The Country of Perpetual Minority Governments


Now that the 44th general federal election is behind us, there seems to be an emerging consensus that it is unlikely that any party will be able to confidently secure a majority government at any time in the foreseeable future.   Stated differently, it now looks as though Canada is in for a string of minority governments for as far as the eye can see.  That’s because the landscape has morphed to add political parties that, in aggregate, make it difficult to reach much of a consensus.


Many people know that five of the last seven federal elections have resulted in minority mandates.  In the past two, the two parties at the top of the popular vote leaderboard have hovered around 33% of the vote.  In fact, there’s a simple mathematical way of looking at what seem to be (within a couple of percentage points) clear baselines for all parties:


Liberal:               33.33%

Conservative:    33.33%

NDP:                    17.0%

All Others Total:16.33%


For generations until about the turn of the millennium, the exercise was a three-party proposition, with various nationalist parties in Quebec gaining temporary prominence along the way.  Now that the Bloc Quebecois, Greens and People’s Party have all shown they can run national campaigns capable of siphoning votes away from the more established parties we should come to expect five-party and six-party races going forward.  Even if majorities are still possible, they might be viewed as being less credible.  That’s because in the old three-party days, a party would need to approach 40% to win a majority.  Now, the same objective could likely be accomplished with something like 35% of the national vote.  First past the post loses credibility when it adds participants.


The obvious concern revolves around both the amount of agreement that’s even possible and the amount of co-operation that’s likely necessary to advance a meaningful legislative agenda.  Those challenges, in turn, could have massive implications for the policy options we embrace.   This is neither good nor bad on its own, but we certainly seem to have entered a new era where inter-party co-operation on disparate legislative agendas will become the new normal.


To add some spice to the sauce, we also have a country that believes we just had an election that was unnecessary.  Whether that’s true or not, the perception clearly exists and any party that rushes the electorate back to the polling booths will likely be punished for doing so.  If one believes the logic of any ‘early’ election is wasteful, then we all need to think twice about heading to the polls again.  While that is normally true at any rate, it seems to be especially true after a vote that merely re-elects a status quo parliament before the standard four-year mandate has been served.  Taking the ‘if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it’ to its logical conclusion, voters might even be irate at any party that has the temerity to merely vote non-confidence.  For this reason, and a number of other party-specific reasons, I don’t think we’ll have another federal election until it is mandated – in October, 2025.  Ironically, depending on how well the parties can get along in the interim, that election may yet feature a single transferrable ballot format.

John DeGoey

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