Explainer-In tight Canada election, another minority government is likely

FILE PHOTO: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left to right, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole take part in the federal election English-language Leaders debate in Gatineau, Canada, September 9, 2021. Adrian Wyld/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opinion polls indicate no party will gain a majority of seats in the Canadian election on Monday, for the second straight time, leaving one of the two front-runners - Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Conservative leader Erin O'Toole - trying to govern with a minority.

Six parties are contesting the election.

Trudeau, who has led a minority government since 2019, called an early election in a bid to capitalize on the Liberals' handling of the pandemic and swing to a majority.

Here is how events could play out after the vote:


If Trudeau wins a majority of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, he will remain prime minister. A party needs at least 170 seats for a majority. The Liberals currently have 155 seats.

If O'Toole wins a majority, he would take over as prime minister after a two-week transition period.


To govern Canada, a prime minister must show that he or she has the confidence of the House of Commons, the elected chamber of parliament.

If the result is a minority, the incumbent prime minister has the opportunity to test his or her standing with a vote of confidence. That would be the case even if Trudeau wins fewer seats than O'Toole.

If the Liberals win more seats than the Conservatives but fall short of a majority, Trudeau would have to rely again on opposition parties, such as the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) or the Greens, to pass legislation.

There is little chance of a formal coalition, where New Democrats would serve in a Trudeau Cabinet. Canada has had only one coalition and that was in 1917, during World War One.

More likely is a deal whereby the NDP continues to back the Liberals in exchange for Trudeau committing to some of its priorities.


If Trudeau decides to test the confidence of the House, he could first swear in a Cabinet during a ceremony presided over by Governor General Mary Simon, the Canada-based representative of the head of state, Queen Elizabeth.

That does not have to happen immediately, especially if there are automatic recounts in some seats where the results are particularly tight. The COVID-19 pandemic has also seen a record number of mail-in ballots, which could further delay results.

Assuming Trudeau tries to govern either alone or with another party, he would then convene the House of Commons. That does not have to happen immediately, since the rules dictate parliament only has to meet once a year.


If Trudeau were to lose his first confidence vote, he could request another election. But in all likelihood, the governor general would then ask O'Toole whether he could form a government, citing the need to avoid two elections in quick succession.

O'Toole could, on paper, face more challenges, since the NDP is less ideologically aligned with the Conservatives. But NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party is expected to make gains and play a kingmaker role, told Reuters he would work with anyone to achieve his party's goals.

The Conservatives could also turn to the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which seeks independence for the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec. But the idea of federal parties cooperating with the Bloc is especially sensitive.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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