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A minority government? A coalition? Here’s a look at some federal election outcomes

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With Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives hovering at just above 30 per cent support in the latest polls, there is a good chance Canada will see a minority government and more political instability after Monday’s vote.

No party managed to swing momentum their way on the campaign trail during a short election. Whether the Liberals or Conservatives will form the next government is a coin toss as both parties are locked in a dead heat, according to the latest Ipsos polling released on Sunday.

READ MORE: Real-time results in the federal election

As Canada’s 44th federal election comes to a close, here is a quick look at some of the potential outcomes.

Will a party win a majority?

The Liberals had 155 seats in the House of Commons when Trudeau triggered a snap election in August. If the Liberals are able to get to 170 seats, they will have a majority of the 338 seats.

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O’Toole’s Conservatives would need to move from 119 to 170 to take over as prime minister.

A majority seems like an unlikely scenario.

An Ipsos poll released just before election day showed Conservatives had roughly 32 per cent of the popular vote, while the Liberals were at 31 per cent.

A Liberal minority?

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Essentially, if Trudeau’s Liberals win a plurality of seats but fail to reach a majority, nothing changes, according to Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor at Carleton University.

“Because the government remains unchanged, the Liberals can still just keep going,” Lagassé said.

However, if O’Toole’s Conservatives were to gain a substantial number of seats but fall short of majority, things could change.

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If an opposition party gains a substantially larger number of seats than the existing government, the existing government will typically resign or the prime minister on an election,” he said. “But that is not constitutionally required.

Will the party that wins the most seats form the next government?

In a word: no.

Under Canada’s Westminster system, the party who wins the most seats doesn’t automatically get to form the next government. A party first has to win confidence of the House of Commons.

If no party reaches a majority, Justin Trudeau — the incumbent prime minister — will have the first crack at forming a government even if he wins fewer seats than O’Toole.

READ MORE: Live coverage — 2021 Canadian election coverage

It’s important to recognize that the only body at the federal level that’s elected is the House of Commons. The Senate isn’t elected, the courts aren’t elected, the government’s unelected,” Lagassé said.

“The government’s appointed on the premise that it’s able to maintain the confidence of the elected house. That’s how we ensure the democratic principle.

Trudeau could turn to other parties, like Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats to win confidence of the House. The Liberal leader could do this by relying on formal cross-party agreements with the NDP, Bloc Quebecois or Green Party. Trudeau could also proceed with vote-by-vote support from each party on key issues and bills in order to govern.

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A supplied confidence arrangement or formal coalition?

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University of British Columbia political scientist Maxwell Cameron said Canada doesn’t have a history when it comes to formal coalitions that involve actually sharing power between two parties.

“In other words, cabinet posts or other court positions are shared between two political parties,” Cameron said. “We don’t have much of a tradition of that in Canada.”

In 2008, the Bloc, Liberals and NDP agreed to form a coalition government to prevent the Conservatives under Stephen Harper from governing.

The Bloc said they would support a government composed of ministers from the Liberals and NDP for 19 months.  Harper prorogued Parliament in response to avoid having his minority government toppled.

READ MORE: Long lineups seen outside some Toronto polling stations on election day

A more likely outcome would be a “supply confidence agreement” between two or more parties who agree on some basic principles or legislation and agree to support the government for a specific length of time, according to Cameron.

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In 2017, British Columbia’s provincial election saw a “hung parliament,” where former Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals won 43 seats in the legislature, and now Premier John Horgan’s NDP won 41.

The Greens won three seats — holding the balance of power.

B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver entered into talks with both the Liberals and NDP, but would eventually reach a deal that saw the Greens prop up the NDP minority.

What if a party loses a confidence vote?

If Trudeau wasn’t able to obtain the confidence of the House, he could request another election, sending Canadians back to the polls.

A much more likely scenario, according to Lagasse, is Governor General Mary May Simon turning to O’Toole and asking him to form government.

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The prime minister only has to resign if they lose confidence. But the reality is politics comes into play,” Lagassé said. “If the Liberals have fewer seats than the Conservatives, the more pressure politically will be on Trudeau to resign that night.

“In that event, the Governor General will then commission O’Toole to form government and there’ll be a two-week transition, usually two or three weeks.”

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The Conservatives might have a hard time finding support from the NDP, as Singh has refused to say whether he would support O’Toole. O’Toole could turn to Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet for support.

Blanchet has rejected being part of a coalition federal government after the Sept. 20 election, but said would support a minority government that would survive a full four-year mandate.

*With files from the Canadian Press

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