Canada’s history with minority governments is a colourful one, featuring everything from feuding factions to harmonious collaboration. In fact, some of the country’s most critical legislation was shaped and passed by minority governments.
As British Columbia faces the prospect of its first minority government in 65 years, here’s a look back at a few notable examples of minority governments at both the federal and provincial level:
In December 2008, fresh off an election victory that established a second consecutive minority government, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was dealing with a parliamentary revolt over his proposal to end subsidies for political parties.
The Liberals and NDP banded together to fight the effort and soon won the temporary support of the Bloc Quebecois. The coalition of the three parties would have been enough to oust Harper and replace him with Liberal Leader Stephane Dion as prime minister.
But Harper forestalled the move by asking Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to prorogue the Commons. In an open letter written before she left her post, Jean reflected on the decision as “a moment in our political history that very likely made the population question our system and how our institutions function.”
In the end, Jean granted Harper’s request and, eventually, the coalition fell apart.
When Premier Roy Romanow called an election in 1999, pundits predicted the veteran politician would cruise to a third majority government.
When the ballots were counted, however, Romanow and his party got a shock — they had lost all their previously held rural seats and were one seat short of a majority.
Romanow quickly struck a deal with three Liberals to secure their support for his government, a move that did not go without internal criticism at the time.
”I’m so mad I could bite the ground,” Saskatchewan Liberal Party president Rod MacDonald fumed, adding he had not been consulted about the deal. ”These guys have completely sold out their constituents.”
The arrangement allowed Romanow to stay on as premier until he voluntarily stepped down in 2001.
Newly minted Conservative Leader Frank Miller had little reason to expect problems when he called an election. His party had comfortably ruled the province for more than a decade and internal polling suggested another slim majority was well within the party’s grasp.
But on top of attacks on his authority from within his caucus and a power struggle among his staff, Miller faced an upbeat Liberal Leader David Peterson and the New Democrats led by Bob Rae.
On election night, Miller’s government secured only four more seats than the Opposition Liberals and Rae soon brokered a deal with Peterson.
The accord stated the NDP would agree to support a Liberal government for two years, while the Liberals promised to implement some NDP policies. It prompted one of the most productive legislative sessions in Ontario history.
When Lester Pearson led the Liberals to victory with a minority government, few imagined he would be ushering in a time of unlikely political stability and productivity.
Political scientists point to Pearson’s consecutive minority mandates in 1963 and 1965 as times of considerable accomplishment, thanks to close collaborations with the New Democrats.
Between the two sessions, Pearson helped bring in medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Assistance Plan for poorer provinces.
He was instrumental in bringing Quebec into the Liberal fold during this time, promoting bilingualism and biculturalism and bringing in the Maple Leaf flag to replace the old Red Ensign.
The accomplishments are made more striking by the fact that Pearson, to this day, is tied with Mackenzie King for the narrowest minority government. King in 1921 and Pearson in 1965 each fell three seats shy of a majority.