Thursday, June 24, 2004


In considering the likelihood of an upcoming minority government Paul Martin recently said that, "It's a common sense proposition that the party that has the most seats is the party that certainly ought to form a government." While this may be 'common sense' it is indeed not the way our Parliamentary system works. As more and more Canadians are learning the government is formed by the leader and the party that can command the confidence of the majority of the house regardless of whether that party holds ten seats or a hundred.

Clearly Paul Martin knows this, so I was initially surprised that he would deny himself the opportunity to form a government even in the event that he does not win the most seats on Monday. Then of course I realized that Martin is simply preparing for the possibility of a very short Conservative minority government. I think Martin has realized that from a public relations standpoint it would be disastrous to attempt to hold onto power by governing with some NDP and Bloc members if the Conservatives won a plurality of seats. Instead Martin seems to be gambling that if the Conservatives do win more seats they that they will not be able to govern for long. This seems to be not too great of a gamble.

In considering the possibility of a minority situation led by the Conservatives, Stephen Harper has said that he will not form any coallitions. He has ruled out governing formally with the Bloc because they do not share the best interests of Canada and also with the NDP because of other obvious ideological differences. So then, a Conservative minority government will most likely need to be propped up by the votes of right leaning Liberals. However, this situation would not be able to continue for long. Depending on how close the Conservatives are to a majority, sooner or later an important enough vote will come along, the Liberals will see an opportunity to defeat the Conservatives and they will crack the party whip to do so. At that point, the Liberals could then attempt to form the government, without holding a new election, and having given the Conservatives their chance. It seems to me, and I believe this is the gamble that Martin is making, that it would be much easier for the Liberals to govern in a minority than for the Conservatives to do so.

Stephen Harper, however, seems to be making a different gamble. Whether the following situation plays out or whether we go straight to a Liberal minority propped up by the NDP Harper also seems to be gambling that such a government will be short lived. He has said, "I will not be making a deal that betrays the promises and the commitments that I made to the electorate in a national election campaign. And if Mr. Martin wants to do that with the NDP or Bloc, and I have no doubt he will, I think he'll pay a longer term price for that." Harper appears to be hoping that a Liberal/NDP minority will prove unpopular and that another not too distant election will return a Conservative majority.

As usual, I can do nothing more than speculate. What seems certain, however, is that a minority government will make politics in this country much more interesting as well as give Canadians, particularly those younger than 30 a constitutional education in the operations of parliamentary democracy.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:12 p.m.