How long can Canada's minority government last? (The 1965 edition)

As soon as the Liberals won the election, they faced questions about how long they could stay in power.

Lester Pearson and the Liberals won a plurality of seats in 1965, but not a majority government

Lester Pearson reacts to 1965 election results

2 years ago
Duration 2:28
Prime Minister Lester Pearson reacts to the results of the 1965 general election that saw the Liberals win a minority government.

The Liberals had just won an election, but they still faced questions about how long they could stay in power.

That's because Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the Liberals won 131 of 265 parliamentary seats on Nov. 8, 1965, leaving the governing party just short of a majority.

The re-elected prime minister called the result "disappointing," with Pearson citing the fact that he'd campaigned on "the desirability of this country having a government with a majority in the House of Commons."

Yet it was a familiar result for the Liberals. They had been in power for the previous two years, also as a minority government.

The 4th time in 5 elections

Prime Minister Lester Pearson is seen during a brief stop in St. Jean Baptiste, Man., on Oct. 7, 1965, about a month before the general election that saw the Liberals win their second consecutive minority government. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Pearson said a return to this minority scenario presented "problems both for Parliament and for the country."

The result was also highly familiar for Canadians, as voters had sent four such minority governments — on two occasions each for the Tories and Liberals — to Ottawa over five elections. 

So, Canadian voters knew very well that these kinds of governments didn't necessarily last very long.

A 'beanball' for Pearson

How long will the Liberals last?

2 years ago
Duration 2:16
A day after the 1965 election, journalist Charles Lynch discusses the Liberals' chances of seeing their minority government last.

The day after the 1965 election, journalist Charles Lynch was a guest on CBC's Front Page Challenge.

And the show's panel wanted to know what he thought about the Liberal government's prospects, as well as what the result meant for Pearson himself.

"Well, I don't know," Lynch admitted.

"[Voters] threw a beanball at the prime minister, I think, and the next thing is to be his own personal decision about the damage that's been done to him by failing to get the thing that he'd called the election for."

The apparent baseball metaphor — a term for a pitch that is aimed at a batter's head — seemed apt for Pearson, a noted fan of the game.

'The old fight is on'

Progressive Conservative Leader John Diefenbaker is seen sitting in his office in Ottawa on Aug. 29, 1966. (Chuck Mitchell/Canadian Press)

Lynch said he believed it was hard to predict the lifespan of the Liberal government given the animosity between Pearson and Progressive Conservative Leader John Diefenbaker.

"I don't think that they are compatible and I think the minute the Parliament resumes with those two men in the top posts, the old abrasions are on and the old fight is on and we get the quarrelsomeness," said Lynch.

Their battle in 1965, however, would be the last time that Diefenbaker and Pearson led their respective parties through an election. 

Both were replaced by younger men in the years to come, with Robert Stanfield taking the reins of the Tories in 1967 and Pierre Trudeau winning the Liberal leadership the following spring.

Meanwhile, the Liberal government would last for just over two years, with Canadians returning to the polls in September of 1968. 

At that time Trudeau and the Liberals would win a majority government, besting Stanfield's Tories.