New minority government sitting in the hot seat

Breaking down the ins and outs of Canadian elections

The lifespan of a minority government usually isn't long.
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Last month, almost 18 million Canadians exercised their democratic right and voted in the federal election. After a hard-fought campaign by all parties, the Liberals, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, successfully formed government. Their diverse platform of policies surrounding gun control, pharma care, and middle-class tax cuts was enough to inspire voters to elect them for another term.

Despite their previous success in the 2015 election, forming a majority government, the Liberals didn’t get the most votes this time around. The Conservative Party got the popular vote, meaning the most votes overall. But in Canada, due to our unique first-past-the-post electoral system, the Liberals and Trudeau have formed government again anyway.

In Canada, the House of Commons is made up of 338 individually elected Members of Parliament (MP). After elections in all the ridings, the party that wins and forms government is the one that has won the most seats in Parliament.

However, ridings all have different populations and are won by different voter margins, which can throw off the seats-won to votes-won ratio. This means it’s possible to win the most seats without drawing in the most votes. That’s exactly what happened in this election, but the Liberals aren’t the first party to form government without getting the most votes. 

There are a few reasons this happens. In many ridings, particularly the ones out west, the Conservatives won ridings by huge margins. However, no matter how much of the vote they won by, the votes still translate to only a set amount of ridings. The Liberals, however, saw fewer ridings swept with massive portions of the vote, but saw many ridings win with just enough of the vote.

This unlucky ending saw the Conservatives get 6,150,177 votes and the Liberals get 5,911,588 votes, while the Conservatives got 121 seats and the Liberals got 157.

The Liberals won with just 33 per cent of the popular vote. This is the first time since Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, was in power that a party has been able to form government with less than 35 per cent of the vote.

Out of the 338 seats across Canada, a party needs to win 170 seats to get a majority government. The Liberals fell shy of this target by 13, and will therefore be governing with a minority government.

A minority government is formed when no party wins a majority of seats. Laws are passed in Parliament by simple votes. This can prove difficult when your government doesn’t have enough MPs to pass them. This means that the government will need to work with other parties to get anything done.

The Liberals will probably have to rely on the New Democratic Party, Green Party, and maybe even the Bloc Québécois to get bills passed. Without any formal coalition, they plan on tackling bills case-by-case, creating an uncertain future for this government.

Unstable and weak, minority governments are rare, and often struggle to be efficient and stay in power. However, there are exceptions of minority governments that were able to hold onto power and pushed significant legislation through Parliament. For example, Lester B. Pearson’s 1963 minority government ushered in universal health care, the Canadian Pension Plan, the abolishment of capital punishment, and the new Canadian flag, despite holding fewer than half the seats in Parliament.

Canada has had only 13 federal minority governments led by nine different prime ministers. Although difficult to predict, the lifespan of a minority government is typically less than two years. Often defeated by losing the confidence of the house, prime ministers can be deposed if they fail to pass confidence bills or motions like the speech from the throne or budget bills.

With little historical precedent, it’s hard to guess the future of this government, so we’ll have to wait and see how long this one lasts.

So if you’re relieved that this long election period is over, don’t get too excited just yet, because another federal election might be coming a lot sooner than you expect.

 

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