The Canadian government is based on the British parliamentary system. Public elections allow citizens to vote for individuals who will represent them as members of parliament. Usually, members are affiliated with one of the Canadian political parties. The system is structured so that the party with the most elected members forms the government. The leader of this party is automatically the leader of the government. This position is the Prime Minister in the federal parliament and Premier for the provinces and territories.
The Canadian political parties represent a broad range of interests, or platforms. While there are many parties, only a few have elected members. The parties with current representation in the federal parliament as as follows:
Conservative Party of Canada
This party currently has the most elected members and has formed the federal government under the leadership of the Steven Harper, (Right Hon.). The party was formed in 2003 with the integration of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance and Conservative parties, but the name has been known in Canadian politics since the 1860's.
Liberal Party of Canada
This party has the second highest number of elected members. Their leader, Michael Ignatieff, (Hon.), is the leader of the Opposition. The party history dates back nearly 200 years and includes some of the most famous Prime Ministers of Canada including Pierre Trudeau.
This party has the third highest number of elected members and is based solely in the province of Quebec. They are committed to strengthening the interests of the province of Quebec, up to the possible independence of the province.
New Democratic Party
This party has the fourth highest number of elected members. They represent the moderate socialist viewpoint. Their leader in the 1960's, Tommy Douglas, championed the concept of universal healthcare which was later adopted in Canada.
Several of these parties have similar counterparts who operate in provincial politics.
Because the government is formed by the party with the most elected members, it is possible to become Prime Minister with a minority position. This happened with the most recent federal election. In order to govern, the Prime Minister must then form a coalition to ensure that he has more than 50% of the members' support for all parliamentary votes. If the Prime Minister is unable to garner this support, there could be a non-confidence situation which would remove the government from office. A new federal election would then need to be called.