Who here can give a crash course in Canadian politics?

DCDepository's picture
Rank: Neanderthal | 3,268

Been reading about the provincial elections in Quebec and how once again there is a push for a referendum on Quebec independence. Started investigating Canadian politics and I realized that I understand absolutely nothing--zero--about Canadian politics. Wondering if someone can give a crash course here in Canadian politics.

So, Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party has been Prime Minister for over 8 years now. In the 2011 elections, his party received 39.62% of the popular vote but 53.90% of MPs. How can a party have so many more MPs than popular vote? How does the parliamentary system work in Canada? I always assumed that it was basically proportional representation.

Is the Canadian Conservative Party basically as liberal, say, as mainstream American Democrats or is it more complicated than that? Looks like a disproportionate amount of support for the parties on the Left come from Quebec. Why is it then that the conservatives seem to be so opposed to Quebec independence? Wouldn't Quebec's independence turn Canada into a single-party state, more or less, with the Conservative Party ruling without resistance?

Just looking for some Canadian insight.

Comments (17)

Mar 16, 2014

Interested in Canadian politics........why? I'd bet the average Canadian isn't even as up to speed as you are.

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Mar 16, 2014
MissMoneyPenny:

Interested in Canadian politics........why? I'd bet the average Canadian isn't even as up to speed as you are.

Would you stop responding to my posts please? So far my two interactions with you have been totally pointless. You are a troll and you aren't even funny. If you're going to troll all of my posts then at least make me laugh. Too bad you have the personality of a bar of soap.

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Mar 16, 2014

I wasn't trolling on that one bud. I meant what I said and was curious BC I would have provided you with plenty of insight on the topic.

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Best Response
Mar 17, 2014

Since this is your personal website, I'll heckle you as well.

DISCLAIMER: this was done up while on a conference call so I'm probably screwing up a few things and really just shooting for overgeneralizations.

Canadian politics have a lot more in common with European politics than us, complete with constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth as the monarch. And Quebec is French so they want to break away, not unlike Texas, but they won't because the honest truth is that everyone benefits by working as a whole and they know it. The background is that they were originally a British style Parlimentary system, but when they broke away they adopted more American style politics of direct citizen participation in all levels of governance. Since America was built as a democratic republic from the ground up, our party system is more more ingrained than European parties that come and go. Not so in Canada: party discipline is very strong. Canada is consistently rated as one of the most stable democracies. People vote for local MPs in runoff elections to cement their legitimacy but that's where the divergence in numbers you pointed out can come into play. SO, small percentage differences at the local level can add up to a large aggregate federal divergence. It's almost the opposite of how things run here and kind of baffles me...but then again, America has a much more powerful central gov't and much larger population, so it's probably necessary to have a strong national identity. It's not as big a deal in Canada.

America divides their gov't in into legislation (congress), execution (executive), and arbitration (judiciary). The unofficial but very real situation is that the party with control of the executive has much greater power to influence the other branches. So our democracy is more directly effective at the federal level: people have a direct say in federal elections and the general vote and electoral colleges are usually very closely correlated. Given the executive is bound by the constitution, and tends to come from the upper classes (for better or worse) that's the part that is referred to as the republic proper. Democratically elected leaders within a republican framework.

Canada by contrast is more democratic at the regional/province level and then the parties are more influential at the federal level. In a way, they have more states rights (well, provinces or whatever) the way America did maybe a century ago which is funny because I don't think a lot of American conservatives realize this. The primary difference is that federal policy is much more fragmented. They also can afford to be given their proximity to us, and even though their military is very well trained it's much smaller. Nationalism is very weak in Canada, compared to very stong patriotism in America. The electoral college is almost seen as irrelevant in the US, but in Canada, the MPs have a lot more power and the citizens have less direct participation at the federal level. This is because people's identity is more often more closely aligned with their region. In a way, the EU could become like Canada: strong regional ties with a measure of cooperation at the federation level...but that's a long way away. The primary "federal" identity comes mainly from shared services (healthcare is one example) and some of their sense of differentness created by bordering a nation with strong patriotism: America's sense of identity creates the counterpart of Canadian identity. The simple reality is that 90% or so of Canada's population is along the US border and what we do here is very directly felt there.

