In Defence of Minority Government in a Democracy

Michele Braniff
Michele Braniff

I am running with the Green Party of Canada to initiate government policies to protect the planet and to create conditions for resilient people, families and communities. For me, it is all about environmental and social justice and democratic rights, responsibilities and values. As I have been campaigning and speaking to voters, many have questioned the safety of calling an election during a pandemic and expressed concern about how this fits with our Canadian democratic values.

The 43rd Parliament was the result of democracy at work: in 2019, Canadians voted so that no one party had a majority of the seats in Parliament. The Liberals won only 157 seats. The Samara Centre for Democracy explained in their December 2019 blog:

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.

Before and through the challenges of the COVID19 pandemic, the parties all worked together: there was compromise and collaboration. The 43rd Parliament was a functioning minority government with non-partisan support during a pandemic. Perhaps, history will regard this success as another example among “some of the most productive governments in history”. I would have liked to see: more leadership on the climate crisis; stronger reconciliation with Indigenous people; and a Green Recovery plan from the pandemic. Nevertheless, the government was functioning, as well as could be expected with Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister and a Liberal caucus.
Usually, a minority government ends because the governing party is not able to maintain the confidence of the House of Parliament. That is not what happened in August, 2021. The Liberals did not lose the confidence of Parliament on any policy, new laws or a budget. Parliament was functioning. Arguably, it was functioning extremely well in difficult conditions and because of shared concern for the safety of Canadians. In my view, it was functioning better as a minority government than the previous majority 2015 Liberal government.

In the midst of a pandemic, while the country is at risk of a fourth wave, Justin Trudeau decided to dissolve Parliament and call for an election. Canadians voted in 2019 so that no one party had a clear majority.

In the current “first-past-the-post system”, there are often “false majorities”, by which a minority of votes generates sufficient seats in the legislature for a majority government. In 2019, although the voting results were skewed, Canadians nevertheless did not agree to give any one party a majority of seats. If Canadians are not in agreement about leadership, the responsibility of the elected representatives is to work together, across party lines to develop consensus.

The Green Party advocates for electoral reform, including proportional representation; increased respect in Parliamentary debate; and greater non-partisan collaboration. A minority government requires non-partisan collaboration.

If politics in Canada were based on values, leaders would prioritize keeping Canadians safe during a pandemic. If politics were value-based, leaders would respect the decision of the 2019 election. If Canadians elect a minority government, there is a responsibility on the members of Parliament and especially the Prime Minister to work with the mandate from the electorate and resist the temptation to “shop” for a preferred mandate.
Vote for democracy: vote Braniff and the Green Party of Canada! Vote for a healthy planet, a resilient green economy and for social justice in Canada!

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