On Monday, Canada held elections for the House of Commons in the 43rd Canadian Parliament. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party retained power but Trudeau will now head a minority government. This BBC article shows the results of the election for each party, with Liberals garnering 33 percent of the vote, while conservatives actually won 34.4 percent (“Trudeau Retains Power in Canada but Loses Majority”). This shift in the balance of power left the Liberal Party with 157 seats (13 shy of a majority), while the Conservatives increased to 121, Bloc Quebecois has 32, NDP has 24, Green has 3, and Independent has 1 (“Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Rules out Coalition”).
To give some broad context on the event, Canada functions as a democratic parliamentary system. Like the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for Canada, making it a monarchy. As discussed in class, the executive and legislature are fused together in parliamentarism. The legislature is voted in by the people of Canada, which is what took place on Monday. However, the executive is chosen by the legislature. In this system, the executive does not have a fixed term. Additionally, the executive is able to dismiss the legislature. But more importantly, Trudeau should be worried that the legislature can dismiss the executive. This happens through a vote of no confidence, which usually occurs because of failure in passing major legislation, scandal, or a loss of popularity. In Canada, a majority government usually lasts four years because general elections for Parliament take place every four years. This means that a prime minister’s term is often the same length, unless they oversee a minority government, such as Trudeau must currently do.
Justin Trudeau, part of the Liberal Party, was sworn in as prime minister in November 2015 (Simon). This current federal election was seen “as a referendum on Mr. Trudeau, who had a bumpy first term” (Simon). He had a difficult campaign when news surfaced that he wore blackface in the past. Time magazine posted a picture of Trudeau in brown-face as a school teacher in 2001 at an “Arabian Nights” gala. He also wore dark makeup in high school as part of a talent show in which he sang a Jamaican song. He said he does not know how many times he has put racist makeup on. (Simon) Following all of this, leader of the Conservative Party Andrew Scheer has tried and failed to capitalize on the scandal and criticism of Trudeau.
Prime Minister Trudeau has said that he would be sitting down with other party leaders to discuss support in parliament for his minority government, but has ruled out forming a coalition government (“Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Rules out Coalition”). In some parliamentary systems, minority parties will combine with other minority parties to create a majority in parliament. Countries like Germany use coalition politics, in which there is a grand coalition where two parties share power across ideological lines. Without any current coalitions in Canada, Trudeau faces the problem of appeasing those who did not vote for the Liberal Party. Donald Savoie, a professor at the University of Moncton and Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance, said, “It’s the first government in history that lost the popular vote. The divisions in this country are pretty remarkable”(Russell). The Liberal party was completely shut out of the western Canadian provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan, which heavily elected conservatives (“Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Rules out Coalition”).
So, what does this mean for the Canadian Prime Minister? Trudeau should be worried that with a minority government he could fail to pass legislation or lose popularity. If Trudeau wants to pass any legislation, he will need the support of opposition members of parliament. Two big areas of concern in Canada are of climate change and affordable living, on which Trudeau promises to work with other parties. The New Democratic Party (NDP) will be a natural ally in legislation about reducing cell phone bills, increasing student aid, expanding child care, and taxing on foreign ownership in Canadian real estate, to name a few (Russell). However, the NDP and Green Party disagree with the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, a project that Trudeau said on Wednesday that he would move forward with. This could lead to a lack of support for the liberals, something Trudeau desperately needs right now to stay popular. Additionally, Alberta and Saskatchewan premiers sent Trudeau lists of demands and threaten to hold a referendum for equalization (Russell).
This predicament that Trudeau finds
himself in with a minority government is very unique to parliamentarism, and
connects to discussions we have had in class regarding parliamentary versus
presidential systems. A president and prime minister could both get much less
of the majority of the popular vote, yet when they both take office a president
will not have to appease other parties in the same manner as a prime minister
will. For example, Salvador Allende was elected as president in Chile in 1970
with 36.2 percent of votes. Adolfo Suarez of Spain was elected prime minister
of a minority government, like Trudeau, in 1979 with 35.1 percent of votes.
received a six-year mandate for controlling the government even with much less
than a majority of the popular vote, while Suarez, with a plurality of roughly
the same size, found it necessary to work with other parties to sustain a
minority government”(Linz). This example, as with
Canada’s recent election, demonstrates key differences between political
institutions. It begs the question, is this a negative aspect of Canadian
parliamentarism? Should Trudeau have to work with other party members to gain
support so that he is not dismissed by the legislature, or should he have freer
rein to rule like elected presidents do? It is important to notice these
differences in order to understand the obstacles and mechanisms in place
regarding the passing of legislation in a country. Also, understanding these
elections is a way to understand the national political climate and the
direction that a population wants its government to go.
“Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Rules out Coalition.” BBC News, 23 Oct. 2019. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50157893.
Linz, Juan. “The Perils of Presidentialism.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 1, no. 1, 1990, pp. 51–59. The Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/jod.1990.0011.
Russell, Andrew. “With the Liberals’ New Minority, Trudeau’s Greatest Challenge Is Healing Divide with Western Canada.” Global News, https://globalnews.ca/news/6072378/justin-trudeau-minority-government-western-canada-separatism/. Accessed 24 Oct. 2019.
Simon, Darran. “Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party Wins Canada’s General Election.” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/world/canadian-general-election-justin-trudeau/index.html. Accessed 24 Oct. 2019.
“Trudeau Retains Power in Canada but Loses Majority.” BBC News, 22 Oct. 2019. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50134640.