I personally have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around parlimentary systems, they seem archaic and structurally chaotic compared to America's simpler and much more utilitarian system. Hope this helps. From my perspective, a lot of politics around the world seem very random and I really focus on understanding 1) American politics and 2) global dynamics. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that US state/local level politics and the national level systems of other countries generally just don't interest me too much.

Hope this helps, and if there are any Kanuks on the site who want to fill in the blanks and correct me I welcome it.

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Mar 17, 2014

Thank you. This is exactly what I was interested in. I'm ashamed to admit that I know basically nothing about our northern neighbors. I barely realized they spoke French until a few months ago.

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Mar 17, 2014

Rob Ford.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

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Apr 14, 2014

Am going to have to concur with The Heister on this one. Here is Canadian Politics.

Mar 18, 2014

Glad to help....but run this by a Canadian if you're putting money on it. I just read through this again to edit it and already found a few things I'd revise (but can't). Also, this is from the perspective of a NorthEast independant voter. Soooooo, I tried to word things as neutral and structural as I could to try to hem in my own preferences/biases but hey no one's perfect.

Mar 18, 2014

I'll give it a re-read.

As UFO mentions, if there are any Canadians who want to "contradict" or correct anything, certainly put in your 2 cents.

Mar 18, 2014

Hah, I'd really like to see a Canadian write up of American politics. Seriously.

Apr 13, 2014

I am Canadian and I have to say that overall you made a good job describing the political system of the country. I would clarify maybe some of your points that you've made.

We still have a British style Parliamentary System. Basically we don't vote for our Prime Minister (President) but rather for MPs representing certain political parties (Conservative, Liberals, NPD) at the Federal Level. The party that gets the most MPs elected in the House of Commons (House of Representative) has the right to form a government and therefore the party leader will become Prime Minister (President). Think of it as if there was no Presidential election and basically the President is selected depending on the party who controls the Congress. In other terms, the legislative branch and the executive branch is indivisible in Canada as one sources its legitimacy from the other. If the executive loses the legislature (Parliament), it loses power. In the US, the Founding Fathers have been influenced by Montesquieu's ideas on the importance of separation of power. Thereby the executive (White House) is completely separated from the legislature (Congress). The pros of our system is, as you mentioned, stability. We always have a relatively well-functioning government since we can't have the gridlocked situation where the Prime Minister (President) is Liberal (Democrat) and the Parliament (Congress) is Conservative (Republican). The main disadvantage is that the executive can do pretty much everything he wants as there is way less checks and balances than in the US. So better vote correctly since we can't play the card that we are going to block everything in Congress if we are not happy about the President. By the way, our Senate is completely useless and does not have any real power contrary to your Senate.

Meanwhile, the Provincial (State) level has a lot of powers and completely controls the big ticket items (health care and education). Quebec is more left leaning, Ontario is more at the center and Alberta is more right leaning (Canadian Texas). Bottom line, think of Canada as the middle ground between USA and Europe. To be a little bit cocky, we like to think we picked the best of both (i.e. a more capitalistic-oriented economy than Europeans but with universal health care). By the way, if you could shed some lights on that it would be appreciated: why the US has its current health care system? From an economic point of view I am completely puzzled. The US spends the most on health care than any other Western nations (on a per capita basis, on absolute term and as % of GDP) but you have the lowest percentage of population covered (about 85% vs. 100% for all Western countries) and the lowest life expectancy among Western nations. The intention is to understand, not to attack. Let me know if you want to talk about something else.

Apr 13, 2014

The U.S. has 3 health care systems--Medicare (federal), Medicaid (state), and private insurance. In the U.S., our public sector insurance outcomes are worse than our private insurance outcomes. This is important to point out because one must remember that the United States is a heterogenous, 313 million-person continental federal constitutional republic with separation of powers. Canada, on the other hand, has 30 million people who operate in a parliamentary system, which, as you've pointed out, grants Canada's (and the western European nations') governments far greater flexibility in governance and regulation. A healthcare system run by the US federal bureaucracy would be an absolute nightmare, just like Medicare is, which has an unfunded future liability of something like $80 trillion and tens of billions of dollars of waste, fraud, and abuse each year.

The point is, you can't apply the same public policies to a tiny, homogenous parliamentary nation as you would apply to a gigantic, heterogenous, federal constitutional republican nation.

