The House

What if? Election outcome scenarios...

To walk us through what will happen if all the parties fail to win a majority of seats on Monday, we've invited University of Ottawa law professor and constitutional scholar Adam Dodek.
The Speech from the Throne is read by the Governor General in the Senate chamber. If NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is elected he has vowed to abolish the upper chamber. Where will the speech be read? More importantly, how will be pass his legislative agenda? (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In a marathon campaign, there's plenty of time for speculation — but as Election Day gets closer and the polls get churned out with dizzying new numbers, time is running out and the questions continue to mount.

What happens if no party manages to secure a majority of seats? What would happen in a hung parliament? What role could the Governor General play?

To walk us through a variety of possible outcomes, University of Ottawa law professor and constitutional scholar Adam Dodek is here. 

Q: Is it as simple as the party that wins the most seats gets to govern?

Adam Dodek: No, I don't think so. By constitutional convention, the Prime Minister will still be the Prime Minister on Tuesday morning, and remains so until he or she decides to resign, or they are fired by the Governor General. It would certainly be acceptable constitutionally if he wanted to continue in office until he met the House and faced a vote of confidence, even if he finished second or third in the polls.

Q: So what happens if Stephen Harper wins the most seats in a hung Parliament, and other party leaders won't support his minority? How will that unfold in the House of Commons?

AD: When the House returns after the election of the Speaker, the first order of business is the Speech from the Throne — laying out the government's agenda for the session. After the Speech, there will be a confidence vote and the government must survive, must win that confidence vote in order to continue in office. Should the Prime Minister not win that vote of confidence, he must do one of two things: immediately tender his resignation to the Governor General, or ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and have a fresh election.

I think the second option, coming so soon after we've just gone to the polls, is highly unlikely.

Q: How long could Stephen Harper wait to meet the House? Is there a convention that dictates how long a party can govern without having the confidence of the House?

AD: The convention is that the Prime Minister always has to have the confidence of the House. I think generally the House should be recalled as soon as possible. Right now there's a "hold the date" calendar being set for about three weeks after this election. I think as you get into months, it becomes more and more problematic. There's an outer limit set in the constitution that says the House has to meet at least once a year. The House of Commons last met in June, so there's an outer limit of June 2016 but I think that would be politically impossible for any leader to explain to the Canadian people!

Q: What happens while we're possibly waiting?

AD: When Parliament is dissolved and we're waiting to elect a new Parliament and for them to give the confidence to a new government, the current government is in a caretaker position. It's like you've gone on holiday, and you've asked someone to look after your house. You just want them to make sure the cat's being fed and the lights are on, but you don't want them to order a premium package or Netflix or make huge renovations to your backyard.

Q: Is it time to write these unwritten rules down?

AD: I think it was time to write these things down probably at least 20 years ago, or 40 years ago. We should have started a long time ago. I think it requires both leadership in the public civil service, within the Privy Council Office, and political leadership and agreement within Parliament. Unfortunately, I think the chances of that happening are low.


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