Sports announcer: Aaaaand they’re off! That’s right, folks, we’re back, back, back again with another thrilling season of…Canadian federal politics! (Horns blare, Daft Punk’s “One More Time” plays.)
That’s right, a Canadian federal election is just around the corner, scheduled to take place on October 21.
It can be funny to think of politics as a kind of sport, but unlike sports, the outcomes of elections don’t only affect professional athletes’ multi-million dollar sponsorship deals.
Elections are important, and it’s your responsibility to participate in them. Politics and elections aren’t boring—they’re a chance to think about what you value and make a statement about the kind of country you want Canada to be.
The first step is getting informed, and this post will help you learn more about Canada’s political structure and what exactly you’re voting for.
What am I voting for?
Unlike in presidential systems, such as the United States, we don’t vote directly for the head of government (the Prime Minister). Instead, we vote for Members of Parliament (MPs) who represent our local riding (the area we live in). We only vote for the MP in our specific riding, as there’s 338 in total! They represent their constituents (the people that live in their riding) in Ottawa and work on legislation that often affects all of Canada, rather than a specific province or city.
The upcoming election is considered a federal election because we’ll be electing politicians to represent us on a national level, rather than in local or provincial politics.
The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the party that gains the most seats in the House of Commons—the party that has the most MPs elected from all of Canada’s ridings and forms the government.
You’ll most likely hear what the leaders of Canada’s political parties are saying on a national level because they control the general direction of the federal party (parties that operate on the national level), but you should also research the MPs you’ll actually be voting for and who is running to represent the specific area you live in.
What do I need to know before I vote?
In an ideal world, every person eligible to vote would have comprehensive knowledge of every issue facing Canada. However, if you’ve ever tried to grab a burger on campus during Triple O’s Tuesdays, you’ll know that we don’t live in an ideal world. If you’re new to politics, this would be a lot to learn before the election, so just focus on building your political knowledge day by day.
In the few weeks before you vote, try to read at least 1 news article a day from a reputable source about the issues being discussed by the different parties. You can also read through summaries of each party’s platform and find 3 or 4 issues that resonate with you, and research those.
You may not find a political party that aligns 100% with your beliefs, and that’s okay—you just have to choose the one you think would best represent you and best lead Canada at this particular time.
Check out this compilation from Maclean’s that shows where the 4 major parties stand on most issues. (While there are other parties, these are the only 4 that currently have MPs representing BC in Ottawa. I’m sorry, but there’s just not a great chance of the Rhinoceros Party sweeping into power.)
The issues at stake in this election also affect you as a student. Some things being discussed that could directly impact you include:
- Student loans and tuition
- Minimum wage and affordability
- Climate change
These aren’t just issues that might affect you when you’re older—these policies could make a difference in your life right now!
Where else can I look for information?
You can watch televised debates among the party leaders in October, on these dates:
- Oct 7, 2019 - English debate
- Oct 10, 2019 - French debate
The AMS is hosting a viewing party for the October 7 debate from 4:00 to 6:00 pm in the Nest if you want to watch with some other students, staff, and faculty!
Additionally, representatives from the political parties sometimes host events on campus that allow you to ask questions and find out more information.
For example, I was able to see then-MP Justin Trudeau speak and answer questions from students at UBC during the 2015 election. It helped make the election, which can seem a little distant, more immediate and tangible to me.
Keep an eye out to see if leaders or representatives are coming to campus.
Okay…I still don’t know who to vote for
Don’t worry! If you’ve never voted before, it can feel complicated to sort through all the information and make a decision. You have to balance which party and candidate will be the best for your individual interests and who will best represent the interests of everyone in our highly diverse community.
Voting isn’t just about you—your vote has the potential to affect millions of people affected by government policies. It sounds like a big responsibility, and it is! Luckily, there are some tools that can help you make your decision.
Vote Compass is a popular site that asks for your opinion on a series of issues in various areas, such as the environment, foreign policy, and university tuition. When you complete the questions, the site shows you how your views align with those of Canada’s political parties and can help you see which party might best share your beliefs.
I wouldn’t recommend voting for someone just because your family and friends are, but discussing issues with people whose opinions you respect can help you clarify your own. Talking about what’s going on is a great way to work through your feelings on the issues at hand!
Lastly, remember to check if you’re registered to vote! If you’re not, you can always register to vote at the polls on Election Day. Find out more information on registering and how to vote on the Elections Canada website, and at this webpage from UBC’s Office of the President.