Know Canada’s political parties

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What is a political party? It is “an organization one of whose fundamental purposes is to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election” (Canada Elections Act). Political parties endorse or support candidates so that they will be represented in the law-making process.

The people that form or join political parties are united by common principles that they believe the government should prioritize on. This is why learning about them is important. These groups influence policies and laws enacted in the country. And policy changes affect everyone! As a newcomer, you feel this especially when there are changes in immigration policies or programs and supports for immigrants.

In Canada, there are federal or national political parties and provincial political parties. Some federal parties (especially the major ones) have ties with provincial parties with similar names or aims. However, most provincial parties tend to be independent and fully autonomous.

How is a political party formed?

There are no rules in the Elections Act about how a party should be formed. But there are requirements for registration. A group should have at least 250 members, meet certain legal requirements (see Applying for Registration – Federal Political parties), and nominate a candidate in a general election or by-election (there may be additional requirements for provincial political parties. Check this page on Elections Manitoba). There are benefits to registering a political party. Among them:

  • The right to have the party’s name listed under the name of its endorsed candidate.
  • They may issue tax receipts for contributions.
  • Their party name and logo are protected from other parties that may want to use a similar name.
  • After the elections, they can be eligible for reimbursement of election expenses if they received a required percentage of votes cast in the electoral districts where they endorsed a candidate.
  • The candidate is allowed to transfer surplus funds to the party or to a registered electoral district association.

A bit of history

Political parties have existed since before Confederation but they started to be recognized only in the 70s. For the first half of the century after Confederation, Canada mainly had a two-party system with the Conservatives and Liberals. Depending on which party won more seats in the elections, one party would govern and the other would act as the opposition. This changed in 1921, with the rise of the Progressive Party to official opposition. Since then, other parties have been formed and have risen to prominence to challenge the dominance of Conservatives and Liberals. Today, we have the New Democratic Party (NDP), Bloc Québécois, Green Party, and others that are active in the political scene. “The Canadian party system has evolved to the point where three main parties compete for power and a number of smaller parties organize in a more limited way” (Party System, The Canadian Encyclopedia).

During elections, you may also hear about other parties mentioned such as the Christian Heritage Party or Marijuana Party (on the federal level) or the Communist Party of Canada-Manitoba. These are smaller groups that meet the criteria for registration but garner only small shares of the votes and do not win seats in the House of Commons. They are called fringe political parties.

Political parties in Canada

National/Federal Political Parties:

There are 13 registered political parties on the Federal level as of Sept. 2018. These are the:
Liberal Party of Canada – Justin Trudeau, Party Leader
Conservative Party of Canada – Andrew Scheer
New Democratic Party – Jagmeet Singh
The Bloc Quebecois – Mario Beaulieu
Green Party of Canada – Elizabeth May
Alliance of the North – François Bélanger
Animal Protection Party of Canada – Liz White
Christian Heritage Party of Canada – Rodney Taylor
Communist Party of Canada – Elizabeth Rowley
Libertarian Party of Canada – Timothy P. Moen
Marijuana Party – Blair T. Longley
Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada – Anna di Carlo
Progressive Canadian Party-Joseph F. Hueglin
Rhinoceros Party – Sébastien CoRhino Corriveau

Manitoba Political Parties:

Manitoba currently has six registered parties as of Sept. 2018:
New Democratic Party of Manitoba (NDP) – Wab Kinew, Party Leader
The Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba (PC) – Brian Pallister
Communist Party of Canada – Manitoba (CPC-M) – Darrel Rankin
The Green Party of Manitoba (GPM) – James Beddome
Manitoba Liberal Party (Lib.) – Dougald Lamont
Manitoba Party (MP) – Steven Fletcher

You can learn about each party by going to their respective websites. If you are interested in joining one, you may directly contact the group and become a member or volunteer. It can be as easy as signing up on the website. Generally, parties allow permanent residents and citizens to become members. The minimum age to join is 14 or 16 (depending on the political party). Some require an annual membership fee but others, like the Liberal Party of Canada, do not (Right Now) . You can also donate money to show your support. The best show of support is to vote for the political party’s candidate come election time. To know more about elections and your right to suffrage, read Canada’s Electoral System.

Sources: Party System, William Christian and Harold Jansen, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Elections Canada; and Elections Manitoba. Retrieved September 12, 2018.

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Community Resources

Do you want to see the Official Opposition Party in action? Watch the Question Period at the House of Commons. This is a live video feed of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly at scheduled times.

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