Liberal leader Justin Trudeau dreamed of regaining his party’s 2019 majority at the start of this election may have been dashed.
Canada appears to be headed for an outcome in which neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives receive the 170 seats needed to control the 338-seat House of Commons. In other words, we are almost certainly getting another minority government.
Based on the exact number of seats each party won, it was not immediately clear how the next parliament would function, which parties’ agendas would shape government policy or even who would get to become prime minister.
That’s right: finishing first in Monday’s vote is no guarantee that the party’s top leader will head the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
However, the threshold for forming a government is not complicated. Make a formal or tacit agreement among 170 lawmakers to advance the legislative agenda—as many parties as you need—and you’ll have the keys to the kingdom.
Prepare to hear politicians, professors and pundits hear words like “Westminster model,” “hung parliament” and “legislative coalition.”
And prepare yourself for this chilling prospect: a mid-winter election less than six months from now if some combination of party leaders doesn’t figure out a way to permanently run parliament in the wake of Monday’s vote.
In the end, politics gives way to simple mathematics. Once the ballots are counted, all those complicated, late-campaign calculations about swing riding and vote division will turn into grade-school arithmetic of number of seats.
When Trudeau called the election on August 15, the standings in the House were: Liberals 155, Conservatives 119, Bloc Québécois 32, NDP 24, Greens two and Independents five, with one vacancy. The Liberals gambled that they could hold on to their 155 seats and at least 15 opposition rides to reach the 170-seat mark to secure a majority government.
Pollsters generally agree that this will not happen in the September 20 vote. They do not always believe it to be correct, but leaders of major public opinion predict election results with relatively benign changes in the number of approximately 10 fewer Liberal MPs, 10 more Conservatives and other parties – although it is acknowledged that the Bloc and the NDP Could see a solid increase in their seat totals.
Result? The Liberals are likely to fall short of a majority in 2019, and a clear rise in the fortunes of the Conservatives still won’t get them anywhere near 170 seats. This leads to potential ups and downs for each side and their leaders, as well as what the different types of minority government have to consider.
Liberal Minority Redux?
With surveyors predicting the Liberal seat count in the mid-140s, a Trudeau-led minority government is being seen as a possible outcome of the election. The NDP is expected to win 30 or more seats, a significant increase from the 24 seats it won two years ago. In all, this would be enough to give Canada’s two main progressive parties more than the 170 seats needed to control the governing agenda in the House of Commons, for at least a year or two. Know known?
Depending on whether the combined Liberal and NDP seats actually reach 170, a Green MP or two – if the party mobilizes them on Monday – could maintain the balance of power in the House.
All this will of course depend on whether NDP leader Jagmeet Singh continues to extend his party’s support to the liberal-led legislative plan.
Harsh words have been exchanged during the campaign. But arguably, a stronger NDP would have even more leverage to influence the government’s agenda, a failed bid for a moderates majority and a potentially shrunken caucus.
Without Singh’s continued support, Trudeau would have to gather at least 170 votes, with the support of the bloc or Conservative parties, depending on the issue, to pass the legislation on a bill-by-bill basis. The reluctance to go back to elections, especially after an unnecessarily restricted election by opposition leaders, would be a strong incentive for all concerned to maintain a Liberal minority government, at least for some time.
Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that the government will survive long before another election is launched by the Liberals themselves or other parties.
Voting isn’t an exact science, so estimates that Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives could increase their seat tally to about 130 on Monday are an underestimate. If the Tories move closer to 135 seats, Liberal support is softer than expected, and Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada fails to attract as many right-wing votes as polls are suggesting, the Conservatives for the top. Liberals can be kicked out. Ends on Monday night.
But will it be enough for conservatives to form a stable minority government for any length of time? Ideally for O’Toole, he would find a willing parliamentary partner – Yves-François Blanchett of the Bloc Québécois, perhaps, assuming BQ wins 35 or more seats – of at least 170 Tory and Bloc MPs. To form an executive coalition. Can they find enough common ground on some key issues to sustain the legislative agenda for a long enough time?
Blanchett has rejected any formal coalition to support a Conservative or Liberal government, saying that one of those parties “must do something good for Quebec to secure the bloc’s support.” “
O’Toole has indicated several times throughout the campaign that he would run a decentralized federation, promising to respect provincial jurisdiction over health transfer expenses and not challenging Quebec’s controversial secularism law, Bill 21.
Maybe those proposals can address the differences between the two…