When reading a piece by the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher about Canada’s forthcoming General Election, I came across a curious statement:
Canada’s prime minister is chosen by a majority vote in Parliament, either by one party or through a coalition.
Um, no. That’s not how the Prime Minister of Canada is chosen at all. They are actually appointed by the Governor General on behalf of the Queen. As in the United Kingdom, the Crown is theoretically free to choose anyone, but longstanding convention dictates that the Governor General will only appoint someone who can command a majority in the House of Commons. But this isn’t determined by a formal vote in Parliament. In most cases, the Governor General simply appoints the leader of the largest party in the Commons.
Generally, the only time MPs cast a vote for or against the Prime Minister is when there’s a motion of no confidence before the Commons, though a loss of confidence does not automatically lead to the Prime Minister’s dismissal. When Stephen Harper lost a vote of confidence in March 2011, he advised the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call a General Election. Harper remained in office throughout the campaign, and since the Conservatives ultimately won, he never had to resign.