Runner-Run Down: Choosing a leader in Canada and the U.S.

It can get pretty complicated, so here’s a brief refresher

At the moment both the Canadian and American political systems are going through an era of upheaval. While the Republicans and Democrats struggle to find their respective presidential candidates, the Conservatives and NDP are preparing to choose their leadership after significant defeats in the last election.

Despite being neighbours, the process of choosing the political party leaders in these two nations can differ wildly.

In the U.S., each state holds a primary election to determine who receives support from the major parties’ delegates in that state. Depending on the form of election each state chooses, the voters either submit their votes by ballot or by taking sides in a room and openly debating who would make the strongest candidate.

However, the votes that the citizens cast do not directly go to the candidate. Instead, they are given to people called delegates, who are often state representatives or officials. Depending on the state, delegates may not be required to hand the votes to the candidate the voters have chosen. Some states allow them to ignore the citizens and vote for whomever the delegates want.

After the primaries are over, the delegates for each political party gather and carry out the official vote for the presidential nominee. This gathering is called the national convention.

The conventions also feature super delegates who represent the actual political party, such as congressmen or past presidents. They can vote for whomever they want and can take up to twenty per cent of the vote at the national convention.

Unlike the U.S., Canada does not hold public primary elections. Instead, political parties will host what is known as a leadership convention. There, the political party and its members will vote on their new leader themselves. Leadership conventions are generally a one-member-one-vote system, meaning that each ballot carries the same weight. However, many of the parties have modified the system so that certain votes are weighed differently to try to ensure equality amongst the ridings.

Before the convention takes place, each riding association will hold a meeting where they decide on a number of delegates that will represent the riding at the convention.

In addition to the other delegates, there is also a group of ex-officio delegates, who are entitled to a vote due to their position in the political party. For example, any elected member of parliament for that party would automatically have the right to vote at a leadership convention.

Also unlike the U.S., where a new presidential candidate is nominated every four years in at least one party, Canadian leadership conventions do not happen with the same predictable frequency. The leader will stay in power until he or she resigns, is voted out, or in some cases, passes away.