Few things bring Canadians together like hatred of a multi-term incumbent prime minister. We hated Mulroney. We hated Chretien. Boy do we ever hate Harper. Need proof? If so, don’t look to the polls or the pundits, but rather to the grassroots. Recently, the “Stephen Harper Going Away Party” started on Facebook. It now has over 200,000 attendees.
It sounds like a few (hundred thousand) folks getting together to have a good time, but it’s much more sophisticated than that. The tone of political discourse within the group is startling for its maturity and complexity. For example, many members seem to think that they are voting directly for or against Stephen Harper. Others think that the party with the most seats will automatically “win” the election. It follows that several protesting members have expressed a desire to celebrate if Stephen Harper wins one more seat than both Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau. It is nearly impossible to imagine a scenario in which any one of them wins more or less than one seat, but that isn’t the point. The point is that Canadians across the political spectrum seem to have no idea how our electoral system works.
In most cases, failure to understand the electoral system is not evidence of personal fault, but rather evidence of the atrocious civics education students receive in high schools in most parts of our country. So let’s clear some of that up:
(1) When we head to the polls on October 19th (or sooner, in some cases), we vote for a candidate to represent our interests in the House of Commons in the next parliament. Candidates may represent major political parties, minor political parties, or, in some cases, no party at all. This means that unless you live in Papineau (Trudeau), Outremont (Mulcair), or Calgary Heritage (Harper), you cannot cast a vote for either Justin, Tom, or Steve.
(2) Once all the votes from across the country are counted (or once enough are counted to determine which candidate has more votes than any of the others in any given riding), we will know which candidates, and therefore which party, won more seats than any of the others. We say that this party won a plurality of seats. Contrary to what you might read on a comment board, unless a party wins a majority of the seats in parliament (a plurality with more seats than those of all the other parties put together), there is no guarantee that it will form government.
(3) In a minority parliament situation (one in which no party has a majority of seats), tradition holds that the party with the most seats has the first opportunity to form a government. To do this, that party must pass a Speech from the Throne in which it outlines its priorities for the legislative session. This Speech is a matter of confidence, which means that it must win the support of a majority of the elected representatives in the House of Commons if the government is to receive a mandate. In a minority parliament situation, this is much more easily said than done.
(4) If the party with the most seats cannot pass a Speech from the Throne, other parties will have an opportunity to form government, either as formal or informal coalitions. This means that a party with fewer seats than another party could form government, and that the prime minister might not be the leader of the party with the most seats in the House.
The scenario outlined in (4) doesn’t happen often, but there are several solid reasons to think it might happen following the October 19 election. First, no party has anywhere near enough support to have a realistic chance at forming a majority government. Second, Trudeau and Mulcair have both indicated that they will not support a Harper-led government. Third, Harper has vowed to step down (and thus give his party life) if the Conservatives fail to win a plurality in the House. The Harper-less Conservatives would become a potential coalition partner for Trudeau’s Liberals and Mulcair’s NDP. So, in short, regardless of which party holds the most seats on October 20, unless that party holds a majority, Canadians may not find out who “won” for a little while.
This isn’t stopping the Facebook partiers, though. Last we checked, there is a scientific discussion developing amongst some of the group’s well-rounded members.
There you have it: a reason to endorse the Harper-era policy to muzzle the scientists. Get out and vote, folks.