I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that Canada is holding a national election today.
Canadians head to the polls today for the final day of voting in this 44th general election and surveys suggest the result is far from certain with as many as six parties in contention for seats in Parliament.
More than 5.8 million Canadians have already voted in the advance polls, and Elections Canada has received nearly one million special ballots — a record-setting early turnout that suggests there’s an energized electorate.
Poll workers will start the vote count tonight, but the outcome may not be known until tomorrow after the many mail-in ballots are verified at hundreds of returning offices nationwide.
This 36-day election featured policy talk on everything from housing and the COVID-19 response to Canada’s place in the world, but there were also heavy doses of partisan sniping as the leaders jockeyed for front-runner status in a very close race.
They do things differently in Canada. Since they have a parliamentary system, the people don’t vote for a national candidate; they vote for their local Member of Parliament, and the party with the most seats gets to choose the prime minister. There are 338 districts, called ridings, across Canada. Since there are more than two major parties in Canada — the four big ones are the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats, and the Bloc Quebecois — the winner may not have a majority of 170 seats, so they have to work with the others to get things done. There are other, smaller parties, including the Greens and a populist quasi-Trump group called the People’s Party of Canada, but the odds are very long that they’ll win even one seat.
As of this morning, the Liberals have the lead in seats, but not a majority.
Canada also does not have permanent election campaigns like we do. Parliament was dissolved and the election was called on August 15, and the campaign ends today, 36 days later. The prime minister can call for an election any time he or she wants, with one required at least every five years. Justin Trudeau bet that he could pull off a majority win based on his performance dealing with Covid-19 and other issues that made his party popular, but it’s not always a sure thing; other PM’s have had their garter snapped and found themselves out of office and out of a job. After all, to be prime minister, you have to win your seat in your own riding, and it’s happened where the incumbent PM has had his poutine handed to him by his own constituents.
One other way that Canadians do it differently is by having the national election run by a federal agency, Elections Canada. They handle all of the process across all the provinces and territories, and they present the results. Here in the U.S., it’s up to each state to do it, which, as we’ve seen in the last few years, can be a clustasrophe with different rules for different people in different states. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to rig a national election with over a thousand different systems running in 50 states, each handled by local officials.
Like I said, they do things differently in the True North. I’m not sure I’d want a parliamentary system here — although the idea of Nancy Pelosi as Prime Minister has a certain charm — but I like the idea of having an election over and done within a month, and I like the idea of a representative knowing that their job could be up for grabs at any time.