For all the people whose poll-watching for two years of US campaigning left them desperate for political intrigue, this is way better than Obama’s cabinet picks:

Ever since I served in Canada, I’ve tried to make a point of keeping track of Canada–major issues, political events, that sort of thing. But what with Mumbai’s crisis and the economy and the rollout of a number of new church projects, I’d sort of lost track. So imagine my surprise when I popped over to catch up on Yarn Harlot‘s writing and saw her PPPs at the bottom of a post: “If you’re Canadian, can you believe what’s happening?”. I promptly felt guilty for letting my Canadian tracking slack, and popped over to the Ottawa Citizen for a look at Canadian news.

Turns out Prime Minister Harper, recently reelected with one of the lowest-ever Canadian voter turnouts (precariously close to some of our US HIGHEST voter turnouts) has lost the confidence of Parliament. Now ordinarily, when a PM is messing up, the House of Commons calls a vote of no-confidence, in which everyone votes on whether or not they think the PM should remain the PM. If the PM loses, this means another election.

Strange things sometimes happen as a result. In India in 2000 there was such a vote, the PM lost, they had an election, and THE SAME PARTY won, meaning that they ended up electing the guy who had just lost the vote of no-confidence.

All this is much more exciting than our usual politics because in most countries with a parliamentary system, they have lots of parties. So apparently in this case the Liberals (moderately liberal) and the NDP (more liberal than the Liberals) have gotten the support of the Bloc Quebecois (did I spell that right?) which is a party whose primary goal has historically been the secession of Quebec and whose liberal-conservative identity tends to be a little hard to discern, at least for an outsider like me. This makes them a coalition majority, more than capable of unseating the sitting PM if they all vote together. And they’re all upset about Harper’s handling of the economic crisis and apparently over the government’s plan to pull funding for all political parties.

That’s all normal politics in a parliamentary system. Here’s the kicker: apparently Harper is asking the Governor General to suspend parliament so that he will not be subjected to a no-confidence vote.

What?! Who’s the GG? The Governor General has a job that we don’t really have here in the States. The GG is the Queen’s representative in Canada. She (in this case) is also the head of state. In the US we roll “head of state” and “head of government” into one job, and we call that person the President. In Canada they figured that cutting ribbons and representing the country at formal affairs and being commander-in-chief of the armed forces really might require a different set of skills than wrangling with Parliament over the latest economic relief package (although they do sometimes cross over–Harper is going to cut a ribbon at a new Toyota plant this week). So they split them up. The head of government is chosen by the parliament (by tradition and by default, the leader of the party that wins the majority of the seats in the House of Commons). Technically the head of state in Canada is still the Queen, but the Queen gives power and permission to the GG to take care of things without consulting her all the time. You can read more about her here. She is appointed by the Queen at the recommendation of the Prime Minister, but then serves independent of the PM and at her majesty’s pleasure, although terms tend to correspond with the terms of Prime Ministers. (Wikipedia offers more here.

So one of the GG’s primary jobs is to see that there is always a functioning government in place in Canada, which is why Harper is appealing to her to suspend Parliament.

At any rate, some very interesting things are afoot with our neighbors to the north. That will teach me to get behind on my reading. If you want a really in-depth, thorough primer (and you don’t mind some knitting content) read the comments on this post.