What are Minority Governments?

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Happening Now Wednesday, December 04, 2019 View Count = 3437

What are Minority Governments?


With the 43rd Parliament set to get underway tomorrow, you might be wondering what a minority government is, how it's formed, and what it means for Canadian democracy.

In Canada, parties that form government need to keep the support or “confidence” of the majority of Members of Parliament to stay in power. Minority governments arise when government is formed by a party that holds less than half the seats in the House of Commons (fewer than 170 seats to be precise).

In the 2019 election, the Liberal Party won 157 seats, giving it a minority government. This means that, unlike the 42nd Parliament in which the Liberal Party held the majority of seats, the party can no longer pass legislation (laws) without support from other political parties or individual MPs.

Minority governments often compel parties to work together, as the leading party must cooperate with Members of opposing parties in order to push forth their legislative agenda. Contrary to popular beliefs, some of the most productive governments in history have been minority governments. For example, the Canadian healthcare system was brought into place by a minority government.

However, as explained above, governments in Canada only get to stay in power if they maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. This confidence is demonstrated when MPs vote on "confidence matters," such as the Throne Speech, financial matters like the budget or spending estimates, or key pieces of government legislation. Opposition parties can also move specific motions of non-confidence in the Government.

This need for minority governments to win opposition support for regular confidence votes means that they tend to be less stable than majority governments. Since 1945, minority governments have lasted just 2 years on average, compared to 4.2 years for majority governments.

If the Liberal Party can maintain the confidence of the House, the leader will remain prime minister and continue governing. If confidence is lost, another party will be given the chance to form government (and another confidence vote will be held).

For more, listen to our Senior Research Associate, Paul EJ Thomas, and Program Manager, Yvonne Su, discuss how votes translate into seats and how the new minority government will work in the podcast below:

Still have questions about minority governments? Send us an email or ask us on Twitter. To learn more, check out the resources below:

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