Canada has been in the midst of an election these past few weeks. I thought I would write a basic primer for those readers who live south of the 49th parallel, commonly cited as the border between Canada and the United States.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy and governed under the Westminster-style of parliament, similar to Britain’s. It is governed by the principle of Responsible Government, which means that the executive branch of the government is responsible for its actions to Parliament, rather than the Monarch.

Our country is divided in 308 electoral districts, called ridings or constituencies. The representative elected from the 308 ridings is called the Member of Parliament (MP). They meet in Ottawa at the House of Commons. From these 308 MPS, the Canadian Government is formed. The Prime Minister is selected from the MPs. Tradition holds that the political party who hold the most number of seats in the House of Commons will form the government with their leader becoming the Prime Minister. To illustrate how this would work in the United States, the president would be chosen from the members of the House of Representatives, and he would be the leader of the party with the most seats.

We have a multi-party system, in which there are four primary parties elected regularly: the Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Quebecois (Bloc). Traditionally the government has been formed by the Conservatives or the Liberals, depending on the way the country votes. For comparison to the United States, Conservatives tend to be like Republicans, Liberals are like Democrats, the NDP are the left-wing of the Democrats, and the Bloc is a unique party. The Bloc is based only in Quebec, with the sole interest of promoting the sovereignty of Quebec. In terms of politics, they are considered to be on the left.

In the multi-party system, the party with the most seats may not have a majority of seats. For a government in power, this situation is not preferable. The Prime Minister needs to maintain the confidence of the House to remain in power. Under a majority, this is relatively easy. Under a minority, this can be difficult. And for the last 7 years, Canada has been run by minority governments.

The last five years have been under a Conservative minority. The Liberals had the second highest number of MPs. This position is called the Official Opposition. My party of choice, the NDP had fourth position entering this election. And just this week, public polls show the NDP in second place, ahead of the Liberals. And predicted to win a historic number of seats, enough to place them in the position of Official Opposition. This would be a first for the NDP in Canadian politics. (Provincial politics is a different story. I won’t confuse you anymore with that story.)

Do you vote? Are you involved in politics? Why or why not?