With under a week to go before Canadians head to the polls, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh shook things up by saying his party would “absolutely” consider forming a coalition with other parties to ensure Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer does not become prime minister.
“We’re not going to support a Conservative government,” Singh said during a campaign event in B.C. on Sunday. “We’re going to fight a Conservative government, we’re going to fight it all the way. We’re ready to do whatever it takes.”
Last week, Singh laid out the six conditions he would require in order to support a minority government, including climate change action, national pharmacare, interest-free student loans, cuts to cellphone bills and investments in affordable housing as well as a new tax on the “ultra-rich.”
However, despite his initial comments, Singh appeared to be walking back his offer to form a coalition government on Monday, saying his “focus is not on a coalition.”
“I’m not negotiating the future today,” he said during a campaign event in Vancouver. “Today, I’m telling Canadians what they can do, and what they can do is this: if you vote for a New Democrat, you know our priorities and where we stand.”
But when asked by reporters on Tuesday if he regretted mentioning the possibility of a coalition, he said: “Not at all.”
“I’m ready to fight Conservatives no matter what and however I can,” he said. “I think Canadians want that.”
What, exactly, is a coalition government, and what would it look like in Canada?
Here’s what you need to know:
What is a coalition government?
A coalition government is created when two or more political parties work together to form a temporary alliance large enough to achieve a majority and gain the confidence of Parliament, ultimately allowing them to form government and pass legislation.
Coalition governments occur when a party wins an election with only a minority of seats in the legislature. They are often formed during tumultuous times, such as those involving political turmoil or war.
According to Anna Esselment, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, they are common in places that operate under a proportional representation electoral system because it is difficult for one party to win a majority of seats.
In a typical coalition government, Esselment says each party is represented in cabinet and is given power.
“If it were the case in Canada of a coalition government between the NDP and the Liberals, that would mean that Justin Trudeau would be the prime minister and Jagmeet Singh would be in cabinet as the deputy prime minister, and there would be NDP MPs who are in cabinet with the Liberals,” she explained.
According to Richard Johnston, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in public opinion, elections and representation, if a coalition were to form, the Liberals would hand some portfolios over to the NDP.
“Although the New Democrats would not caucus with Liberals, they would be joined at the hip to them in a way that they are not normally,” he explained.
Could a coalition government happen?
According to Esselment, coalitions are a rarity in Canada because Canadians are more “comfortable” with a one-party system.
“Canadians tend to like one party in power, and they’re comfortable with having a minority government, even if it only lasts … on average, we see them last about two years,” Esselment said. “And I think the parties are more comfortable that way, too.”
She says this is why Canada hasn’t seen any coalition governments at the federal level, despite a series of minority governments throughout the 2000s.
Generally, minorities have operated with the informal backing of another party or with the backing of different parties on different issues.
“We’ve not ever seen a formal coalition made, and I expect that we would not see a coalition this time around with whichever party wins the plurality of seats,” she said.
Johnston says the idea that a coalition would form is “crazy talk” and that it is “wildly unlikely that there will be a coalition government.”
He thinks Singh’s use of the term coalition was “tactically unwise.”
“I think he thinks he’s reassuring voters who might be contemplating voting for the NDP rather than for the Liberals that voting for the NDP would not mean a vote for a party that would support the Conservatives,” Johnston said. “But he doesn’t have to use the word coalition to make that point.”
The only coalition that has formed at the federal level in Canada was back in 1917 when Sir Robert Borden’s Union government defeated Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberals.
Esselment says, however, that some people don’t consider that to have been a true coalition because not all of the Liberals supported Borden.
A more recent attempt at a coalition government was made in 2008, shortly after former prime minister Stephen Harper was re-elected with a minority government. The Liberals, led by Stephane Dion, and the NDP, led by Jack Layton, signed an agreement to form a coalition government if the Conservatives were defeated on a confidence vote. The Bloc Québécois had also agreed to vote in support of the coalition.
However, in order to stop the vote from happening, Harper requested that Parliament be prorogued. When it resumed in January 2009, Dion had resigned, and Michael Ignatieff, who stepped in as the acting leader of the Liberals, did not support the coalition.
What have the other parties said?
Since Singh made the comments on Sunday, Trudeau has dodged questions from reporters regarding the possibility of a coalition, saying that he remains focused on winning a majority.
“My focus is on electing a progressive government and stopping Conservative cuts,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in Windsor, Ont., on Monday.
During a campaign stop in Winnipeg on Monday, Scheer called the possibility of a coalition a “desperate attempt to cling to power” and said it would be a coalition Canadians “can’t afford.”
“My message to Canadians is this: only a Conservative majority government can prevent a government with Justin Trudeau as the spokesman but the NDP calling the shots,” he said.
Speaking to reports on Tuesday, Scheer appeared confident the Conservatives would win a majority government.
“We’re going to get a majority government. I’ll leave it to others and pundits and analysts to speculate,” he said. “My job in the next six days is to go get that majority government, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on Sunday said he has no interest in forming a coalition with anyone.
Green Leader Elizabeth May has previously said her party will not support any minority government that doesn’t meet her high standards for combating climate change. She has denounced the Tory climate plan and maintains the Liberal plan doesn’t go far enough.
— With files from the Canadian Press