A fun thing about a country with more than two dominant parties is the possibility of the existence of a minority government. In American politics this is similar to when the President is opposed by the Congress … but Congress could actually oust the President.

The current breakdown of the Canadian federal government is

  • 124 Conservative
  • 101 Liberal
  • 50 Bloc Québécois
  • 29 New Democratic Party (NDP)
  • 2 Independent
  • 2 Vacant

You can see that the Conservatives received the most votes, but can be out-voted by various alliances of the other parties.

One of the characteristics of a parliamentary system that can be confusing is how MP (Member of Parliament) voting works. Normally an MP must vote with his or her party; if they do not they risk losing their position in the party. Only upon “votes of conscience” where the party waves disciplinary measures can the MP freely vote. Free votes are normally allowed on highly divisive and contentious bills – Canada’s same-sex legislation was passed in a free vote, for example.

In Canada, you vote for a specific member of parliament who is endorsed by a party. The leader of the party with the most votes becomes the prime minister. Recent issues have highlighted the ambiguity of whether a MP is being voted for or the party is being voted for. Once elected MPs can cross the floor which means they abandon their party and join another. Usually this is between the two major parties which sit opposite each other in the House of Commons – thus the MP gets up and crosses from one side to another – usually with great hooting and hollering. In the previous Liberal minority government Belinda Stronach crossed from Conservative to Liberal. In the recent Conservative minority government David Emerson crossed from Liberal to Conservative.

I’ll use the current minority government to show why this matters;
In the most recent election, Jan 23 2006, the results were

  • 124 Conservative
  • 103 Liberal
  • 51 Bloc Québécois
  • 29 NDP
  • 1 Independent

A minority government wants to be able to have a majority of votes by partnering with one or more party if possible. One MP is appointed Speaker of the House and will votes only in ties. That means a majority vote needs, 154 votes. In a minority government the reigning party will want to choose the Speaker from another party. Conservatives with NDP can muster 153 votes – so in the rare case that Liberal, Bloc and Independents team up against Conservatives and NDP, the Conservatives would lose the vote. (A more realistic situation is that everyone teams up against the Conservatives.) By taking a person from the official opposition party (Liberals) the Conservatives can partner with either the BQ (176 v 131) or NDP (154 v 153) and expect a win on votes that aren’t “votes of conscience”.

Previous Posts: Part 1 of 4 – Would You Mind If I Told You How We Do Things In Canada

Next time: A Conservative Work Ethic – What’s Harper’s Done So Far

Politics How We Do Things In Canada : Minority Goverments