I was discussing politics online with a couple of Americans (John Eremic and Ankur Aggarwal). John mentioned that all elections were choices between two evils and that government was necessarily corrupt. My own point of view of government was more optimistic because I've never been limited to only two choices of party, and the House of Commons has always had at least two other parties weighing in on every matter. The discussion made me wonder what American politics would look like with multiple parties, in the Canadian style.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are “big tent” parties, but no-one seems particularly happy with their tent-mates. The rift between Clinton and Sanders supporters, on one side, was mirrored by the public and bitter rift between Trump supporters and the NeverTrump supporters on the other.
The last federal election in Canada was a very close three-way race until the last week or two. The parties were
1. the Conservative Party, under the leadership of The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, which had a legacy of government, a few well-publicized examples of mismanagement and prevarication, and a few tentative moves to stigmatize Muslims;
2. the New Democratic Party, under Tom Mulcair, was a socialist party that had been in second place in Parliament and tried for a breakthrough into power by moving towards the centre,
3. the Liberal Party under new leader Justin Trudeau was left-leaning centrist. In addition, there was
4. the Bloc Quebecois which campaigns on Canada’s version of State’s Rights, but only for and only in the province of Quebec, and
5. the Green Party, which finally got its first seat in Parliament in the last election.
6. There’s one Independent. There’s usually one or two of these, and I remember one vote in which the fate of the government rested on the vote of an Independent.
Now, if we map this onto the US, the Sanders supporters would split between the NDP, the Liberals, and the Green Party, but be fairly happy with their choice either way. Clinton supporters would go for the Liberals or the Conservatives. NeverTrump Republicans would go for the Conservatives. I think that Trump supporters would probably form a protest party on the right, as has happened more than once (Social Credit, Wild Rose, Reform…).
Anyone not covered might consider one of the other existing parties. The last time I bothered to check there were 22, including two Communist parties that have never elected a Member of Parliament but have contested for seats since the 1920’s. I honour their persistence.
In addition, my correspondent's sense of helplessness to alter a government could well be due to how the political parties are funded. There is no limit to the spending of groups that are not the political parties in favour or against the political parties, and the spending can be by corporations as well as by actual people. It would take many, many individuals to match the potential or actual spending of a Google or the Koch Brothers, so why, he might wonder, should an individual bother?
However, the funding of parties is quite a bit different between the United States and Canada. I believe that the Canadian rules are much fairer, and they may be surprising to an American.
Individuals may contribute funds to a party, but not corporations. The limit is $1500/year. The names of all donors of $200 or more must be released. There are generous tax credits for individuals who donate.
The government partially reimburses parties for electoral spending. How much depends on how much the national vote was attracted or how much of the vote only in the ridings in which they ran candidates. (“2 per cent of the national vote or 5 per cent of the vote in the districts in which they ran candidates receive 50 per cent of the money they spent as a reimbursement.”)
There are also spending limits in force during an election:
“Political parties may spend 73.5 cents for every voter in districts where they are running candidates. For their local campaigns, candidates may spend an amount based on the population of the district in which they are running, typically between $75,000 and $115,000. If the election campaign is longer than 36 days, as was the case in 2015, the limits for both parties and candidates are increased proportionately.
“Groups or individuals other than political parties and candidates may spend no more than $150,000 to try to persuade voters during an election, and no more than $3,000 of that may be spent in any one district. Critically, all of these limits to spending apply only during the election period — between when the writs of election have been issued (when the election is officially called) and election day.”
There is more detail here (), but I think those are the highlights.
As for the media, I’ll confine my comments to the leaders’ debates. Participation in them is complicated by the number of parties, the need to have debates in both official languages, and the freedom of leaders to take part or not. In general, parties that had Members of Parliament before the election was called were invited to the debates. Here’s some detail about who came to which:
I’d say that small parties get better opportunities to win a seat or two in a Westminster-style Parliament. That’s how the Greens got their first MP, by concentrating on the election of their strongest candidate in a sympathetic riding. Once you have seats, you have the ability to ask questions and propose bills in Parliament, although Private Members bills often don’t pass. You also, then, get to speak in leaders’ debates in the next election.