Today I presented some of my research on Canada’s recent experience with minority governments at the “Minority Report” conference at Wilfrid Laurier University. It was an honour to appear with such a distinguished group of researchers and to have my work recognized by the institution where I started my studies.
I led off the first panel by comparing the performance of Canada’s recent minority parliaments with the majorities that they followed. The goal of my research has been to help clarify whether minority governments are helpful or harmful to the operation of parliament, and so I conducted the comparison on the basis of four criteria: legislative efficiency, legislative deliberation, the role of private members, and the accountability of the government to parliament. I also examined whether there was any change in the way legislation was passed by the Senate.
Contrary to the critics of minority governments, my results showed that parliaments in which no party has a majority are not any less efficient at passing legislation. Conversely, contrary to minority advocates, these parliaments do not offer any significant improvements in the role of private members or legislative deliberation. However, the minority advocates were correct in that the minority situation did furnish the parliament with a much greater ability to hold the government to account through the Standing Committees.
In terms of the Senate, it was theoretically difficult to isolate the impact of the minority situation since in one of the two recent minorities the Senate was controlled by the governing party while in the other it was controlled by the official opposition. In practice though there was little change in the legislative behaviour of the Senate, with the one exception that more government bills went unpassed (i.e. were left to die on the order paper) when the Senate was controlled by the opposition.