A Look at Minority Governments

By Grant T. Smith


politicsLast night (at the time of writing) when I went to bed, Edmonton had three minutes to play and a three-goal lead. This morning, I woke up to a score of 73 – 71 – 3 and Andrew Weaver getting the first star.


There are still votes to count and recounts to, well, recount. But at the moment, we appear to be heading for a minority government. We have an interesting spring in front of us, BC. As a political junky, I thought I would spend a bit of time explaining some of the realities we might face. While BC has not had a minority government since 1952, just before W.A.C. Bennett started his 20-year reign, other parts of the country can provide insight.


A minority government is when no party has enough votes, on their own, to pass legislation. When a vote, or particularly a money vote, occurs in the house and is defeated, the rule is that the Government has lost the confidence of the house. The result is that the Government fails and we go back to an election. This means we get to do this all again (at great cost) if the Government falls.


After an election, the party with the most votes goes to Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon and asks permission to form the Government. With the riding results split as close as they are, she is likely to grant the Liberals the right to form a government. However, the NDP could also approach under the argument that they are in a better position to form a government if they can bring the Greens onside.


If the Green Party and the NDP join forces in a coalition they could form a majority government for as long as the coalition lasts. This, however, is not likely in the interest of the Green Party if they feel they might lose their identity and advantage.


For the moment, assume the Liberals form a minority government and they begin a session in the fall. On any vote they could lose the confidence of the House and we could face another election. Before that happens every party wants to do a few things:

  • Put some money in the till for another campaign
  • Make the other sides look foolish
  • Make the other side look responsible for taking us back into an election


None of the parties are interested in going back too soon, for those reasons. This means the Government will likely present legislation that forces either the NDP or the Greens to support it by writing legislation that appeals to the base of the other side. In the past, this has led to Governments presenting balanced legislation and governance of the centre.


In a case like this, and if the government fails quickly, LG Guichon may ask the NDP to try forming a government and then the same game resets.


This might present an ideal opportunity for the Green party to advance their proportional representation agenda in return for their support, so watch for that. Either way, junkies like me will get a great show for the foreseeable future.


Just a reminder though: In 1952 the Social Credit were a brand-new party and were the first majority Government after the minority government fell. They were in power for 20 years. Often out of chaos comes stability.