The minority government many had predicted is a reality. So now what?
Well, as it turns out, minority governments are not unfamiliar territory in Canada, particularly in recent times. Stephen Harper’s first two terms as prime minister were as the head of minorities in Parliament. Harper’s Conservatives fell 30 seats short of a majority in the 2006 election, then came up 12 seats short in 2008 before rolling to a majority in 2011.
Paul Martin, who just received an honorary degree from the University of Lethbridge recently, led the Liberals’ most recent minority government. That came about in 2004 when Martin was expected to lead the Liberals to a fourth consecutive majority. Instead, the sponsorship scandal produced a much closer election and the Liberals wound up 20 seats shy of a majority, resulting in a minority government that lasted less than 500 days.
But that was a marathon compared to Joe Clark’s Conservative government of 1979, which came crashing down after just 273 days although the Tories were within six seats of a majority.
How long Justin Trudeau’s minority government endures remains to be seen, but what is clear is that Trudeau will have to get by with a little help from his enemies. The configuration following the Oct. 21 election sets the stage for some interesting parliamentary workings. With the Liberals holding 157 seats, 20 fewer than prior to the election and 13 short of the 170 necessary for a majority, it puts also-ran parties like the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP in an enviable position of influence.
The resurgent Bloc pilfered a number of Quebec seats that could have given the Liberals a majority, winding up with 32 seats, while Jagmeet Singh’s NDP party collected 24 seats. While the NDP total is down from the 44 the party won in the 2015 election, the party is actually in a stronger position now, essentially holding the balance of power in this new minority government. The NDP is probably more likely to see eye to eye with the Liberals on policy matters than the Bloc, so Singh and his party could find themselves in the driver’s seat in directing legislation. The NDP can use their leverage to wrangle concessions from the Liberals that wouldn’t have been possible before.
While Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives edged the Liberals in the popular vote overall, the 122 seats they earned really don’t give them any more influence than the NDP. However, the Conservatives, Bloc and NDP together are certainly in a position to hold the Liberals’ feet to the fire, and that’s where a minority government can be interesting. The governing party must get along with their fellow parliamentarians if they want to hold onto power and that means earning agreement from at least one of the other three parties in order to pass legislation.
One could argue that a minority government is the best example of democracy in action because it requires at least some degree of cross-party co-operation in order to govern. And after a bruising election campaign that saw parties bashing one another from coast to coast, Canadians might like to see a little co-operation from their elected representatives.
Here’s hoping our new federal government will be able to get things done to the benefit of Canadians as a whole in this edition of “Survivor: Ottawa.”