What if a NDP-Liberal coalition topples a Conservative minority after the 2015 election?

Expert says there’s “considerable confusion” about what would happen next

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      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.”




      Apr 2, 2015 at 4:21am

      In 2008, the seat difference between first and second place was so great that there needed to be a formal agreement, a coalition, between two opposition parties, with both parties having representation in cabinet, before they could hope to form a government. This time, current indications are that the seat difference will be small, fewer than 20 seats. If the first place party loses the confidence of the house, the second place party could try to govern with an informal understanding with the third place party.
      Another factor that made 2008 distasteful was that the two party coalition still did not have enough votes and needed to count on the support of the Bloc. Current indications are that the third place party will have enough seats to make a majority with either the first or second place party.
      Harper could not propose legislation that would have garnered sufficient support of the third place NDP in 2008 and had to depend on the Bloc, many of whose members were small-c conservatives. Liberals and NDP have cooperated in the past with informal agreements and there is reason to believe they could do so again. There is also reason to believe they could not work together in a formal coalition.
      My final observation is that the first place party could be the Liberals, either a minority or a majority. If a majority, then thinking on a coalition is a waste of time. If a minority, then informal cooperation has a better chance than if it were a Conservative minority seeking NDP support, and again, thinking on a coalition is a waste of time right now.

      Kevin Logan

      Apr 2, 2015 at 7:21am

      No majority equals a hung parliament. Period.

      In democracies ranging from Greece to Israel regardless of the system being FPTP (Greece) or some form of Proportional Representation (Israel) if no clear majority is established through an election, negotiations begin immediately among those who were elected to establish a stable governing majority through some type of accord that the various parties involved agree to.

      However in Canada we accept the charade of a "minority government" as everything but a hung parliament.

      And given the current dynamics, even with a minority Harper will remain because there is no political will to defeat him. Had there been, we would have seen the opposition parties that make up the majority immediately begin cooperating to do so after he prorogued parliament due to the threat of BQ and their separatist leanings - this despite the fact that they were not to be part of government but only committed to support it!

      Since then we have allowed Harper to use the "threat"of a coalition IE: parliament working as it should and was designed to do (majority rule) to bolster support for an actual majority conservative government.

      Now after having gerrymandered the Country's ridings in their favour and adding 30 new seats they need only pick up 9 new ones to remain in government with a majority, which is the most likely outcome at this point.

      This could have been thwarted had the opposition parties simply cooperated on a pre-election strategy that ran only one candidate against Conservative incumbents in key ridings. But that never came about because there is no political will to end this government amongst our elites.


      Apr 2, 2015 at 7:31am

      I'd think what followed from the 1985 Ontario provincial election should establish a precedent for the Governor-General to follow. The Conservatives under Frank Miller won a plurality but not a majority of seats, so the Liberals under David Peterson and the NDP under Bob Rae brought down the government. There was no actual coalition, but there was a "confidence and supply" accord where the NDP agreed not to bring down the new government so long as certain conditions were met. The Lieutenant-Governor thus allowed Peterson to form a government, and it worked fairly well.

      Mike R

      Apr 2, 2015 at 7:39am

      It's only messy because of Harper has muddled the waters.
      Every constitutional scholar and student of political science understands that the person who has the confidence of the majority of elected MPs is the Prime Minister. If Harper doesn't earn the confidence of the majority of MPs, he has lost. Game over. If another leader can work together with others better than Harper, they have the chance to give it a try. (Unless of course the unruly conservative mob tries another coup d'etat as they did in 2008 to threaten and scare the GG into giving them what they wanted).

      Northern PoV

      Apr 2, 2015 at 8:18am

      It is foolish to talk about coalitions right now. Canada is an immature democracy compared to countries that are always run by coalitions. Coalition discussions during an election might make sense in those places but not in Canada yet.
      A small portion of Canadian voters swung to Harper when they saw the orange-crush wave coming in 2011. They gave him his majority. Coalition chatter now just gives Harper more ammo.
      Each party should run to win. Time to talk about coalitions is after the vote.
      In 2015 I support Justin Trudeau - following Justin is our path to gid rid of Harper.

      Ron White

      Apr 2, 2015 at 8:51am

      Get ready for another coalition of Clowns... Just prorogue Parliament again and let the voting public come to their senses in another election. In the long run it will be cheaper on the public purse than a coalition of tax and spendthrifts.

      Steve Johnston

      Apr 2, 2015 at 8:51am

      If Conservatives only won a slim minority government after October, they would probably try to govern for a few months and then come down with another Budget that the majority Opposition would defeat. Harper would then go to the GG for another election. If the Opposition parties then approached the GG saying they wanted to govern with a quickly cobbled Coalition the GG would be within his right to reject it because they ran as separate parties and would have no mandate from voters to govern as a Coalition.

      In the snap election that followed, the Opposition parties would be forced into a pre-election Coalition with a Coalition leader, either Trudeau or Mulcair, with a declared shadow cabinet. At this point the Coalition would struggle and likely fracture thus giving the Conservatives a clear option for Canadians.

      Only a merging of the Liberals and NDP would be a legitimate alternative to the united Conservatives. A mere coalition would wipe them out.

      Mark Jessop

      Apr 2, 2015 at 9:15am

      If there is no clear precedent, let's create one and have the CPC take that to court.


      Apr 2, 2015 at 9:39am

      Our electoral system is so outdated & pathetic it does not even have solid guidelines to deal with the idea of coalition governments. Equally it is insane that we are so incredibly badly organized that we have not managed to put into places rules to facilitate proportional representation. Adversarial politics is outdated, especially in crisis — technology could solve many of our problems of governance...unfortunately there are huge corporate interest behind (and not so behind) the scenes that are manipulating the so-called democratic system for the Kleptocracy. Baird moving on to CPR and Barrick — prime examples of the state of affairs.

      Steve Johnston

      Apr 2, 2015 at 11:30am

      Trudeau has somewhat rejected a pre-election Coalition while Mulcair has taunted him with talk about a Coalition and with him leading it, naturelment. Trudeau and his backers in the Liberal party believe they can win a minority government and they will be campaigning on that platform.... NO COALITION!

      Of course, the Conservative attack ads will be pounding a secret coalition deal existing between the two opposition parties and fearmongering over the consequences.

      The consequences of a Lib-Dip Coalition government would be that Canada will be ruled from Quebec by two quebecois leaders, to the detriment of the ROC !!