Thursday, October 17, 2019

The logistics and implications of a minority government in Canada

As Canada's depressing federal election lunches towards a conclusion, the word "minority" is much more in the air. The two main parties, the distinctly un-progressive Progressive Conservatives and the only-vaguely-liberal Liberals, are neck and neck at around 31-32% each in the polls - although poll can of course be wrong, and in recent often are - with the (left-leaning but basically liberal) NDP making a late bid at 18%. So, unless things take a very strange hop over the next few days, we seem destined for a minority government of some kind.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been surprisingly vocal about being open to a coalition with the Liberals, which is not too surprising as the two parties are not that far apart politically, and as his main goal is to avoid a Tory government at all costs. Many people see an NDP-supported Liberal government as a best-case scenario. Singh has also been equally clear that he categorically will NOT work with the Conservatives, who have no real support options in the event of a minority government (neither the Bloc Quebecois nor the People Party seem interested in forming a coalition with the Conservatives). Canada has seen minority governments and even semi-official coalition agreements before, but they are not that common, given our first-past-the-post electoral system. How might this work, then?
Well, what's interesting is the possibility that, even if the Conservatives do win more seats than the Liberals, the Liberals are still in a position to form a winning coalition, snatching a (qualified) victory from the jaws of apparent defeat. Technically, in the case of no clear majority, Trudeau remains Prime Minister after the election, and is not bound to step down until Parliament is recalled and he faces a no-confidence vote on a budget bill, or on the Speech from the Throne.
Contrary to what Mr. Scheer would like us to believe, there is no "convention" that the party who wins the most seats, but not enough for a majority, gets first dibs on trying to form a government with a working majority - that right always goes to the current Prime Minister. Either Scheer was ignorant of that, or he was trying to pull over our eyes for some obscure reasons of his own.
Therefore, if Mr. Singh is willing to play nicely, and it seems like he is, then Mr. Trudeau gets to stay as Prime Minister. It does not have to be a full-blown official coalition, just ad-hoc support is sufficient: so long as Trudeau is able to persuade Governor-General Julie Payette that he has the confidence of the House, he can continue to lead a majority government. This is not a particularly common outcome in Canadian elections, but neither is it unprecedented. And Conservative leader Andrew Scheer certainly does not seem to be in a position to convince the Governor-General that the Conservatives are able to maintain the confidence of the House.
So, all is not lost yet...

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