“Minority Report”

A process-laden reminder about what happens in a minority Parliament situation, and what is likely to happen in this one

The current polls and seat projections don’t show either the Conservatives or Liberals geared to win a majority of seats in Parliament after October 21st. They are consistently neck-and-neck in CBC’s Poll Tracker, an aggregate of all the major polling firms’ findings.

What happens if this bears out on October 21st? Well, it does not happen as you may think.

Even in the case that Conservatives win the most seats at 168 seats – one short of a tie in Parliament – by convention they would not be invited to form government by the Governor General.

Here’s what happens: the incumbent party who formed government last gets the first crack. If they do not think that—after consulting other opposition parties—that they could maintain the confidence of the House of Commons, then they would have the Prime Minister resign and allow for the Official Opposition to take a shot.

Civics class has been a while, I know. And there have been a fair amount of misconceptions widely shared on this matter.

Don’t forget that, under our Westminster system, the sitting Prime Minister still holds their title and role for the writ period and immediately following an election. They may not want to give up that spot so easily, despite what the majority of the electorate has said.

In this current landscape, how would this dynamic affect things? How would this likely shake out?

Jagmeet Singh—following on questions about Scheer’s same-sex marriage beliefs—committed to not propping up a Scheer minority government. By extension, one can assume he would have to support Justin Trudeau’s Liberals if he did not win himself.

The NDP have tried to paint the Greens as ‘Conservatives on Bikes’ this election, trying to raise concerns that they are secretly social conservatives. This is their way of marking their progressive territory, while also setting the stage for a minority negotiation situation.

Elizabeth May and her Greens—at first—left the prospect open of supporting a minority government, using that status to leverage more climate-friendly policies. They even wanted to form a cross-party climate cabinet to deal with that issue specifically.

May later was forced to concede that Scheer’s climate plan did not meet her environmental policy standing test. Therefore, she has now said she would not help any government, without drastic changes to their environment plans.

This leaves the conclusion that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, likely at the mercy of the NDP and/or Greens could uphold a minority government. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, without an overall policy flip-flop, would be unlikely to maintain the confidence of the House. Even if Maxime Bernier was to win seats, the feud between he and Scheer would almost ensure they would not gang up.

Scheer could perhaps use the Bloc, however, his predecessor made that path somewhat untenable with his rhetoric in 2008’s coalition snafu.

The 2008 situation is instructive where Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion almost became Prime Minister with the help of NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe. While they did have a majority of the seats together, the Conservatives were successfully able to frame coalitions as illegitimate (and then prorogue Parliament) in light of them alone winning the most seats. Andrew Scheer in a minority situation may choose to go this route again.

A minority Parliament under the propped up Liberals could put Canada in a more progressive direction than some centrist Canadians planned on, however, would keep things interesting for observers. Liberals had planned to balance the economy and the environment, while keeping those centre-right Canadians who could swing Conservative on board. Those may fall off, if deficits continue to grow in favour of climate action spending.

It is for this reason that you will see Liberals targeting the 2/3 of willing swing voters to keep their coalition together and keep their incremental plan moving forward, without having to curry favour from smaller parties.

The Liberals may, after October 21, be in a whole different ball game. The NDP and Green will be jockeying between each other for who gets third, but they may together start to message to voters about what they actually achieve as kingmakers.

In the meantime, Canada has MPs to elect and then they thereafter have some choices to make about who they have confidence in, because that is how the rules dictate we form governments – regardless of who wins the most seats.