Explain Canadian politics to me?

I guess that’s true for nominating local candidates. But, and here I’m only speaking about my own experience, when the Parti québécois held its leadership election last year, I wouldn’t have voted if it’d only been open to party members as these things usually are. I’m not a member of any political party and I don’t intend for this to change. But since the vote was also open to “sympathisers” (formally they’re actually “one-time members” or something of the sort, but the idea is to include people outside of the party who are sympathetic to its ideas), I felt it was worth paying the five dollars to register as a sympathiser. And this was happening in early 2020, during the Democratic presidential primaries which I was following with interest, and I remember making the link in my mind. So a primary-like system that’s open to the public might be a way to include the ideas of people who are sympathetic to your ideology but are found outside of the party structure.

Of course, within two weeks of this, the COVID lockdowns happened, which postponed the PQ leadership vote and propelled the Legault government to almost Soviet-like levels of support (with the PQ being the main victim). Oh well. I still feel it was worth it.

How is the broad topic of income inequality considered in Canada?

It’s obvious to me that Canada is often accused by right-wingers in the U.S. of being open to out and out socialism, particularly regarding their health-care system, but how do Canadians think about government programs (and taxation to support those programs) designed to lessen the dangers of poverty?

Are there governmental programs in Canada that are themselves in danger of being shut down by a Conservative government if one gets elected? Are there hot-button programs that are particularly volatile to Canadian voters right now? Is there a program that the Liberals would like to see enacted that the Conservatives are able to hold back on?

Sure, that’s an interesting approach by the PQ, and illustrates the point I’m making: each party gets to decide for itself how to choose its leader, because the selection process is entirely within the party’s control. If the PQ thinks that’s a way to build support from those who may be sympathetic to their ideological position, but don’t want to be full members, more power to them. As a political association, with Charter guarantees of freedom of association, I think it’s important that they get to decide their internal electoral processes, not the government.

At the federal level, there is similar diversity in leadership selection, based on each party’s own assessment of how best to advance its political standing. The Liberals and the Conservatives give each party member a vote in leadership races, but also weight the vote by riding associations, to try to ensure the leader has broad support across the country, not just in one region. That’s their decision to make. The NDP and the Greens take a “one member, one vote” approach, without weighting by ridings. Again, that’s their call, based on their own ideological leanings and assessment of political strategy about growing their political support. (I think the BQ takes a similar approach?)

In my view, I think that approach, with each party being in control of its leadership mechanism, is preferable to the government imposing leadership selection processes on the parties, which is what primary elections do.

The NDP is probably the most similar to the Bernie Sanders/AOC wing of the Democratic Party in terms of proposing sweeping new programs like free university education. And there are a few Conservative extremists who would probably like to do government cuts (probably not including healthcare; cutting that would probably be suicide like slashing Social Security in the U.S.). That leaves most Conservatives and the entire Liberal party to waffle back and forth between those extremes.

Climate change initiatives are definitely a hot button issue with oil and gas producing provinces in the west (Alberta and Saskatchewan).

The government is introducing a ban on conversion therapy. The Liberals, NDP and Bloc will all support the bill as a party matter. O’Toole, leader of the Conservatives, has announced that it’s a free vote for his caucus.

Re: primaries. Virginia Republicans eschewed a statewide primary this past summer and selected their eventually winning candidate by party vote (using RCV by the way).

“Free vote” means “vote your conscience”?


Many Canadian conservatives like to say they are “socially liberal, economically conservative” because Canada is less socially conservative than the United States. Many members of the federal Conservative Party meet this description, although they have a vocal minority of MPs (Members of Parliament) who are socially conservative as well. These members agitate for abortion legislation, etc, and the leaders of the political party generally have to shut them down. Failure to do so could lose an election.

I’m sure there are socially conservative but economically liberal people like in the Red Wall region of the UK, but I’m not entirely sure where to find such people in Canada. Quebec, maybe?

Primaries: as arcane as in the US, it seems. There’s riding associations that along with “primaries” help determine who gets to run in a particular riding. In practice a party leader can kick someone out of the party and so forbid them from running under their banner. (They can still run as an independent or switch parties.) I don’t believe an American political leader can have that much control over their representatives. Kicking out generally comes up due to a scandal, and routinely in every election a few candidates from each party get kicked out for committing crimes or just being stupid. (The Conservative Party has had to learn how to put down “bozo eruptions”, which it did successfully in the 2011 election and not so successfully in the 2015 election.)

