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The Post Millennial’s federal election primer on a potential minority government scenario

With a minority government scenario being a distinct possibility in the outcome of Monday’s federal election, The Post Millennial offers a primer on how it would shake out in Canada’s Westminster parliamentary system.
Jason Unrau Montreal, QC

With a minority government scenario a distinct possibility in the outcome of Monday’s federal election, The Post Millennial offers a primer on how it would shake out in Canada’s Westminster parliamentary system.

First, even if Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives win more seats than the incumbent-Liberals, if it’s not the magic majority number of 170, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retains first crack at forming a new government.

“It’s a complete fiction that whoever wins the most seats (in a minority) gets to form the new government – Trudeau’s the incumbent so he gets the ability to try and maintain confidence in the House.” explains Dale Smith, a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa and author of The Unbroken Machine; Canada’s Democracy in Action.

“He can do that by asking other parties to support him or he can enter into a formal arrangement, whether it’s to prop his government up, or a coalition which would involve having members of other parties involved in the cabinet, a less likelier possibility… he does not need to ask the Governor General’s permission to do that.”

Interestingly, a third-place finish for Trudeau would give him that ability as well, according to Smith, unless he concedes defeat or follows his father Pierre Trudeau’s famous footsteps into the snow.

“Trudeau would need to resign, or signal his intention to resign for (other parties) to cobble together whatever kind of agreement they would want and let the Governor General invite someone else, Scheer presumably, to form a government,” says Smith.

“But until Trudeau makes that decision, it’s his decision to make basically. It’s not the Governor General’s decision, it’s not Scheer’s decision.”

If Trudeau were to recall the House in a post-election minority situation – entirely within his purview as incumbent-PM – issue a Throne Speech and lose the subsequent confidence vote, resignation or asking the Governor General to dissolve parliament and plunge the country into another election remain options.

It is at this juncture that the Governor General retains the discretion to invite another party leader to form a government and test the House of Commons’ confidence.

Budget bills are also considered a “test of confidence” for sitting governments.

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Jason Unrau
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