Prior to the last session of Parliament with Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party holding a majority mandate, Canadians voted for three consecutive minority governments, with the first minority government under Paul Martin’s Liberal Party followed by two more minority governments under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
The last minority government from November 2008 to March 2011 was in fact Canada’s longest-running minority government.
Over the last several weeks, a number of polls have indicated that tonight’s federal election results could lead to the formation of a minority government. But what exactly does that mean for Canadians?
Governor General David Johnston technically has the constitutional authority to choose or even dismiss a Prime Minister. This is one of the Governor General’s three prerogative powers, but they are rarely exercised in the modern era. In nearly all instances, the Governor General is expected to act on the advice of the Prime Minister, except at times when the Prime Minister and the government does not have the confidence of the House.
The reigning Prime Minister could resign, which will trigger Johnston to ask the Opposition Leader to form government. Alternatively, the Prime Minister could face the House of Commons and secure a confidence vote, possibly a vote on the budget – a confidence matter for the House.
Johnston could then be requested to dissolve Parliament and hold another election or the Opposition Leader could be invited to form government.
Alternatively, the Opposition Leader could topple a minority government by forming a ‘majority’ government through a coalition partnership with other opposition parties.
A coalition could be the preferred option if the government falls just months after the federal election.
The balance of power within the House could even change if elected Members of Parliament cross the floor to another party.
The first session of the 42nd Parliament is currently scheduled to open on Monday, November 16, but that could be delayed until early next year. This was also the situation following the October 14, 2008 general election when the Governor General granted Stephen Harper a prorogation of Parliament – the House of Commons did not reconvene until January 26, 2009.
It is extremely unlikely that the Liberal Party and NDP will work with the Conservatives to uphold a minority government, but there is speculation that both Trudeau and Mulcair could be willing to join forces and oust a Harper minority.
Any minority or coalition government tends to be short-lived and highly unproductive, as was the case following the 2008 election during the height of the economic recession.