No, the party with the most seats doesn’t always govern

In an e-mail to supporters on Wednesday, the Conservative Party warned of a plot to subvert democracy in Canada.

The Liberals, a Conservative official wrote, had been “already planning a solution to take energy with out successful the election.

It’s the kind of language usually reserved for describing navy coups and authoritarian actions. In this case, the Conservatives had been describing a state of affairs which might see the Liberals govern with the assist of different events, even when they do not win the most seats subsequent week.

Around the similar time, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was telling an interviewer that his party “would expect that other parties would respect the fact that whichever party wins the most seats gets to form the government.”

But that’s not a reality. The party with the most seats doesn’t always get to govern.

If Scheer’s “fact” was a reality, John Horgan at the moment would not be the premier of British Columbia.

In that province’s 2017 election, the incumbent Liberals gained 43 of 87 seats. Horgan’s New Democrats gained 41 seats and the provincial Greens gained three seats.

B.C. NDP chief John Horgan, left to proper, Liberal Leader Christy Clark and B.C. Green Party chief Andrew Weaver pose for a photograph following the leaders debate in Vancouver, B.C. April 20, 2017. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Christy Clark, the premier at the time, tried to win the confidence of the legislature, however her authorities was defeated and the lieutenant-governor referred to as on Horgan to type a authorities. Having come to a proper settlement with the Greens for assist, Horgan was then capable of win and maintain the confidence of the legislature.

British Columbia stays a functioning democracy. Its political system was not overthrown or subverted. Quite the reverse, in reality.

It’s fully doable that subsequent week’s federal election will produce a comparatively simple end result, one which requires little or no post-election negotiation.

It’s additionally doable that the Conservatives are invoking the spectre of a Liberal-NDP coalition to rally their very own supporters, and even to bolster assist for the NDP.

But if there may be an unclear end result on Oct. 21 — and if that end result evokes a loud partisan marketing campaign to query the legitimacy of sure outcomes — Canadians might want to perceive what historical past has proven us about how the Canadian political system really works.

After the 1985 election, the NDP’s Bob Rae signed a two-year accord with Liberal Leader David Peterson which might see the Liberals type authorities with the NDP’s assist in alternate for the implementation of quite a few NDP insurance policies. (Canadian Press)

Just final yr, as an illustration, there was a detailed lead to New Brunswick. The incumbent Liberals, led by Brian Gallant, gained 21 of the legislature’s 49 seats. The Progressive Conservatives gained 22 seats. The People’s Alliance and the Greens every gained three.

Gallant, the premier, was not compelled to right away resign. Instead, he remained premier, had the legislature recalled and tried to win the confidence of a majority of MLAs. Only after he failed did he resign.

In 1985, the Ontario election despatched 52 Progressive Conservatives, 48 Liberals and 25 New Democrats to Queen’s Park. The Liberals and New Democrats signed an accord below which the NDP would assist Liberal Leader David Peterson as premier; after the incumbent PC authorities was defeated in a vote of the legislature, a Liberal authorities was sworn into workplace.

In Saskatchewan in 1929, the incumbent Liberals gained 28 seats, 4 greater than the Conservatives however 4 wanting a majority. The Liberal authorities stayed in workplace and met the legislature, however was defeated and changed by a coalition of Conservatives, Progressives and Independents.

Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Four years earlier, at the federal degree, Mackenzie King continued to govern despite the fact that his Liberals gained 100 seats and the Conservatives gained 115 seats. (Conservative Leader Arthur Meighen was later given an opportunity to govern after the governor common refused a request from King to dissolve Parliament and maintain a brand new election — an incident referred to as the King-Byng Affair.)

Two former governors common have additionally given us some helpful background on how they seen minority conditions in the previous.

In her memoirs, ex-governor common Adrienne Clarkson wrote that she would have refused a request by Paul Martin to dissolve Parliament inside six months of that yr’s election. Conceivably, her solely different possibility at that time would have been to ask the chief of the second-place party — in that case Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives held 99 seats — to type a brand new authorities.

Prime Minister Joe Clark and Opposition Leader Pierre Trudeau smile for cameras earlier than sitting down for a briefing in Clark’s workplace in Ottawa in June of 1979. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

In 1979, Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservative authorities was defeated in the House on a finances vote and Clark requested the governor common, Ed Schreyer, to dissolve Parliament and name new elections. Schreyer granted that request — however he later disclosed that he had allowed for a sure period of time to cross earlier than doing so to permit for the chance that the second-place Liberals may come ahead with a plan to type a brand new authorities.

“I did insist on waiting for several hours, so that in the event … that a workable alternative was to be communicated to me, confirmed to me in writing, I would still not have crossed the bridge,” Schreyer mentioned in 2008.

These examples exhibit two issues.

First: incumbent prime ministers or premiers stay of their positions till they resign.

Second: the authorities doesn’t always find yourself being the party that holds the most seats in the legislature.

Scheer tried out a barely completely different twist on his argument Thursday. It is, he mentioned, a “convention in modern Canadian politics … that a prime minister who enters into an election, and comes out of that election with fewer seats than another party, resigns.”

Setting apart Scheer’s use of the phrase “convention,” the Conservative chief is not mistaken about latest historical past — though there are just a few circumstances that match that particular description. Paul Martin resigned in 2004, Pierre Trudeau resigned in 1979 and Louis St. Laurent resigned in 1957.

But these resignations may merely have come all the way down to the incumbent’s willingness (or skill) to return to an settlement with different events. In reality, some ministers in St. Laurent’s cupboard are mentioned to have inspired him to face the House of Commons.

Scheer is successfully making political arguments about who ought to get to govern. But by making these arguments with phrases like “fact” and “convention,” he is implying that his claims have one thing like the power of regulation.

Meanwhile, his party is describing various eventualities in the most inflammatory phrases.

Andrew Scheer is a former Speaker of the House of Commons. He is aware of how the parliamentary system works, understands the significance of safeguarding the public’s religion in Canada’s establishments.

Politicians will always make political arguments and make political choices. If an incumbent prime minister’s party finishes in second place, what that PM does subsequent is finally a political determination.

Indeed, progressive voters who may discover consolation in the notion of a post-election association ought to seemingly contemplate that, in a state of affairs the place the Liberals end with the second-most seats, a big hole in the variety of seats between first place and second place may make it tougher for Trudeau to publicly justify staying in workplace. 

Politics can by no means be divorced from democracy.

But the primary fundamentals of how the democratic system works — and the way the system was designed to work — shouldn’t be demolished by partisan political arguments.

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