Leadership elections are something like a “primary” as well. These draw more attention, and range from very dull to very exciting and/or controversial. We even saw a romantic relationship break down during one (both significant others ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party). Who are the PCs? Canadian parties shift, split, rejoin and rebrand a little more often than in the US.

MPs are the equivalent of Congressional Representatives. The leader of the largest party becomes the Prime Minister. (I understand that the leader of a smaller party could become Prime Minister, but this is theoretical, and either hasn’t happened or only happened for a brief period of time.) By contrast, in the US the leader of the House of Representatives (the House Majority leader) is chosen after the election. In essence, picture Nancy Pelosi as Prime Minister, but she would have run as the party leader.

MPs are elected in ridings, our equivalent of Congressional districts. Last election there were 308 of these. Just like in the US, where you can win the Electoral College without winning the popular vote, that can happen in Canada. In fact that happened in our last two elections. Whichever party wins the most seats “wins” the election and sets the agenda. Because Canada is not a two party state, we sometimes end up with “minority governments”, where the party that won a plurality (but less than 50%) of seats becomes the government, the party that won the second largest number of seats becomes the Official Opposition, and third parties hold the balance of power. In the time period between the 2019 and 2021 election, Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party was Prime Minister, but led a minority government. He did not start a formal coalition with any party (if there was, members of the coalition partner party would have entered his cabinet) but generally allied with Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party (NDP) rather than the Conservative Party or Bloc Quebecois.

Our Cabinet members must all have been elected as MPs first. Well, that’s how it normally works. On occasion, we’ve had a Senator as a Cabinet Minister. I’m not 100% sure how legal this is. It’s generally done if the winning party is completely shut out of a region. This also creates a problem - if you won only one seat in a region, that person is guaranteed to be made a Cabinet Minister, even if they’re incompetent.

Canada obviously doesn’t have a president. We have an equivalent, the Governor General. This is an appointed ceremonial position. Their job is to sign bills and occasionally do some constitutional stuff because we’re only like 99% independent from the UK. (Canada does not reference it’s Constitution nearly as often as the United States does.)

Canada has a Senate which is appointed, not elected. It’s also far less powerful than the US equivalent. It’s job is to take a “sober second look” at legislation and is only rarely capable of stopping legislation. Because it’s appointed and members serve for life, you often have a Senate that does not reflect the winner of the election. That’s rarely any real problem.

Supreme Court members are appointed through a “quiet” process. I doubt most Canadians could name any members of their Supreme Court.

Each province has its political parties that normally align with the federal party. Normally. In British Columbia there is no Conservative Party, instead, their Liberal Party is conservative and it’s a two party province. Alberta’s Liberal Party is almost non-existent, instead left-leaning Albertans vote for the NDP. Quebec’s political situation is very different. People routinely vote for one party at the provincial level but a different party at the federal level (even when all major political parties align). We are more open to vote switching, IMO.

I think I’m going to like being a Canadian.

I forgot to mention, generally Canadian mayoral elections don’t involve political parties.

The current mayor of Toronto is John Tory (Tory is a nickname for Conservative, and yes he used to be a member of the federal and Ontario Conservative parties). He didn’t run for mayor as a Conservative, and was less conservative than Rob Ford/Doug Ford, but of course less liberal than some of his competitors. During his reign he faced a Conservative premier who stepped on him politically. John Tory is considered a “red Tory” and would be considered a RINO in the United States.

Because there aren’t political parties it’s harder (for me) to vote for a local councillor. I have to know them and not just say “I’m voting for the NDP/Liberal/Conservative candidate”.

Okay, so your main concern about primary elections is that (at least in the US) they are regulated by the state and not by the parties themselves as private entities, and not that the general public gets a say in who the parties nominate. While the role the state plays in organising American primary elections is unusual, I believe the parties still retain the power to choose their candidates as they see fit; see for example the role of superdelegates in the Democratic convention, and I believe the Republicans have something similar. (I’ve mostly heard about presidential primaries in the US, and maybe nominations for local offices can also be done at least partly outside of the state apparatus as @Red_Wiggler suggests.)