In addition, pointing to life expectancy is a statistical myth used by pro-universal health insurance advocates. Life expectancy is inextricably tied to GDP, not to health insurance systems, for one. Secondly, life expectancy calculations can be fundamentally different between nations. For example, infant mortality rates are very conservatively calculated in the U.S. whereas infant mortality rates are aggressively calculated by many European calculations. Infant mortality rate is critical to the final life expectancy tally, so Europe's more "liberal" calculation shows statistically significant better infant mortality rates. Fourth, the U.S. has far, far more immigrants from third world countries than Europe or Canada--poverty begets lower life expectancy. Norway, for example, isn't exactly overrun by poor Central and South American migrant workers. Fifth, the U.S. has higher gun crime (300+ million guns in the U.S. + gangs, which account for the majority of gun crime), and far more auto fatalities (far more driving in the U.S.). Sixth, Americans have an absolutely abysmal diet and we're the most obese nation on Earth; our health insurance system would have little impact on the highly processed junk food diet of our nation.

If you look at actual health outcomes, the U.S. has the absolute best outcomes, by far. For example, cancer survival rates are the best in the U.S. So when people actually get sick they want to get sick in the U.S. Something like 80-90% of all medical and pharmaceutical advancements come out of the U.S., so the universal health care systems of Canada and Europe piggyback off of American advancements and then realize cost savings by negotiating down the costs of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, where American consumers pick up the slack and make those innovations profitable by paying for them at profit-making levels.

In essenace, the universal health care systems of Canada and Europe are de facto subsidized by America's for-profit health insurance system, combined with America's top research universities, which create the overwhelming amount of innovation and advancement in the medical field, and American consumers make those innovations profitable.

I'll let this example speak for itself as to why there is a huge faction in opposition to government run universal health insurance in the U.S.:

Canadian premier pays tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to get heart surgery in the U.S. rather than getting it for free in Canada:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/2010/02/04/canadian-p...

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Apr 15, 2014

Thanks, you made very interesting points. Do you have any sources for your life expectancy claim that it is linked to GDP per capita and also for the more liberal calculation in Europe? First time I have heard of that.
For the argument that we are piggybacking on you guys, I can buy that as we also do that for military spending. Thanks guys! Don't you think there is some dogma into not pooling purchasing by the government to realize some cost savings though? Correct me if I am wrong but I think there is a law preventing the US government from doing that. For the American consumers picking up the slack by paying for them at profit-making levels I don't buy that. Just look at the industry ROIC and it is very far away from breakeven points, more in the off-the-chart territory. We love investing in US Pharma at my firm since they have a legal licence to print money.
The other points that I don't buy at all are the immigrant and diversity arguments. Canada has 20% of its population that is foreign born vs. 15% for the US. Europe is way worse in terms of unwanted immigration as they are right next to Africa than you guys. I would pick Mexican illegal immigration anytime of the day over the African one. Google Lampedusa and you would see that Italians would dream of poor Central and South American migrant workers relative to the Somalian and Eritrean immigrant boatloads that they receive every year. They bring the term poverty to the next level.
Finally for your example about Canadian Premier, it is funny that you brought that up since it was part of the reason why I started investigating. There was this widely circulating video on this side of the border which piqued my curiosity. For whatever reason I am not able to put the link but go on YouTube and look for the video Health Care: USA vs. Canada. This is a US senatorial hearing on the differences between the two health systems.
Let me know what you think. Thanks again for your explanation, it was enlightening. At the end of the day, if you guys are happy about your system and we are happy about ours (of course there is always room to improvements in every system) then everybody is happy and there is no need to trash talk.
Have a good week.

Apr 16, 2014
Apr 16, 2014

Answers about Canadian politics as a whole have been answered well, I feel. As a student in Montreal I can give a bit of insight into the recent Quebec elections.
The two main parties in Quebec are the Parti Quebecois (PQ) and the Parti Liberal du Quebec (PLQ).
The PQ are rooted with the separatist movement, referendums to succeed were defeated in 1980 and 1995. In general they have a strong francophone base and push for the preservation and adoption of the french Language (See 'Loi 101'). One issue of great discussion was the Charter of Quebec Values, proposed by the PQ, that would limit certain religious or cultural wear in government workplaces.
Generalising the Liberals, they have a strong anglophone and business base. However, they have recently come under fire for claims of corruption (still very prominent in Montreal and Quebec) as well as issues over increases in university tuition.
This election was called early by Pauline Marois, the head of the PQ, who not only conceded a majority to the liberals, but lost hear own seat as well.

Apr 16, 2014
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