Oooh! I've been lurking for a month, but if there was *ever* a time to sign and post, this is it...
And yes, I realize that I am a politics nerd...now moving onward...
Canada has two houses, similar to the US - a House of Commons (308 representatives, who are called Members of Parliament - MPs) and a Senate (representatives are Senators). Unlike the American system, pretty much everything is decided by the HoC and the Senate is more ceremonial and acts as a rubber stamp. MPs are elected by the public, Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister.
The Canadian Prime Minister (who is the equivalent of the US President for all intents and purposes) is the head of the HoC. Each MP is elected by their riding, similar to US elections. MPs generally run as Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois, and a few more minor parties. The difference in the two systems is that Canadians do not vote for their Prime Minister directly - the leader of the party with the most seats is automatically the Prime Minister. So when someone votes, they are voting for their representative directly, but they are also voting for who they think should be Prime Minister indirectly.
The Current Situation:
The "Sponsorship Scandal" had dominated the Canadian media for quite some time, so I won't go into too much detail here. Basically the ruling party (the Liberals) had a sponsorship program that was providing kickbacks to party insiders - about $300 million (CDN). This happened before the current Prime Minister (Paul Martin) came into power, and occurred when the previous PM (Jean Chretien) was the Prime Minister. There was a major inquiry, and the current PM was cleared of wrongdoing, however the Liberal Party was not.
So, the opposition parties (namely the Conservatives - who have the second highest number of seats - the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP) have been calling for an election since the results of the inquiry were made public, because they say that the Liberals have lost of the confidence of Canadians because of the scandal. The PM has promised an election in March, but the opposition parties decided they wanted it earlier, so they moved a vote of non-confidence in the government on Monday. As required, the Prime Minister dissolved parliament, and the election is scheduled for January 23.
So, what's going to happen?
In short? Likely nothing. All the polls point to the Liberals remaining in power, and the conversatives still having the second highest number of seats. Of course, there is a chance that the Conservatives will take power, but it doesn't look to likely right now.
Basically, everyone is in a huff over the winter election - not only because it is over the holidays, but also because it is pretty difficult to run a campaign when it is -20 F. The Liberal Party was going to call the election for March anyway, but the opposition wants it now because a lot of people aren't happy with the Liberals due to the scandal. The opposition sees this as their opportunity to gain seats *now* instead of taking their chances that the scandal will still be a big deal in March.
The international media is making a big deal out of the whole thing because "Canadian Government Brought Down" or some such title attracts a lot of attention. But, to be honest, I think that there may be a small change in the total seat counts, but we're pretty much going through the motions and are going to end up with the same government and opposition that we currently have.
So, to answer your other questions, QTOFFER
, now that the HoC is dissolved, all 308 MPs must run for re-election if they would like to remain in the House. The leader who's party has the most MPs after the election will become the Prime Minister. Canada doesn't have set elections, but they are generally held about every four years, and are called by the government.
So...that's the story. Apologies for the long and rambling post...I could talk about this all day!