But the reason why primary elections play such a role in American politics is that their culture very much favours direct and participative democracy and an important role for the citizen; it’s definitely small-r republican. This is very different from Canadian political culture, and understanding the differences between American and Canadian politics requires understanding the differences between their political cultures. Canadians are more about trusting and obeying elites who are assumed to have the country’s best interests at heart, and to know better than the random citizen how the country should be governed. Now this is not universal: as a nationalist Quebecer I don’t believe this country and its elites care very much about my interests, and the Western alienation movement is also about Western Canadians not believing that the Ontario and Quebec-based Laurentian elites care about the issues facing Western Canada. Populism, both left-wing and right-wing, has shaped Canadian political history. But for the most part, Canada is the right country for a person who’d rather leave politics into the hands of an elite class who’re assumed to know what they’re doing. There are historical reasons for this.

I haven’t followed this issue closely, but I feel that I should, since while it will obviously be presented as a great victory, I’m a bit worried about what some of the consequences might be. While I think trying to “convert” gay people into becoming straight doesn’t work, is a bad idea, and also shouldn’t be legal for minors, I’m not sure we should stop an adult who for example is a religious conservative and who hates the fact that they’re gay from seeking conversion therapy for themselves, even though it’s a bad idea. The right to make decisions about one’s health, no matter how bad, is important (refusing vaccines is another example). Also, in the context of trans activism, “conversion therapy” seems to have taken a meaning that I feel it shouldn’t have. Is any barrier to self-identified trans children getting access to puberty blockers or hormones “conversion therapy”?

Many large cities have municipal political parties, but it’s true that, unlike in many countries, they typically aren’t affiliated with the national parties. In many cases, though, the candidates are known for their affiliation with a national political party.

Yeah I was going to mention this (municipal elections). I kind of wish candidates would run under a party (NDP, Green, etc.) for municipal elections. I don’t have time to research all the candidates for city council, but if I knew Joe was a Liberal and Frank was Conservative it makes my choice easier.


Also to note, we don’t elect judges or sheriffs in Canada.


I’m actually quite happy that they don’t run under a party, for much the same reason you’d like it.
I think that it is important for the candidates to say what they actually stand for personally, and i think we need to make the time to research them. For me, the “research” is simply reading their statements and policies in the local paper. The paper also usually has a series of questions for each candidate about local issues that matter.
Last local election, it was pretty darn easy to sort them out based on their answers. One candidate was all about eliminating red tape for building permits and allowing developers more leeway to build whatever they want wherever they want. plonk he went into my “no” pile. Another was blathering on about fluoridating the water supply. plonk A third listed her profession as “crystal healer”. plonk

Took me 20 minutes of reading to come up with my 5 preferred candidates for local councillor. I have a pretty good idea what party each of my choices would line up with, but they did not specify.

In addition to municipal politics, things like legal appointments, defining electoral districts, running elections, the civil service and education bigwigs are mercifully largely out of the hands of political parties.

I wish it worked that way in the US. I don’t believe Canada has the complicated and risky “certification” process, and even if it does, the decisions aren’t made by parties.

Elections Canada has a great reputation as an impartial body. Gerrymandering is also not really a thing (since the 1960s), as district boundaries are regular or follow established geography and decisions are made by independent provincial commissions.

Federally appointed commissions, one for each province. The maps then have to be approved by parliament, but so far as I know, Parliament has always accepted them.

I haven’t seen religion in Canadian politics mentioned so far, which makes sense, because religion plays no role in Canadian politics. It doesn’t shape policy decisions, or a candidate’s views on a matter; and no candidate will ever use it to explain a decision or use it as a reason as to why you should vote for that candidate–to do so would be political suicide, I would suggest. We all know that Jagmeet Singh is a Sikh, and we can reasonably infer that Justin Trudeau is Roman Catholic (his father was well-known as one), but other than those two, I cannot think of the religion of any members at the federal or provincial levels.

Perhaps it is telling that one federal party that openly uses religious beliefs as the basis for its platform (Christian Heritage Party) has never attracted more than 0.78% of the popular vote, nor run more than 63 candidates; both of which it achieved in 1988. It’s been going downhill ever since, running only 25 candidates in 2021, and receiving 0.05% of the popular vote. Cite for the above:

Using religion in American politics always surprises me, as does Americans’ interest in which religion candidates subscribe to. It seems to matter to many that Joe Biden is Roman Catholic (as it mattered to many that JFK was also), and Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been taken to task for simply being Muslim. But you won’t find that interest in Canadian politicians’ religious beliefs (or lack of them) in Canada.