Minority governments in present-day Canada

Positionality statement: My name is Rachel Howlett and my pronouns are she/her. I am from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which is the traditional land of the Mi’kmaq known as Mi’kmaki in the region of Sipekni’katik. I am speaking from a position of privilege as a white settler and I want to acknowledge that intersectionality is essential in every topic in order to fully address the injustices of the world we live in. This post was written to educate others on past minority governments so that the political history of present-day Canada is more accessible to others.


On August 17th, 2020, the government of New Brunswick issued the election writ for a provincial general election to be held on September 14th, 2020 (1). During the previous provincial election held on September 24th, 2018, the Progressive Conservatives under Blaine Higgs were elected with the first minority government in the province since 1920 (1). New Brunswick’s election during COVID-19 was declared after the opposition party, the Liberal party, declined to support the Higgs minority government until the proposed date of September 2022 (2).


Minority governments occur when a party wins the most amount of seats in an election but does not win the majority of them. The duration of minority governments, both provincially and federally, are variable. Generally, minority governments do not last as long as majority governments since they need support from other parties or independents in order to pass legislature (3). Minority governments are not uncommon among provinces although Alberta has never elected one (3). While the Yukon Territory has elected a minority government, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are governed by consensus governments and so do not have political parties (3). The federal government has seen thirteen minority governments since the first one was elected in 1921 (3). On average, federal minority governments last just under two years. It is worth mentioning that our electoral system, the “single-member plurality” system or more commonly referred to as the “first-past-the-post” system, does not require an absolute majority for a candidate to be elected (4). As a result, even if the popular vote is spread out between parties, one party can win a plurality of seats and win a majority government. This electoral system produces more majorities compared to a mixed-member proportional representation model, which takes into account the popular vote in addition to elected candidates (5).


There is an assumption that minority governments are ineffective and unstable given their shorter lifespan (6). While this can be the case, the Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s minority government in 1966 supported by the New Democratic Party introduced the bill on universal coverage of hospitalization and medicare (7). Additionally, bills on student loans, bilingualism and to create the Canada Pension plan were all passed by his two back-to-back minority governments from 1963 to 1968 (8).


There are various models of cooperation for minority governments that are seen in different countries, ranging from formal agreements that lead to coalitions to ad hoc majorities on each issue (9). There has never been a formal agreement on cooperation or official coalitions between federal parties in Canada (9). The only informal understanding was from 1972 to 1974 between the Liberal Party under Pierre Trudeau and the New Democratic Party (9). Notably, this government created Petro-Canada (10).


Currently, we have a minority federal government led by Justin Trudeau as the Liberal party won 157 of the 338-seat House of Commons during the 2019 October election (11). We are approaching the one year mark of this government. It is important to note that as of September 29th, 2020, the party standings in the House of Commons are 154 Liberal seats, 121 Conservative seats, 32 Bloc Québecois seats, 24 NDP seats, 3 Green seats, 2 Independent seats and 2 vacant seats (11). In order for an election to happen, Trudeau would have to initiate a snap election by resigning as Prime Minister or there would have to be a vote of non-confidence in the government by the opposition parties. The latter would require the support of the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québecois and either the NDP or the Green Party.


The COVID-19 pandemic adds an extra element to the already unpredictable nature of a minority government. There is an urgency to ensure that the government is doing its utmost to protect the health of its citizens, which might lead to an earlier election date. However, it should be noted that additional safety precautions need to be considered if an election is called. We will no doubt see many more elections during this pandemic. After three years in government, John Horgan’s minority NDP government in British Columbia called an election to be held on October 24th, 2020 and Saskatchewan is heading into a fixed election date on October 26th, 2020 (12,13).



Resources:


  1. https://www1.gnb.ca/Elections/en/prov20sep14/20sep14provschedulelist-e.asp

  2. https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/new-brunswick-premier-calls-early-election-during-pandemic-1.5067577

  3. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/minority-government

  4. https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=ces&document=part1&lang=e

  5. https://www.fairvote.ca/mixed-member-proportional/

  6. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/resolve/14662043/v49i0004/457_cvamgic.xml

  7. https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/medicare/medic-5h23e.html

  8. http://thepearsoncentre.ca/progressive-memos/3-kinds-of-minority-government/

  9. https://lop.parl.ca/sites/PublicWebsite/default/en_CA/ResearchPublications/201930E#a53

  10. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/petro-canada

  11. https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en/party-standings

  12. https://elections.bc.ca/provincial-elections/key-election-dates/

  13. https://www.elections.sk.ca/voters/covid-19/

49 views

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!