Sunday, June 28, 2015

Barry Kay of Laurier Institute: Say welcome to Prime Minister Tom Mulcair

Global News graphic of the horse race
James Armstrong of Global News has a fascinating article about the findings of the Barry Kay team of the Laurier Institute, with three really illuminating graphics. The three diagrams clearly spell out the problems facing the Liberals  and the Conservatives, if either Trudeau or Harper are to have a chance of becoming prime minister.

Analysing recent polls, Kay projects that if the federal election were held today, Mulcair’s NDP would win the most seats – 130 –with Harper’s tattered Tories coming in with 119, and the Liberals bringing up the rear with 86.

This would give Mulcair the first crack at forming a minority government that would seek the support of a majority of MPs in a Throne Speech. It would then be up to either the Liberals or the Conservatives to vote for the NDP, in this first vote, and in every confidence vote thereafter.

Coalition or no coalition? That is the question …

If no formal coalition is agreed to between the NDP and the Conservatives, or the NDP and the Liberals, then Mulcair could govern by seeking votes from either of those parties on a case by case basis.

It is quite conceivable that either party would support some but not all of the legislation tabled by the minority NDP government, while opposing other bills. 

However, to survive, Mulcair would need support from either the Liberals or the Conservatives for all confidence votes (votes on supply bills, that entail the spending of money), and his government would lose power if he lost any one of those votes.

Who replaces Mulcair as PM if he loses a confidence vote?

If Mulcair’s NDP failed any confidence vote in the first 12 months or so of the next session of Parliament, the Governor General would be required by Canada’s constitutional convention to approach the leader of the party most likely to form a replacement government, to attempt to form such a government and win the confidence of the House.

Traditionally, this is usually the party with the next highest number of MPs in the House; this would mean Harper.

It would then be up to the Liberals and/or the NDP to support Harper as Prime Minister of a replacement minority government.

What about Trudeau as Prime Minister?

If Harper did not succeed on the first throne speech, the Governor General would most likely then call upon Trudeau to try to cobble together a minority government that would win support of a majority of MPs in the House. If he could not do that, the G-G would dissolve Parliament and call another election.

Mulcair’s options in October:

Based on these projections by Kay’s team, there will be feverish activity starting the evening of October 19, with Mulcair sending out feelers to both Trudeau and Harper about possible support, including possible formal coalitions.

It would be Mulcair’s decision whom to talk to (Harper or Trudeau, or both), and whether to explore a formal coalition (power sharing) agreement.

Mulcair would clearly have a mandate to enter into a coalition, as he has repeatedly told voters that he would be prepared to enter into a coalition with the Liberals in order to replace a new Harper minority government.

It is not as clear that he would have a moral mandate from voters to explore a coalition with Harper’s Conservatives, as, to my knowledge, he has not publicly indicated that he would consider this if he won a minority government. However, this would not constitutionally prevent him trying to form a coalition with the Conservatives.

Trudeau legitimately (from a moral viewpoint) could enter into a formal coalition with Mulcair’s NDP if the NDP won the projected 130 seats, as he has publicly stated that he would consider “the wishes of the voters” in the coming election, should he not gain a majority of seats himself. This also amounts to a moral mandate from voters to Trudeau to enter into formal coalition talks with Mulcair if the NDP ends up with more MPs than the Tories.

Mulcair’s case-by-case default choice:

However, if Trudeau decided not enter into a formal coalition with Mulcair because of certain policies that Mulcair insisted be implemented by the coalition government, then Mulcair could still govern without any formal coalition or cooperation agreement with the Tories or Liberals.

He would simply table his throne speech, followed by other legislation, including supply bills, and seek approval from a majority of MPs in each case.

What about electoral reform if Mulcair has a minority government?

Interestingly enough, if Mulcair tabled a bill to provide for a new electoral system based on a modified proportional representation system (MPR), then the Liberals could vote against this without the Mulcair minority government losing power, as it would not be a supply bill.

This would probably mean the end of significant electoral reform, with the next election being held using the first past the post system.

Could Trudeau refuse to support a modified proportional representational system bill table by Mulcair without political risk?

Global News graphic: The Red, Orange and Blue Bands of seats

His commitment that the 2015 election would be the last with the FPTP system was clearly conditioned by the statement that this would happen if Trudeau became prime minister. It did not cover the case of a Mulcair minority government, so theoretically Trudeau could oppose any Mulcair MPR system on the grounds that Canadians were not consulted in a process similar to the one the Liberal Party has laid out for electoral reform.

However, this would be a very dangerous step for Trudeau to take, as progressive voters might punish the Liberals in the following election by reducing them to a rump in Parliament again.

The result of these considerations might well be that electoral reform replacing the FPTP system might be highly probable even if Mulcair wins a minority government.

Will Harper resign on election night? Probably …

Harper is in for many a sleepless night until the election, because his style of governance is so clearly anti-cooperation that any replacement system would penalize the Conservatives and mean they would be excluded from future governments if he remainded as leader.

Because of this, the chances are also very high that Harper would resign on election night if he did not gain the most seats in the House.


  1. The polls also show strong grow potential for Tom Mulcair still, so a Majority is still a strong possiblity.

  2. I would be surprised if Mulcair offered to form a formal coalition with the liberals if he wins a minority. Though no doubt the LPC would appreciate it as they would likely not agree to a coalition without a seat at the cabinet table for Trudeau and a few others. That will help with that whole "he's not ready" thing.

    Vote by vote will also be interesting, considering the NDP keep trying to tell everyone the LPC and the CPC are indistinguishable.

    I have long said Trudeau would be happy with a CPC minority government. It would be even better for him if it was an NDP minority. The LPC will no doubt agree to some of the more non contentious bills (amending C51 of course), but I doubt they would feel any heat from the electorate if they did not rubber stamp PR. All Trudeau needs to say is he thinks there should be a discussion about the various options.

    Mulcair would not be able to do anything too contentious - and he could fight the next election on his failure to do what he wanted because the LPC and CPC would not support him.

  3. Gyor, with over 3 months to go, there can be many more changes. For one, Trudeau has started campaigning for the election now, and the three will face off in the debates. Also, the Duffy trial with Wright as witness could be explosive: I expect polls to change dramatically after his testimony. There is growth potential for Mulcair and Trudeau: I think Harper's potential is further decline. Recently the Liberals have managed to get a bigger share of air time with the policy announcements; so far they have been well received. On election day I expect the seat count of the LPC and NDP to be much closer, and the MPs elected for the Harper's 'new' Tories to be around 5% to 10% lower than Kay projects.


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