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Why we probably won’t see a Liberal-NDP coalition after the next election

WATCH: According to a new poll, the NDP appears to capture most seats in Ottawa, but not enough for a majority. Some in the party are suggesting a potential coalition with the Liberals, but Justin Trudeau is having none of it. Eric Sorensen reports.

NDP member of Parliament Nathan Cullen raised the spectre Wednesday: a coalition of Liberal and NDP MPs, combining their strength to topple Stephen Harper in case his party wins the next election.

But it’s unlikely to happen for a number of reasons, according to Royce Koop, acting head of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Political Studies.

Here are three reasons we probably won’t see a coalition after the next election – and one scenario where it could happen:

1. Majority government

Canada’s electoral system “is designed to produce majority governments,” Koop said. Despite recent seat projections showing a likely minority, he expects that the most likely election result will be a majority government this time around, as it has been for most of Canada’s history. Either the NDP or the Conservatives will win a majority of seats, he thinks, which makes governing simple: the winning party governs, and either Tom Mulcair or Stephen Harper is prime minister, with a cabinet composed of his own MPs.

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2. Trudeau says no

At a press conference Thursday, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was pretty clear. “Although of course we are open to working with all parties in the House to pass legislation to make sure all Canadians’ interests are served, there will be no formal coalition with the NDP,” he said.

“There are a number of issues in which the Liberal Party and the NDP disagree on quite a fundamental level.”

This stance makes strategic sense for Trudeau, said Elly Alboim, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group. “I think strategically, if Mr Trudeau said, ‘Sure,’ then in effect he’s liberating potential Liberal voters to go vote for the NDP on the assumption that the Liberals will be along for the ride.”

The Liberals are also fairly right-wing in several policy areas, Koop said – for example, the Liberals supported the anti-terror bill C-51, and the NDP didn’t. Those sorts of differences would make joining up with the NDP tough.

And feelings could get in the way of a Liberal-NDP team, even after the election.

“I think it would be demoralizing for the Liberals to be a junior partner to the NDP,” Koop said. “It’s almost like they would be kind of giving up their status as an important governing party in Canada. It would kind of be acknowledging their role as a third party in Canadian politics.”

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Also, he said, “I don’t know about you, but you talk to Liberals and New Democrats – they really don’t like each other.”

3. Minority government

The second most-likely electoral outcome is a minority government – not a coalition. In this scenario, the ruling party would seek opposition support on a case-by-case basis for legislation it wants to pass.

“Of course, that’s less stable,” Koop said. “The opposition parties could withdraw their support at any time.”

The coalition possibility

Assuming that the Conservatives won a plurality of seats, with the NDP in second and the Liberals third, here’s what may happen:

“After an election, Harper doesn’t leave office. He would seek a vote of confidence. And if Mulcair and Trudeau decided to do something about this, then they would defeat him. And then Trudeau would say, I’d be willing to support Mulcair, and Mulcair would go to the governor general and say, ‘I’ve got more potential support than Harper so I should be the Prime Minister.’ And so he would form a government: Either a minority with Liberal support, or a coalition government,” Koop said.

“A coalition would mean that Justin Trudeau would actually be sitting in the cabinet, he’d have his own portfolio, there’d be Liberals that are actually exercising power in the government, as opposed to sitting in the opposition doing nothing, being opposition members.”

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There’s one issue he thinks could convince the two parties to get together: electoral reform. Both parties have voiced support for making Canada’s electoral system more representative of voter intentions.

“That might actually be the issue upon which they say, ‘Look, this is important enough, we’re going to come together and defeat the Conservatives just so we can implement electoral reform so we’re not stuck with the Conservatives on the basis of the weirdness of the electoral system we have.’”