Are We Going To Have A 13th Minority Government On October 21st?

September 30, 2019

There have been 12 minority governments in Canada since the first was elected in 1921. And there is a strong risk of electing a 13th one on October 21st. Last polls show that the next Parliament could look like this: Liberal Party 160 seats, the Conservatives Party 146, followed by the Bloc Québécois with 14 MPs, NDP 13 and the Green Party 5. Of course, the numbers could be different on October 21st. The national leaders’ debates on October 7 and October 10 might have an impact on the voters especially those still undecided.

If we follow those numbers, the LPC would need a minimum of 10 more seats to hope to have a majority government. Tough call from my point of view. In the Atlantic provinces, forget it. The Liberals might lose a minimum of 10 seats. In the Prairies, the LPC will have to struggle hard to keep 5 seats. In BC, observers believe the Liberals will win a maximum 10 seats out of 38 total. Their last hope is Ontario and Quebec. In Ontario, last polls show that the LPC could win 70 seats. In Quebec, Justin Trudeau hope to win 50 seats out of 78. He has to fight with the CPC and the Bloc which will grab a minimum of 25 seats together. So where are they going to get their 10 missing seats?

Therefore my view is we will have a minority government on October 21st. Not surprisingly,  the NDP, the Green Party and the People's Party of Canada have said they are open to the idea of forming a coalition government. It’s the only way they will have significant influence in the next Parliament. It is not hard to see Jagmeet Singh and/or Elizabeth May working closely with Justin Trudeau to table the next federal budget and avoid another election in 6 months.

In 2005, Jack Layton hit the jackpot. The New Democrat Leader reached an agreement-in-principle with former Prime Minister Paul Martin to earn support for his minority government's budget, a deal that included a $4.6-billion boost in social program spending over two years. But a vote of non-confidence brought down Paul Martin's government six months later in November. This scenario might happen again if the Liberals or the Conservatives win a minority government in October 2019.

History shows that minority governments in Canada do not live long. Of the six Conservative minority governments, only two have endured for more than a few months (2006–08 and 2008–2011) and only two (1957–58 and 2006–08) did not fall on confidence votes. Of the six Liberal minority governments, two were defeated in the House (1972–74 and 2004–06) and three were able to govern with the support of the third parties.

The Liberal Party has always been willing to accommodate opposition parties. In the 1920’s, Mackenzie King saved his government with his ability to support the strong anti-tariff policy of the opposition party. In the 1960’s, Lester B. Pearson minority governments survived from 1963–65 and from 1965–68 with the support of the NDP with legislation including considerable increases to social programs. Same thing for the Pierre-Elliott Trudeau minority government of 1972–74 which won the support of the NDP by enacting, or by committing itself to enact, regulation of election expenses and the establishment of Petro-Canada and the Foreign Investment Review Agency. The minority government of Paul Martin (2004–06) clung to power with the support of the NDP, in part by amending its proposed budget to increase spending on social programs and defer tax cuts for large corporations. However, Martin’s government ultimately lost the NDP’s confidence.

In this election, a Liberal minority government would be welcomed by many New Democrats. The NDP could pledge its voting support in return for the Liberals agreeing to introduce NDP policies -- for example, legislation establishing a national pharmacare program financed by a wealth tax of one per cent on fortunes over $20 million.

Increasing numbers of Canadians are seriously concerned about climate change. A Liberal-NDP alliance could take up the challenge issued by the Greens to double the national target for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The targets of the Liberals on climate change are pretty similar to the Greens, the NDP and the Bloc. No surprise if the opposition partyies make a deal with the next government to do more on this essential issue. But Liberals will have to win the election first, and a win is far from certain. The Conservatives might cause a surprise on October 21st. If it happened, the question will be: which opposition party will form a coalition with CPC to save the life of the government? And on which issues?

Minority Federal Governments in Canada:

1921–25, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Liberal

1925–26, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Liberal

1926, Arthur Meighen, Conservative

1957–58, John Diefenbaker, Conservative

1962–63, John Diefenbaker, Conservative

1963–65, Lester B. Pearson, Liberal

1965–68, Lester B. Pearson, Liberal

1972–74, Pierre Trudeau, Liberal

1979–80, Joe Clark, Conservative

2004–06, Paul Martin, Liberal

2006–08, Stephen Harper, Conservative

2008–11, Stephen Harper, Conservative