Pundits and pollsters are talking about the likelihood of a minority Conservative government after this year’s election. If the administration is able to hang on with the tacit support of another party, then it may be business as usual until the following election.
But if the Conservative minority loses Parliament’s confidence fairly quickly—perhaps as soon as after its first speech from the throne—having a coalition of New Democrats and Liberals take over the government isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
“Part of our problem in Canada right now is that there is considerable confusion about what conventions apply,” political scientist James Lawson told the Straight in a phone interview.
The associate professor at the University of Victoria explained that this is because unwritten constitutional conventions pertaining to the summoning, prorogation, and dissolution of Parliament have not been codified.
“Other countries have faced this problem and have formalized these rules in what’s called the cabinet manual, and this is literally an instruction manual about how these arrangements are supposed to run,” Lawson said.
According to Lawson, one view is that if a minority government falls soon after a recent election, the governor general could turn to the leader of another party to form government. But he also noted that others believe that if a prime minister asks for a new election, it should be granted.
If the experience of the 2008 prorogation of Parliament was any indication, things could get messy. In the October election of that year, the Conservatives won a minority. On November 19, the speech from the throne was delivered.
When it became clear that a Bloc Québécois-backed coalition of Liberals and New Democrats were poised to topple the Conservatives and present themselves as a new government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked then governor general Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament, which she did on December 4, 2008.
Lawson recalled that conferences were held among scholars and representatives of political parties after the 2008 prorogation, and there was no consensus on how certain constitutional conventions apply.
Lawson said: “If we ever did, we no longer have a set of elites who are united in their understanding of what should happen.”