• Max Christie

Government Formation in Canada: An Introduction

Updated: Jul 7

By Max Christie


If you watch the news coverage for any given Canadian election, you will hear the anchors announce the winners as the party obtaining the highest number of seats in the House of Commons. However, Canada functions as a parliamentary democracy, meaning that there are several quirks that make the process of determining who “wins” an election a little less straightforward.


In order to understand how a government is formed in a parliamentary democracy, you must first understand the concept of confidence. For a government to govern, it must retain what is referred to as “the confidence of the House,” meaning a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons must approve of the government in power (1). This comes in the form of “motions of confidence,” which are specific bills and motions that, if defeated, also result in the defeat of the government itself (1). If a government cannot retain the confidence of the House, it cannot remain as a government (1). This is the main reason why elections may happen sooner than every four years, as re-election is needed when a government is defeated.


If a government does have the support of a majority of the house, it is referred to as a “majority government,” and is usually the most favourable situation for the party in power. This means that all members of the cabinet come from the same party and that the party in power can often make decisions without consultation. This system will work unless the party in power’s own members defect, a situation which has never happened in Canadian History (2, 3).


But what if no party wins a majority? Of the 43 Canadian parliaments since 1867, 19 have not had a party form a majority government (4). In a situation like this, there are two possible outcomes. First, there could be what is referred to as a “minority government,” where all cabinet ministers still come from the same party, but that party must find support from other groups on a vote-by-vote basis in order to stay in power (5). This is the situation of the current parliament as well as most of the 2000s; however, this structure tends to be unstable due to the threat of a vote of no confidence, whereby the government would dissolve, and a new election would be called. Almost all minority governments in Canada last around two years before being defeated, with some only lasting a matter of days (5).


However, there is a second alternative, called a coalition government. A coalition is, as the name suggests, a combination of two or more parties that agree to govern jointly. This means that cabinet posts are split between the different parties and the parties cooperate legislatively (6). While this has not happened on the federal level (with the exception of the First World War), it is the norm in many European countries (7). With a minority government currently in power, it is important to consider how this will impact political action and the possibility of a coalition or re-election.


While the intricacies of government formation in parliamentary democracies may seem irrelevant when issues such as climate change are directly affecting millions, it is exactly these political intricacies that decide the future of Canadian society. Understanding how the MPs we vote for decide the government which represents us is not just a fun fact, it is perhaps the most important aspect of Canadian politics.



References:

(1) https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/ProcedureAndPractice3rdEdition/ch_02_2-e.html

(2) https://www.samaracanada.com/research/parliament-system/house-inspection

(3) https://www.ukessays.com/essays/politics/minority-vs-majority-government.php

(4) https://lop.parl.ca/sites/ParlInfo/default/en_CA/Parliament/Parliaments

(5) https://thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/minority-government

(6) https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/coalition-governmen

(7) https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-odd-couple-politics-strange-coalition-governments/

Recent Posts

See All

Who We Are

Shake Up The Establishment is a youth-led, registered (#1190975-4) national non-partisan non-profit organization that operates within the geographical confines of what is currently known as "Canada", but what is referred to by its First Peoples, as Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island for over 10,000 years, and were the sole inhabitants less than 500 years ago. We acknowledge that our address resides on Treaty 3 land, and is the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas Peoples. Turtle Island is still home to many Indigenous peoples and we at SUTE are thankful to be able to live, learn and work on this territory, whilst continuing to create meaningful change for the climate justice movement. We are aware that our actions as an organization and the work we put out have an impact on our land, and on all that inhabit it. We are humbled to be able to follow the lead of centuries long Indigenous-led efforts towards the protection and stewardship of this land and the people that inhabit it. We are committed to continually evaluating & decolonizing our practices, and we do our best to incorporate the lived experiences of the land defenders and protectors within our work. We also want to honour the voices of Black, and non-Black people of colour within our work, and continually recognize their resiliency in the face of years of systemic oppression as imposed by the Canadian state.

 

Our enterprise is inclusive of all folx who call the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, home, and we celebrate the horizontal learning that comes from our diverse identities. As an organization, we will try our utmost best to ensure that only individuals with lived experiences are speaking on behalf of their communities, while still recognizing that Black, Indigenous and communities of colour as well as the LGBTQ2S+ community, are not a monolith. We firmly believe in accountability, and commit to being as transparent as possible in our activism space; to research our topics well, support and centre community care, and minimize any harm, no matter the intent. We have strict policies and procedures to uphold these tenets, and update these on a yearly (or as-needed) basis.

106-325 Winterberry Drive, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8J 0B6

© 2020 Shake Up The Establishment

Stay Caught Up!

Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter for major political updates, our latest educational resources, events and more!