their own bills, subject to certain constitutional limitations. No bill can become law until it has been passed by the Senate. Senators also study major social, legal and economic issues through their committee work.
Canada uses a plurality or first past the post voting system. The person who gets the most votes is elected, even if one of the typically 3 or 4 parties involved does not reach a majority. Generally, the party which has the most members elected forms the Government. The Constitution sets the maximum duration of a Parliament at five years. Governments, however, may at any time call an election, and often do so after three or four years. Governments can also be defeated on a question of confidence, thereby finding themselves required to call an earlier election.
In 1980, Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives won a decisive majority in Parliament. They won another majority in 1984 and again in 1988. The Conservatives were in power until 1993. During this period Conservatives aligned Canada more closely with the U.S. Conservatives attempted to put federal censorship legislation in place as well as weaken all federally funded social programs, including national healthcare. For the most part they failed. Mulroney was an initial and primary source of the policies which led to NAFTA.
The 1993 general election was a disaster for Conservatives. Liberals were in power from 1993 until 2004 with two majorities in Parliament and one minority. The current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has had a minority government since the last election. That appears to be about to change with the October 14 election. Stephane Dion, his Liberal opponent, appears to be indecisive and a bit too flexible. The Canadian press enjoys characterizing Dion as, well, not particularly liked by Canadians. Dion, a French Canadian born in 1955, in Quebec City, since 1996 has been the MP for the riding of Saint-Laurent in Montreal. He is also the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. Somehow he simply does not seem destined for the office of Prime Minister.