Election Day for dummies

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Finally the 2015 federal election is upon us. For the last 11 weeks it’s been non-stop politics, and for a lot of Canadians it can be pretty overwhelming.

From policies to political lingo there’s plenty to get your head around. And, if you’re anything like me, you need all the information you can get.

So whether you’re a first-time voter or simply need a bit of a refresher, here are a few words to help guide you through the Election 2015.

What is a riding?

A riding (also called an electoral district, electorate, ward, division, or constituency) is the district you live in. Each riding elects a Member of Parliament (MP) during the federal election, and this is the person who represents them in Parliament in Ottawa.

MP vs. MLA

A Member of Parliament (MP) represents their riding in Parliament, on a national level, at the House of Commons.

A Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) represents their riding in the Legislature, on a provincial level.

Provincial Government vs. Federal Government

The federal government has the power to make laws that affect Canada on a national scale, like criminal laws and penitentiaries, declaring war, security, banking, First Nations affairs, and others, unless specifically handled by the province.

The provincial government is lead by the Premier, and makes decisions when it comes to direct taxation of the province, its natural resources, its prisons, its schools, its hospitals, marriages, courts and justice, and a bunch of other things.

Again; this election is about the federal government, and – for example – the Federal Liberal Party operates separately from the B.C. Liberal Party. The next provincial election isn’t until May 9, 2017, so if you’ve got a gripe with Christy Clark, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer.

First-past-the-post

First-past-the-post, also known as single member plurality, is the current electoral system that Canada uses. In it, a candidate with the most number of votes in their riding wins a seat in the House of Commons, and the party with the most seats is asked to form the government.

The problem a lot of people have with this electoral format is that it doesn’t represent the number of votes cast. For example, if a seat in a riding is won by an MP with 31% of the vote, they get the seat and their party is one step closer to forming the government, despite 69% of the riding not having voted for them, but each other candidate having not gotten enough votes to win the seat themselves. This means a lot of candidates can come to power with less than 50% of the vote in their riding, which is pretty weird when you think about.

The Liberals, NDP, and Green have announced plans to look at reforming our electoral system. The Conservatives have not.

What is strategic voting?

In a first-past-the-post electoral system, the MP with the most number of votes wins. We’ve already talked about why that’s a problem for some, and one of the ways people are pushing back is through strategic voting.

Strategic voting is the act of voting for the candidate not currently in power, who polls are suggesting is the candidate most likely to win. Even if they don’t align with your political views, they take the seat away from the person you definitely don’t want to win, and that’s one step towards forming a new government, or weakening the current one.

There are a bunch of different polls out there, so find the one that works best for you.

You elect the MP, not the PM

In the federal election, and with the current first-past-the-post electoral model, constituents in a riding vote for their Member of Parliament. A lot of people cast their votes based on who they think should be Prime Minister, but their vote goes directly towards electing an MP.

If you want to see who you’re voting for, check out polls in your riding. National polls reflect the current climate of votes on a national level, but might not reflect what’s happening in your riding.

Majority Government vs. Minority Government

A majority government means that the governing party in a parliamentary system has the majority of votes, and thus has the most power when it comes to making decisions, including passing budgets and legislation, and even deciding whether or not the current government is acting in the best interests of Canadians.

A minority government means the current government doesn’t have enough seats to do whatever they want in the House of Commons, and have to ask the other MPs for support in passing legislation. A minority government also opens itself up to a “motion of no confidence,” in which Members of Parliament can say they have no faith in the current government, effectively shutting it down and calling for another election. This happened most recently in 2011, when the House called for the shut down of the Conservative minority government, which lead to the election of the current Conservative majority.

Polling

Polling is the act of voting. Polls in British Columbia will be open October 19 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

If you’re already registered, you can find your polling stations on your voters cards. If you aren’t, or don’t want to look at your voter card for some reason, you can find the information on the Elections Canada website.

Who can vote?

Any Canadian Citizen over 18-years-old, who hasn’t been living outside Canada for more than five years can vote. You have to be registered to vote, and have your voter card, identification, or another way to verify your identity and address at the polling station. A glow of patriotic duty in your heart also helps; it’s optional of course, but no less important.

Alternatively, if you haven’t already, you can register just before voting, in which case you’ll need a few things.

Who am I voting for?

Well, that’s up to you. In the federal election the four parties, and their platforms, are as follows:

Get informed before you vote. Find out what riding you’re in, and who the candidates are, and where you’re going to go to vote.

Do I have to vote?

Well, no… but you should. If you can, you should. Only 61% of Canadians voted in 2011, which means the current government was voted in by just 39% of voters – or if you break it down even further, it means that 18 per cent of Canadians voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

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Shawn O'Hara Shawn is a Staff Writer at Vancity Buzz. He loves writing about news, arts, movies, comedy, and culture. Some would argue Shawn is too old to still play Dungeons & Dragons. Shawn would disagree.

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