The Canadian system of federal government, unlike that of the United States, is based on a wide-variety multi-party system of representation. When Canadians go to the polls to vote for their national leaders, they are not voting for a Prime Minister, but instead for a local Member of Parliament (MP) who represents their local community “riding”. These MP’s, once elected, are seated in the House of Commons in Ottawa. The political party with the highest number of MP’s within the House of Commons governs the country, and their party leader becomes the Prime Minister. Currently, national Canadian politics is dominated by five major parties: The Liberal Party of Canada, The Conservative Party of Canada, Le Bloc Québécois, The New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP), and the Green Party of Canada. Throughout the past century, the governing party has almost always been from the Conservative or Liberal parties. In recent history however, less influential parties such as The Green Party, and the NDP, have gained popularity amongst Canadians, particularly with the younger generations. With so many choices at the polls, it is important for Canadians to be informed about the motivations and platforms of each of the political parties:
The Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party of Canada is the current governing party, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who himself is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The Liberal Party is a left-centre party and is the oldest federal political party in Canada. The Liberal Party boasts an impressive history of political dominance, and their origins date back to pre-confederation Canada. Throughout early Canadian history, the Liberals remained in opposition to the governing Conservatives. They were opposed to British Imperialism, and supported a continental free trade system. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Liberals dominated Canadian politics, and held power essentially continuously for the better part of six decades.
The Liberal platform is a mixture of left and right political ideals. They created the earliest forms of welfare in Canada, and have worked to legalize same-sex marriage as well as abortion. The Liberals are fiscally conservative (similarly to the Conservative Party) and focus on spending within budget in order to reduce or eliminate national debt. They believe in moderate corporate regulation, and have pioneered the majority of Canada’s social services.
The Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservative Party of Canada is the current opposition party of Canada, and has far-right (business leaning) political views. The Conservative Party, currently under the leadership of Rona Ambrose (interim), was formed in 2003 when the Canadian Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada merged. This merger meant that instead of two major right-leaning parties to vote for, there was left only one. This resulted in the Conservatives coming to power in 2006, and held power for more than a decade under Steven Harper.
The Conservative platform consists of lower taxes, smaller government presence, reduced corporate regulations, increased military funding, and strict enforcement of the law. The party is founded on socially conservative ideals, and is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. This stance on abortion and same-sex marriage has typically been an issue of controversy in Canadian politics, and has met general opposition by the other political parties. Despite this controversy, the Conservatives have been, and will continue to be, a major force in Canadian politics.
The New Democratic Party of Canada
The New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) is a far left-leaning political party, and was formed in 1960 through a merger of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). The NDP shares many similarities with the Liberal Party, while maintaining a much more socialist approach to politics. The party has strong relations to labour unions, and believes in increased government regulations. The current party leader is Jagmeet Singh.
The NDP platform focuses heavily on human rights, social services, and increased environmental protection. They advocate regulatory measures against corporations, as well as programs to reduce poverty. The NDP platform also pushes for increased public transportation, as well as rehabilitation of criminals and the legalization of cannabis. Fiscally, the party is less conservative than the Liberals and the Conservatives. While the NDP has never led governance in federal politics, they do have considerable influence, especially in the current minority government situation in Canada. Their provincially affiliated parties have also risen to power in recent decades, particularly in the provinces of Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
Le Bloc Québécois
Le Bloc Québécois (BQ) is a federal political party based within the French-speaking province of Quebec. “The Bloc” was formed in 1991, by members of the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties from Quebec. Currently led by Martine Ouellet, the Bloc has been a dominant party in the french-majority province of Quebec, and their platform is mostly based on the sovereignty and independence of the province at a federal level. Currently, after the Conservatives and Liberals, Le Bloc Québécois is the third largest federal party and is backed by the vast majority of Quebec citizens, who constitute approximately one third of the Canadian population.
The Green Party of Canada
The Green Party of Canada, currently under the leadership of Elizabeth May, is also a recently and quickly growing political party, and, like the NDP, leans far left on the political spectrum. The party began unofficially in 1980, when a group of independent MP’s collaborated on a political platform calling for the transition away from a nuclear-based society. Three years later, in 1983, the Green Party was officially formed at Carleton University in Ottawa.
The Green Party, focuses its political platform on environmental conservation and stewardship. Over the past decade, the Green Party has expanded its platform. The party is also opposed to capitalism and private sector presence in the education and health care systems, and strongly supports labour rights. While its shortage of MP`s may make the party seem negligible, it has significant influence in provincial and federal politics. The Green Party`s policies have been adopted and implemented by other parties, policies which include a Carbon-Tax and a Green Tax, both of which serve the purpose of greenhouse gas reduction.
The above major parties are fundamental to Canada`s closely-run but wide-ranged system of government, but there are other minor groups that are involved as well. There are nearly two dozen total registered parties at the federal level. Each party has its own unique platform, and is driven by its own ideals. These parties offer Canadians options far more complicated than the simple two party system that governs the United States. The transcendent nature of these parties and their strong political diversity exemplifies the democratic values of Canadian society; a society in which ideas and progress are encouraged, and thrive.