Thursday, November 21, 2019

More Political Potpourri From Dave

When Natasha asked me for feedback on her post about Canadian politics a few nights ago, I realized that there was a fair bit that I wanted to share from my own perspective. I genuinely find politics fascinating (Canada, US, UK, etc.), and think there are interesting details that often get overlooked. So, with apologies to all the regular blog readers out there who didn't ask for this blog to fall down a rabbit hole of political trivia, here is a sampling of Canadian political tidbits.

Natasha here: When Dave and I were talking about this, he told me that if he hadn't gone into computer science, a career in political journalism would have interested him. I didn't know that before.

First, a few thoughts about the Prime Minister (PM). Unlike the US, there is no separate Executive branch of government for the PM; they are simply another member of Parliament, who happens to lead the party with the most seats. This has some interesting consequences:
  • The PM has to participate in regular debates in the House of Commons. Also, since Canada is bilingual, the PM has to be able to hold their own arguing in both English and French. The practical consequence of this is that several PMs (Chretien, Mulroney, Trudeau (the father of our current PM), St. Laurent) have been top-notch lawyers from Montreal. It also means that leaders from non-French speaking parts of Canada sometimes have to work quite hard to bring their French up to a reasonable level of fluency.
  • There is no such thing as a "PM veto", and the PM cannot write their own executive orders. All that the PM can do is vote for bills in the House of Commons, along with rest of the members of parliament.
On to the Governor General. This is officially the "Queen's representative in Canada", and their position in Canada is largely ceremonial. However, the GG can make important decisions in certain minority government situations. I'll skip the details, but the gist is that in a minority government situation (where no party wins 50% of the seats in Parliament (our current situation)), the GG has the power to decide who forms the government. It is usually the party that has won the most votes, but it could also be a coalition of "other" parties whose combined seat total is over the 50% threshold.

Although the GG has, historically, tended to be "some well-connected white man" (and for the first 85 years of Canada's history, a succession of British lords, to boot!), our last few GGs have been much more diverse:
  • Our current GG is Julie Payette, who was previously an astronaut, business leader, and computer engineer
  • The previous GG was David Johnston, who was previously the president of the university that Natasha and I attended. Because I made a (not very large) donation to the university which earned a "thanks from the president" card, and he noticed that we share the same first name, I happen to have a hand-written note from a former GG!
  • Before that, we had MichaĆ«lle Jean, a Hatian immigrant who was a successful journalist with the CBC (equivalent to PBS or NPR)
Finally, a few thoughts on the Canadian political spectrum. Natasha described the Conservatives as "right-leaning" and the Liberals as "left-leaning", which is certainly true, but might require a bit of translation for an American audience. Here is my attempt at summarizing each major party's position in a few sentences, while trying to avoid adding (too much of...) my own political bias.
  • Liberals: Would be considered quite left-wing in US political terms; have a strong focus on environmental concerns, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and spending on programs to ensure a strong safety net -- healthcare, education, and supporting the "middle class".
  • Conservatives: More right-leaning, but still to the left of most Republicans (and maybe some Democrats). Emphasis on jobs and economic concerns -- supporting oil, gas, and mining in prairie provinces, for example -- rather than the environment. Tend to take action through income tax breaks and supporting businesses, rather than extensive spending on social programs. 
  • NDP: Lean much further left than the Liberals, comparable to the far-left wing of the Democratic party, or maybe the Green Party (think Jill Stein in the last US election). Very concerned with the environment, using government resources to create a more equitable society for all (including seniors, students, new immigrants, etc.). They have proposed significant improvements to social programs such as healthcare, education, and affordable housing. 
  • Bloc Quebecois: The party is focused solely on Quebec. Historically, their focus has been on supporting the Quebec separatist movement. More recently, this has shifted to ensuring Quebec's culture (e.g., Francophone culture) and interests (generally left-leaning, strongly opposed to oil pipelines) are represented in the federal government.
  • Green Party: Their primary focus is, of course, on climate change and the environment. They have advocated for fundamentally shifting Canada's economy towards renewable energy, in order to meet aggressive emission cuts (60% below 2005 levels*). They also advocate for LGBTQ rights, improved social programs, and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.
Phew! I think that's enough for one post. I hope you found this interesting, and I promise not to jump in with more political ramblings any time soon :)

* To put this in context, Canada's current goal is 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. While the other parties have climate change plans of various descriptions, none of them will come close to meeting this goal, although the NDP does come closer than the others.

Natasha here again: I threw in some random fall pictures (mostly of maple trees -- one of Canada's national symbols) to break up the word heavy posts you've been getting these past few days!


  1. Politics... I am so in left field with it all - I dont fit in one "category" so its aggravating for me.

  2. Great job Dave! I love that you have a note from David Johnston, classy guy!

  3. This was fantastic! Thanks, Dave! I had been wondering about the positions/causes of your 'left leaning' and 'right leaning' parties, and this really helped clear things up. However, all you've managed to do is make me want to move to Canada even more. Now talk about how much it snows, that'll remind me about what I like about Georgia, ha!


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