What Does A Minority Government Mean For Canada?

By Bandhna Gill & Ifrah Ikram

AFTER A LONG and perplexing election period, on Oct. 21, Justin Trudeau was re-elected as Prime Minister of Canada — only this time, with a minority government.

Seats in the House of Commons 2019To form a majority government a party must secure a minimum of 170 seats in the Parliament.

    • Trudeau’s Liberals were only able to secure 157 seats this time around — 27 seats fewer than in 2015.
    • The Conservatives increased their seats by 23 under Andrew Scheer, bringing them up to 121. For the first time since 2008, 
    • Bloc-Québécois (BQ) became the third party, with 32 seats.
    • Total seats held by the New Democratic Party (NDP) under Jagmeet Singh, decreased by 18 to 24 seats.
    • Elizabeth May’s Green Party now has a total of three seats in Parliament.
    • Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, failed to secure any.

With a Liberal minority government we may start to see a shift in Cabinet as the opposing parties now have more sway than they did in 2015. This may cause difficulties when trying to enact bills in Parliament or garner support from other party leaders. Although the Liberal party did not lose their government, they did lose a number of seats. The Conservatives had the most significant gains this election, and we will see the Bloc-Québécois holding a balance of power between them and the Liberals. This may allow Bloc to act as a sort of tie-breaker within Parliament, as they now have some influence in holding both leading parties accountable.

In the case where a party is unsuccessful at capturing a majority government, the party with a plurality of seats forms government. In this situation, it is important to note that the government — in this case the Liberals — will have to rely on the smaller, centre-to-left parties to stay in power. Without his majority, Trudeau will have to work twice as hard to ensure that the policies, like the ones for the carbon tax or the TransMountain Pipeline decision, which he was campaigning on prior to re-election, will make it through Parliament.

The Conservatives remain the Official Opposition, but due to their gain in seats, their party is now recognized as the largest opposition in Canadian history. May and Singh can use the minority government to their benefit to get their voices heard and actions taken in Parliament. Trudeau and Singh have plenty of overlapping policy issues, such as climate change and student loans, and they may be able to work cooperatively to make the achievement of these goals more possible. Though, Trudeau has addressed the speculation of a possible coalition with the NDP, which Singh had suggested prior to the election. Trudeau’s response was that he was not looking to form a formal or informal coalition with the NDP nor the other parties. The lack of majority held by Trudeau’s Liberals could allow a better chance for the smaller parties to gain some momentum as we look forward to the next election.

Canada’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) system has the tendency to undermine minor parties. FPTP makes fair representation difficult for minority parties, as the number of votes they receive does not reflect the seats gained in Parliament. May’s Green Party, for example received 6.5 per cent of the popular vote but gained only three seats.

The day following the election, Trudeau stated that he will swear in his new cabinet by Nov. 20 and will continue to include an equal number of men and women, as he did in 2015.

Graphic by Larissa Abrams-Ogg/The Ontarion