voting

How Do Canada and the United States Differ Politically? (Part 5)

electoral college

This is only my opinion, and not the representation of Saintel Daily, LLC.

I really want to discuss the U.S. election process at length, but it’s so complicated and well… lengthy!  Who understands the electoral college anyway?  From start to finish, the U.S. election is about 18 months. This includes primaries and caucuses.  This gives the parties the ability to go from 23 candidates down to just two.  18 months is a long time to spend and not make it to the final nomination, let alone the presidency.  What makes the whole thing confusing is that the rules differ for primary and caucus candidates between states, and even by party.  Which means, no two contests are alike.  What does that mean?  Well, nothing, other than to say that the confusion is enough to make anyone shy away from participating.

As far as the electoral college goes, well that’s a whole other ball game.  Even after all that work, there are only 538 people who actually vote directly for the president.  This in itself is what makes the U.S. system seem so un-democratic.  These 538 people form the body of electors, known as the Electoral College, that ultimately vote on behalf of millions of Americans who cast ballots. On Nov. 8, when Americans head to the polls, their choices don’t directly pick the president, but instead, they determine which candidate each state’s electors will support. Each state is allotted a certain number of electors who are nominated in advance. On Election Day, a vote for a presidential candidate is actually a vote for a slate of electors who’ve pledged to vote for that party. In many states, ballots only list the names of presidential nominees, so it’s not surprising that so many people think they’re voting directly for the president.

electoral college

Each state gets the same number of electors as it has congressmen and senators.  Each state has two senators and the number of congressmen is based on population.  Which means, the higher the population of the state, the more electors it gets.  No state has fewer than three.  All of this really means that it’s a winner take all system.  Whichever candidate wins the most votes, gets all the electors.  This is how an entire state can go blue or red.  A candidate must win at least 270 of the electoral votes across the U.S. to declare victory.  This doesn’t happen until December, so all that pomp and circumstance on November 8th doesn’t really mean anything.

But this is hugely contrasting compared to Canada.  Canada operates on a first-past-the-post system.  Which means, (and similar to the U.S) whoever gets the most votes, wins.  But in Canada, each Province is divided into ridings. Each riding can send one representative to the House of Commons.  The interesting thing here is that it is not based on population.  So a small Province, like Prince Edward Island could have a small population and three ridings (for example).  But a riding in Toronto could have 10 times the population for just one riding.  Which means, ridings that have a lower population get “better” representation in the House of Commons.

first past the post

Elections in Canada take way less time.  Once the Governor General drops the writ, the political parties have 45 days to get their stuff together to get the votes.  Speaking of the Governor General, I wanted to talk about how a vote is called.  In some cases, the date is fixed.  Meaning, every four years, an election is held.  But in the meantime, the Prime Minister has to have the support of the House of Commons.  If he doesn’t, a member of the opposition party can call a vote of non-confidence.  If the vote passes, it means the Prime Minister no longer has the confidence of the House, and the Governor-General immediately dissolves Parliament.  That’s when an election is called.  This happens between the four-year terms, but typically only if there is a minority government.

In the Canadian context, the Prime Minister can be elected by receiving a minority of votes.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  As mentioned in Part 4, Canada has five political parties.  Let’s say that three of those parties receive the following percentages of ridings in Canada: 31% 29% and 30%.  The other three parties could split that other 10%.  Which means, the party that gets 31% of the seats, becomes the party of the government.  Because they were the first party to get past the post.  Is this fair?  Well, yes and no.  Based on the votes calculated, a majority of Canadians voted for the 31% party.

In that case, however, the government would be considered a “minority” government.  Meaning, they would need more than 50% of the seats to be a majority government.  In some cases, a minority government means that it’s harder to get bills passed through the House, but that’s not always the case.  Regardless, this kind of system does seem to be a bit more democratic because all of those parties that I mentioned are somehow represented in the House of Commons.

house of commons
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

It may be more democratic, but is it better?  I think that’s hard to say in today’s political climate.  While I am often opposed to what’s happening in the United States today, I think that we then look to other systems and assume they’re better.  And let’s be honest, they might not be.  The United States has been operating under the same system for centuries, so perhaps it’s time to take a look at making some changes.  That said, we thought that maybe we would see some of these changes under Obama, but look how that turned out.  And not because he didn’t try, but because the system itself doesn’t allow for any changes.  The irony, right?

It’s clear to see how the Canadian and the U.S. political systems differ.  Both have merits, and both have drawbacks.  I think the thing to take away is that these two countries are inherently different.  Just because we’re neighbors, doesn’t mean that we have anything in common.  I think it’s safe to say that there aren’t very many similarities between a beaver and an eagle, after all.

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