With a tight race, talk of minority government grows

With a tight race, talk of minority government grows

With just a few days left in the federal election campaign, the polls suggest no party is likely to emerge the clear winner.

What has been a long and divisive campaign, the most likely scenario is a minority government to take the helm for as long as it can hold on.

And that may be a good thing, suggests Maxwell Cameron, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia and director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

Canada has seen a number of “false majority” governments, where a party that doesn’t win the majority of the popular vote wins a plurality of seats, nonetheless.

“That’s led to a situation where many people are feeling so left out of politics that they’re engaged in various efforts at co-ordinating the vote,” Cameron tells Yahoo Canada News.

“If we had a minority Parliament, it would force our parties to work together; it would force them to try and figure out ways of co-operating … in fact, it could very well represent both an absolute majority of voters and seats.”

It’s worked before

There have been many minority governments in Canadian history that have worked very well, he says.

“There’s no reason to believe that a minority Parliament couldn’t, in fact, be quite productive,” Cameron says, citing the minority governments of Lester Pearson in the 1960s that ushered in medicare and the Canada Pension Plan.

There have been a dozen minority governments in Canada, though not all have embraced the spirit of co-operation that Cameron would like to see.

Of six minority Conservative governments, only Stephen Harper’s 2006 and 2008 have lasted for more than a few months and only two did not fall on confidence votes in the House of Commons.

Of the Liberal minority governments, two fell to confidence votes and three held on with support of other parties until they could call an election.

“That’s part of the problem – it really depends on the spirit of co-operation among the political parties,” Cameron says.

In the case of Harper’s early minorities, he “began to govern as if he had a majority,” he says.

Coalition an unwelcome idea

While both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair are adamant they would defeat a Conservative minority at the earliest opportunity, neither have welcomed the idea of a coalition.

There has been just one formal coalition government in Canadian history — the 1917-1921 Union government pulled together by Robert Borden to ensure victory for conscription during the war.

If Monday’s general election ends with a minority this time, though, the parties will be under enormous pressure to co-operate, Cameron says.

“I don’t think Canadians, who have just gone through the longest and most expensive electoral campaign of our history, are going to go back to the polls any time soon,” Cameron says.

Not everyone agrees on the perks of a minority Parliament.

The Canadian system, based on the Westminster model, is ideally suited to a majority government, says Kathy Brock, a professor of political science at Queen’s University.

“You want to know who’s in charge, who’s making the decisions and who we’re going to blame if things go wrong,” Brock tells Yahoo Canada News. “You also want strong opposition parties that can hold government’s feet to the fire, check up on them and ask the tough questions.”

If Canadians do elect a minority, it works best if the parties compromise on a vote-by-vote basis, rather than as a coalition, she says. That way, they have to compromise on each bill.

“It takes a lot more work but in that way, every party can remain true to its platform,” Brock says.

“When you have a minority situation and there’s coalition, I think that is one of the worst circumstances for our democracy … because then the parties make a deal that they’re going to support each other and it’s not as clear that the people who voted for each party are having their ideas represented.”