Welcome to my new series, the “Canadian List of Ten”! Ten weeks, ten posts, ten lists and one hundred new Canadian things for you, from food to language, from city to weather.
Canadian politics takes some time to get used, especially for Europeans. The three levels of government are new to us (there are no provinces nor states in Europe) and national politics matters are somewhat eclipsed by local news, more relevant to communities in this huge country.
- Canada is a parliamentary democracy. Parliament has three parts: the Sovereign (Queen or King), the Senate and the House of Commons. Provincial legislatures comprise the Lieutenant Governor and the elected Assembly.
- There are three levels of government: federal (national level), provincial (provincial level) and municipal (city level). The federal government is responsible for Defence, Foreign policy and foreign relations, the postal service, Criminal law, Immigration and Citizenship. The provinces are territories are responsible for Education and Municipal institutions. They also share responsibilities with the federal government for matters such as health and transportation. The municipal government deals with police and fire protection, water and sewer services, recreation and local public transportation.
- Canada has four main political parties at the federal level: the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois. There are another 15 parties or so of lesser importance recognized by Election Canada. For instance, the Communist Party of Canada, the Marijuana Party of Canada and the Work Less Party.
- The federal government has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch, represented by the Governor General, is the decision-making branch. The legislative branch is made up of the Governor General, the House of Commons, and the Senate and it creates laws. The judicial branch administers justice.
- Canada holds elections for several levels of government: nationally, provincially and territorially, and municipally. To vote, you must be a Canadian citizen aged 18 and older and be on the voters’ list. Elections Canada, which ensures that Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate, is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament.
- Elections campaigns in Canada are definitely shorter than in France. The the minimum length of a campaign is 36 days and the longest campaign lasted 74 days (back in 1926!).
- Canadians do not vote directly for a Prime Minister. They vote for their local Member of Parliament (MP), who sits in the House of Commons. These MPs are members of a federal political party, and generally the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minister.
- Historically, the Prime Minister could ask the Governor General to call an election at any time, although one had to be called no later than five years after the last election. In 2007 the Parliament passed an act fixing federal election dates every four years, unless the government loses the confidence of the House of Commons. We recently had an epidemic of elections, with national elections held in 2004, 2006 and 2008. We avoided an election in 2009 though.
- Taking holidays when you are in politics is easy: for instance, Prime Minister Stephen Harper just shut down the Parliament until March. The Conservative Party holds the record for shutting down Parliament: 148 days over just four years in office.
- Canada has had a number of political scandals. In 2004, the sponsorship scandal involved the misuse and misdirection of funds disbursed through the Liberal government’s 1990s sponsorship program. In 2008 there was the Julie Couillard scandal: Conservative Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier resigned after leaving sensitive NATO documents in the home of Julie Couillard, an ex-girlfriend with links to the Hells Angels biker gang!