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Here's How Canada's Federal Election Actually Works

It's not as simple or as complicated as you might think.
Canada Election 2019

Canada's next federal election is quickly approaching (in case you didn't already know), and on Oct. 21, Canadians will be casting their votes. However, Canada's electoral system can seem a bit more complicated to the uninitiated. If you've never voted before, for one reason or another, you might be wondering how it all actually works. We've got everything you need to know before Canada's election in 2019.

As many people reading this probably already know, Canada has a Prime Minister rather than a President. This is because Canada is what is known as a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II acting as the "Queen of Canada" (there's a reason she's on all of our coins!). The Queen is represented in Parliament by the Governor General, but we'll come back to that.

Canada's electoral system is known as a "first past the post" system. That means the party that wins the most seats forms the government and the party leader becomes Prime Minister. There are 338 seats in Canada's parliament. The main goal for each party is to get butts in those seats, in the form of Members of Parliament, or MPs (these are the people that you are actually voting for).

Throughout Canada, there are 338 ridings (as many as there are seats in Parliament). Individual candidates for each party run in every riding, hoping to win a seat in Parliament. So essentially, you're not directly voting for the Prime Minister, but you still kind of are. Whichever candidate wins the riding earns a seat for their chosen party and becomes the representative for their riding's constituents.

Because there are 338 seats in Parliament, a party needs to win 170 seats in order to form a majority. With more than half of the seats in Parliament, a political party can essentially pass any legislation it wants to as long as all of its members vote along party lines.

However, because there are more than two political parties in Canada, one party can also form a minority government, where they win the most seats but less than half of the total in Parliament. For example, if the Liberals won 160 seats, the Conservatives won 140, and the NDP won 38, then there would be a Liberal minority government. Whichever party has the second-most number of seats becomes known as the Opposition party.

A criticism of Canada's electoral system (and there have been many) is that a candidate does not need to win an actual majority in their riding to be elected. For example, if Candidate A wins 31 percent of the vote, while Candidates B, C, and D each win 23 percent, Candidate A becomes that riding's MP even though 69 percent of the voters did not pick them.

Remember the Governor General? Well, once the election is over, they will then ask the leader of the winning party to act as Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then forms their cabinet of ministers from their elected MPs. The next Canadian election will be held on Oct. 21.

Disclaimer: Cover photo used for illustrative purposes only.

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