Political parties are groups of people who are committed to a particular approach to governing, and who pursue common goals based on a common vision. This approach or philosophy is expressed through policies. Candidates seeking election to the House of Commons in Canada ask voters to support their parties’ “platforms”, or sets of policies. Parties adopt constitutions and elect leaders.
Political parties may apply for registration under the Canada Elections Act. Registration allows contributors to enjoy tax exemptions and permits candidates to have their party affiliations printed on election ballots.
With very few exceptions, Members of Parliament belong to political parties. The Members of Parliament belonging to one political party are referred to as that party’s “caucus” in the House. Members of the same caucus usually vote together.
A political party that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Commons is the governing party. By convention, its leader becomes the Prime Minister, who, together with his or her Cabinet, implements the Government’s legislative program and heads the executive branch of Government.
In the event that no one party commands a majority (more than half of the parliamentary seats) in the House, the party with the largest number of elected Members is usually invited by the Governor General to form the Government, and its leader becomes the Prime Minister. Since a government can survive only as long as it maintains the confidence of the House, a governing party that does not have a majority must obtain the support of one or more Members of other political parties to pass its legislation. If it loses a confidence vote, the Government must resign. The Governor General will then either call an election or ask the leader of another of the political parties to form the Government.
According to the Parliament of Canada Act, a political party must have at least 12 elected Members to be a “recognized party” in the House of Commons. The Leaders, Whips, Deputy Whips, House Leaders, Deputy House Leaders and Chairs of recognized parties receive additional financial allowances and their parties are entitled to funding for their research groups.
Political parties cannot function effectively unless party discipline is maintained. This is the job of the party’s “Whip”, who ensures that Members attend debates, vote with the party when necessary, and represent it on committees. Each party also has a House Leader, who negotiates with the House Leaders of other parties to manage the day-to-day business of the House.