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Why Are There So Many Political Parties? What Do They All Mean?

There are 21 different federal parties currently registered with Elections Canada.
Supporters from various parties hold up campaign signs outside the studio of the first election debate in Toronto, on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Supporters from various parties hold up campaign signs outside the studio of the first election debate in Toronto, on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

When you go to cast your ballot in the 2019 federal election on Oct. 21, you’ll likely see some unfamiliar party names on the ballot.

That’s because there are 21 different federal parties registered to run candidates for this year’s federal election. That’s in addition to independent candidates including high-profile ones like B.C.’s Jody Wilson-Raybould.

And while it’s important to know how to vote, where to vote and when, it’s also important to know why there are so many damn people.

Six political parties currently have elected members in parliament: the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party of Canada and the Peoples’ Party of Canada — though PPC Leader Maxime Bernier was originally elected as a Conservative.

WATCH: Election materials being shipped across Canada. Story continues below.

It’s a lot to keep track of. Take my own riding of Vancouver East for example, we have nine candidates in total running for that sweet, sweet MP seat, where the NDP candidate Jenny Kwan took in 2015 with around 50 per cent of the vote.

There are your usual suspects from the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens. And there’s a candidate for the newly formed Peoples’ Party of Canada.

But there are also candidates for the Libertarian Party, Communist Party and Marxist-Leninist Party — and the fact that there are both of those is peak East Vancouver. We like options here.

In the past few elections, my riding has had candidates from the Pirate Party, the Work Less Party, the Marijuana Party and the Christian Heritage Party. And that’s just one riding!

Why all the parties?

The Liberal Party of Canada and some form of the Conservative Party (it was known as the Progressive Conservative Party from 1942 to 2003) have existed since Canada’s founding in 1867.

Other parties started to get in on the picture in the 1920s, with the Progressive Party (predecessor to the now extinct Social Credit Party) and the United Farmers’ movement gaining traction. The farmers’ movement formed the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1932, which then evolved into the New Democratic Party in 1963. The Bloc Québécois were formed in 1991 by defectors from the Liberals and Conservatives.

In the back half of the 20th century, others came and went to form our modern conception of the big parties, including the Reform Party, which later morphed into the Canadian Alliance and ultimately joined the modern day Conservatives under Stephen Harper’s then-leadership. There are dozens of now defunct political parties over Canada’s history.

Of the 15 currently registered “fringe” parties, only one has ever actually elected MPs to Parliament. In 1945, the Communist Party of Canada had three sitting MPs in a 245-seat House — roughly equivalent to the support the Greens have now.

WATCH: Five things you may not know about Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Story continues below.

Besides that, none of the other current fringe parties have elected a candidate. Part of the reason is because we don’t have proportional representation in Canada. A fringe party might get a certain percentage of the vote, but if they don’t concentrate that support in a certain electoral district, they don’t get a seat. Another reason is many, like the Marijuana Party, are “single-issue” parties and more focus on bringing awareness to certain political issues through running candidates.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t try to win seats. The Greens were largely considered a “fringe” party federally until 2011, when Elizabeth May was first elected. Since then, its support has bloomed at the provincial level, and they even hold the balance of power in British Columbia, choosing to side with the NDP and have them form government.

And now they have two federal MPs, and a legitimate chance to expand that number this time around. Polls from project the Greens to talk a total of four seats this year.

And Maxime Bernier, who left the Conservatives to form his People’s Party of Canada, is running candidates in all 338 districts this year, though the race for even his own seat is projected to be tight.

So, who knows? If you have a fringe party candidate in your riding, check out their policies! Maybe they’re the right one for your vote.

Here are the 15 seatless parties currently registered, from oldest to newest.

Founded: 1921

Current leader: Elizabeth Rowley

Number of candidates in 2019: 31

Politics: Far-left, socialism

Founded: 1970

Current leader: Anna Di Carlo

Number of candidates in 2019: TBD (ran 70 candidates in 2015)

Politics: Far-left, socialism

Founded: 1973

Current leader: Tim Moen

Number of candidates in 2019: 72

Politics: reduce the size, cost and scale of the government

Founded: 1987

Current leader: Rod Taylor

Number of candidates in 2019: TBD (ran 30 candidates on 2015)

Politics: believe Canada should be governed according to “Christian” principles

Founded: 2000

Current leader: Blair Longley

Number of candidates in 2019: TBD (ran 7 candidates in 2015)

Politics: ending prohibition of marijuana

Founded: 2004

Current leader: Joe Hugelin (interim)

Number of candidates in 2019: TBD (ran 8 candidates in 2015)

Politics: centre-right

Founded: 2005

Current leader: Liz White

Number of candidates in 2019: TBD (ran 8 candidates in 2015)

Politics: animal rights and environmentalism

Founded: 2006

Current leader: Sébastien Corriveau

Number of candidates in 2019: 110 (including a Maxime Bernier in the PPC leader’s own riding!)

Politics: satirical, promises to “not keep any promises” if elected

Founded: 2014

Current leader: Stephen Garvey

Number of candidates in 2019: 11

Politics: far-right nationalism, limiting immigration, believe “climate change is a hoax”

Founded: 2018

Current leader: Travis Patron

Number of candidates in 2019: only Patron is currently listed on their website

Politics: far-right nationalism, white nationalism

Founded: 2019

Current leader: Partap Dua

Number of candidates in 2019: unknown

Politics: affordability, decreasing influence of banks

Founded: 2019

Current leader: E. Ken Ranney

Number of candidates in 2019: unknown

Politics: stopping climate change

Founded: 2019

Current leader: Michel Blondin

Number of candidates in 2019: unknown

Politics: Quebec separatism

Founded: 2019

Current leader: Randy David Joy

Number of candidates in 2019: unknown

Politics: veteran’s issues, limiting immigration, anti-carbon tax

Founded: 2019

Current leader: Carlton Darby

Number of candidates in 2019: unknown

Politics: student and senior support, preparing for artificial intelligence.

Build your own party

And just because a party isn’t registered doesn’t mean it can’t run candidates — it just means it doesn’t have funding support and structure from Elections Canada.

And if none of the major or minor political parties interest you, you always could form your own. Find out all you need to register with Elections Canada.

“By registering with the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, a party undertakes to disclose political contributions and expenditures, among other responsibilities, and receives several benefits,” according to Elections Canada.

You need a party name, leader, mailing address, stated purpose and 250 signatures from people saying they’re members. And you also have to say one of your party goals is electing candidates in the federal election. That’s it!

Next stop — the PM’s office.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified the “None of the Above” Party as a federal party. It is not.

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