Governing By Minority
A minority government is one that emerges from an election with fewer
seats in the House of Commons than the combined total of all other parties.
This minority position means it is possible (in many cases inevitable) that major government bills will be put to a non-confidence vote in the House, forcing a general election.
For this reason, minority governments are usually short-lived unless they gain the support of another party through the establishment of a coalition that guarantees support on non-confidence motions.
Here are the minority governments that Canada has had since Confederation:
William Lyon Mackenzie King (Liberal)
||Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King
1921 election: Liberal (116);
Progressive (50); Conservative (63); Labour (3); and Other (3)
King leaned heavily on support from the Progressives to complete his term. High
on his agenda was reducing tariffs and freight rates – an issue close to
the hearts of Prairie farmers (who comprised much of the membership of the Progressive
1925 election: Conservative (114); Liberal (102); Progressive (24);
Labour (2); and Other (3)
Result: Despite winning the most seats in the election,
Arthur Meighen's Conservatives did not form the government. Both they and King's Liberals sought the support of the small Progressive party, and King lured over enough MPs that he was able to run a government for eight months. When he lost a confidence motion over the Customs Scandal, he went to Gov. Gen. Lord Byng asking him to dissolve Parliament so that the country could go to an election. Byng refused, and Byng called on Meighen's Conservatives to form the new government, which they did.
Within days, the new government lost a vote of confidence and Byng was forced
to dissolve Parliament and allow an election after all. King campaigned on the constitutional
issue of the Governor General refusing to accept his earlier request for dissolution,
and won the election. This has become known as the King-Byng affair.
1926 election: Liberal (117); Conservative (91); UFA (11); Progressive
(11); Liberal Progressive (9); and Other (6)
Result: With support in the House from
the Progressives, the Liberals worked on paying down the war debt and introduced
the old age pension.
John Diefenbaker (Progressive Conservative)
||Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on Feb. 19, 1963.
1957 election: PC (113); Liberal (103); CCF (25); Social Credit (19);
Independent (2) and Other (3)
Result: Having won a slim election victory, Diefenbaker
and his ministers campaigned to increase their popularity before calling a
general election in 1958. The tactic worked brilliantly and the party won 208 of
1962 election: PC (116); Liberal (99); Social Credit (30); NDP (18);
Result: Once again Diefenbaker and his party were in a minority situation.
The government had become embroiled in the debate over whether or not Canada should
have nuclear weapons as part of a continental defence shield (he was against the
idea). The controversy led to a vote of non-confidence in February 1963, forcing
Diefenbaker to call a general election. He and the PC party were defeated by a
narrow margin by the Liberals. Diefenbaker's second mandate lasted less than one year.
Lester Pearson (Liberal)
||Lester Pearson in 1963. (CP PHOTO)
1963 election: Liberal (128); PC (95); Social Credit (24);
NDP (17) and Other (1)
Result: Only four seats short of a majority, Pearson called
an election in 1965. Once again he and his party came up short – this time
with 131 seats.
1965 election: Liberal (131); PC (98); NDP (21); Ralliement des
Créditistes (9); Social Credit (4) and Other (2)
Result: The Liberals relied on the
support of the New Democratic and Social Credit parties to govern effectively.
Pearson was the first prime minister in Canadian history to never head a majority
Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
||Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at a press conference in 1972. (CP PHOTO/ Peter Bregg)
1972 election: Liberal (109); PC (107); NDP (31); Social Credit
(15) and Other (2)
Elected by an extremely small plurality (41 per cent of seats
versus the PCs' 40.5 per cent), Trudeau called an election within two years
and won it by a more comfortable margin (53.4 per cent of seats).
Joe Clark (Progressive Conservative)
||Prime Minister Joe Clark on Dec. 1, 1979.
(CP PHOTO/Jacques Nadeau)
1979 election: PC (136); Liberal (114); NDP (26) and Social Credit
Clark's government tried to introduce fiscal policy that proved unpopular.
Only seven months into office his attempt to pass legislation was defeated in the
House, forcing an election call. Trudeau and the Liberals won back a slim majority.
Joe Clark was the second prime minister in Canadian history to never have a majority
Paul Martin (Liberal)
2004 election: LIB (135); CONS (99); BQ (54) NDP (19) and Independent (1)
Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal government has been under fire since it was elected in 2004, with the federal sponsorship scandal hanging over its head.
The party struggled to retain control, while being hammered by the opposition parties. Martin promised an election within a month of Justice John Gomery's final report from the inquiry into the sponsorship program.
In May of 2005, the government made a last-minute deal with the NDP to survive passage of its first budget.
Although Martin himself was cleared by Gomery's initial report, the taint on the Liberal Party was enough to cause the other parties to call for an election. Despite the promise of an election after the final report, opposition parties didn't wait and the government fell to a non-confidence motion on November 28, 2005.