Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II
Governor-General: Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada
Type of Government: Constitutional Monarchy, Parliamentary system similar to the UK
Head of Government: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Main Political Parties:
Liberal Party of Canada – similar to the Democrats in the US
Conservative Party of Canada – similar to the Republicans in the US
New Democratic Party – similar to the Labour Party in the UK
Bloc Quebecois – Sovereignist Party which runs candidates only in Quebec
Upper House – Senate – similar to the House of Lords in the UK — Senators are appointed by the prime minister
House of Commons — Total number of seats nationally — 338 — Members are elected directly by the voters
Supreme Court of Canada — Justices are appointed by the prime minister
Eligible voters in Canada only vote for Members of Parliament (House of Commons). The ballot is a piece of paper on which an elector (voter) indicates his or her choice with a mark in a circle. It is not a ranked ballot. The candidate that gets the most votes in an electoral district (commonly called a riding) wins the electoral district and will sit in the House of Commons representing that riding.
The House of Commons has 338 members. The party that wins the most seats usually forms a government. A party that wins 170 or more seats can form a “majority” government which allows them to govern without imminent threat of defeat for a period of four years. Nationally, Canada has fixed election dates of 4 years, but only if there is a majority government. If a party wins the most seats, but fails to get 170 seats, they can form a “minority” government. The British call this a “hung Parliament” because no party has a clear majority. In the event of a minority government, the party with the most seats needs the support of one or more other parties in order to secure the “confidence of the House”, and remain in power. If they lose a vote of confidence, the government is considered to be defeated, and the prime minister must inform the Governor-General (Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada) that the government has been defeated. Usually the Governor-General will “dissolve Parliament”, which means the House of Commons and the Senate no longer sit, and an election is called.
Elections Canada is a nonpartisan governmental organization that oversees all aspects of national elections. They are responsible for every element of an election from the design of the ballot — 1 design nationally — to finding polling places, hiring staff to work in the polls, recruiting volunteers, administering oaths of neutrality and secrecy, and securing the ballots once the voting has ended. Political parties, in Canada, can have nothing at all to do with the operation of an election. No politician can interfere or have any direct involvement in an election beyond campaigning and voting. There are stiff penalties, including jail time, for political interference in an election.
In national (federal) elections, people must be 18 years of age or older on Election Day and have photo ID. There is no compromise with photo ID. In some jurisdictions, particularly in the US, photo ID may not be required, but in Canada, if the Deputy Returning Officer (poll official who handles the ballots) cannot verify your identity, you do not get a ballot.