Canadians are at the polls today in what's likely to be a close election between the three major parties vying for votes. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is running for his fourth term in power and while it will be a close call, it seems likely he'll be defeated for the first time since he was elected to lead the country in 2006.
But to fully grasp the magnitude of such a change up north requires a primer on the past 10 years of Canadian politics. Here's what you need to know.
So, who is Stephen Harper?
He's the Canadian prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Harper was elected prime minister in 2006 and has been voted back in two more times since. In the most recent election in 2011, Harper's party won a decisive victory. Part of his popularity in that election was based on his economic management credentials, which saw Canada through the 2008 global financial crisis. Canadians in this election might be looking more critically at his social policies.
Who is running against him?
Harper's most prominent opponent is Justin Trudeau. He happens to be the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who governed the country for 15 years, from 1968-79 and again from 1980-84. The younger Trudeau has run on a platform of promising to bring Canada back to policies of encouraging immigration, reforming the tax system to benefit the less wealthy, and tougher environmental regulation.
And who is most likely to win?
Reuters reports that Trudeau's Liberal Party has been ahead in pre-election polling, with Harper and the Conservative Party a close second, and the third major party in the running, the New Democratic Party, behind both. Whichever party wins the most seats will probably not win an outright majority–meaning they will have to rely on the support of smaller parties to pass legislation. There are 338 seats in Canada's House of Commons, so any party would have to win more than 169 seats to win a majority. Failing that, the party with the most votes will win power and then be dependent on members of smaller parties to vote with them when they want to pass legislation. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party, has said his party won't support Harper if the Conservatives win, but would consider an agreement with Trudeau and the Liberals.
Why are the Conservatives likely to lose power?
Canadian voters are traditionally more liberal when it comes to national politics, and the country has long been held up as a model multicultural society with relatively open immigration policies. Harper's time in power has been a departure from that norm, and it seems that Canadians are ready to return to their more liberal roots. Some voters are seeing this election as a bigger test of what it means to be Canadian.
“This election has forced us to ask ourselves who we are and who we want to be as a country,” Stephen Marche, a Canadian novelist and political columnist, told CS Monitor. “It’s a test of Canadian values.”
This morning, #VOTEHARPEROUT was trending on Canadian Twitter:
He drew criticism for his response to a question during a pre-election debate in September about whether the government has been denying healthcare benefits to immigrants and refugees. "We do not offer them a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive," Harper said. "I think that's something that both new and existing and old-stock Canadians can agree with."
What exactly Harper meant by "old-stock Canadians" is unclear, but many saw the statement as having racist undertones. His government has also been trying to ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab while taking Canada's citizenship oath, and has suggested that they might consider banning it for public servants as well.
For me and a lot of people, the 2015 Canadian Federal Election was not about the economy, it was about Stephen Harper's fear mongering, hateful divide and conquer fascist policies. This is where I made up my mind. I have never come across any party leader, let alone a Prime Minister, whom supposed to unite their people, divide the nation into the new stock (immigrants, newcomers, minorities, and aboriginal Canadians), and old stock. Tomorrow, lessons will be learned. Old stock Canadians and the new stock will unite, live together in peace and harmony, and will sow new hope for our new homeland, and turn Canada into a haven of sensibility. #StopHarper #Trudeau2015 #ImVotingLiberal #Canada #Freedom #FreedomOfSpeech #Liberal #JustinTrudeau #JustinTrudeau2015 #CanadaFederalElection #StephenHarper #Memes #StephenHarperMemes #Conservatives #GOP #Tories #BillC51 #FederalElection2015 #VoteHarperOut
A photo posted by Saud Siddiqui (@saud_siddiqui_artw) on Oct 18, 2015 at 8:14am PDT
One Instagram user pointed out that, while trailing in pre-election polling, Harper even publicly acknowledged support from the disgraced, crack-smoking former Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, which did not help his image with some voters:
Canadian voter Mary Cleaver wrote a Facebook post in the lead-up to the election telling Harper that despite his economic policies benefiting her directly, she won't be voting for him because she, like many others in her position she says, does not support his social policies. The post has been shared more than 32,000 times.
"You’ve underestimated us," Cleaver wrote. "On October 19, we’re not voting for our bank balance. We’re voting for change because we want the caring Canada of our youth back. The Canada that supported our single mothers that gave us the opportunity to succeed in the first place."
What would a change of government in Canada mean for America?
A change of leadership in Canada could lead to improved relations with the United States. There's been tension between Harper's government and the Obama Administration over environmental issues and the Trans-Pacific Partnership in particular.
The last polls close at around 10.30 p.m. EST tonight.