Note to readers: This is an update of a post I wrote back in 2011.
It is very likely that the vote that will take place on 19 October 2015 will result in a hung parliament. Given this likelihood, I want to repeat the request I made to the media in this country back in 2011.
I would ask that as the vote is counted, you refrain from declaring or calling what form of government this country will have. Simply put, it is not your prerogative to make that determination.
Canadians do not elect governments. The result of an election is a parliament. In this case, it will be the 42nd Parliament.
In the event that one party does manage to win an outright majority of seats, then you can declare a Party X majority government, since the result is self-evident.
However, if we end up, as the polls seem to indicate, with a result in which no party wins an outright majority, that is not the same thing as saying we will have a Party X minority government. Minority government is a form of government, NOT an election result. Nobody “wins” a minority government. They can form one, yes, but they don’t win one. An election in which there is no “winner” can result in various forms of government. We could end up with a minority government, as we did in 2004, 2006 and 2008 — indeed, that is the usual outcome of hung parliaments in Canada, unfortunately. However, things could be different this time around. We could end up with a coalition, as happened in the UK in 2010. Or, we could end up with some other arrangement between parties, such as the Ontario Liberal-NDP accord of 1985. The form of government that will emerge is to be determined by the parliament elected on October 19. It is not up to the media to determine that by calling a hung parliament a Party X minority government.
You can call it a minority parliament – although I would prefer that you limit the use of the term “minority” since many Canadians will not distinguish between “minority Parliament” and “minority government”. You can even qualify that Party X has a plurality — but not a majority — of the seats. But please, please, please, do not under any circumstances declare any sort of government.
The main problem I have with the tradition of our media declaring “Party X minority government” as the outcome (often before all the polls have closed across the country), is that by so doing, you legitimize that as the only possible outcome. If the election were to result in Party A having only a handful more seats more than Party B, and you declare a Party A minority government, then what happens if Party B immediately starts talking to Party C, because between the two of them, they command a majority of seats? If Parties B and C come forward with an agreement, either for a formal coalition or something more akin to the 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord, and end up forming the government, many Canadians might see this as completely illegitimate because the media all declared a Party A minority government on election night.
In the UK in 2010, no one in the media called the May 6 election result a “Conservative minority government”. They all recognized, of course, that the Conservatives had the most seats, but they also recognized that it was up to the newly elected parliament to determine what sort of government would emerge. Labour supported by the Liberal Democrats and the smaller parties? A Conservative minority? Some sort of arrangement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats? It took five days to determine what form of government would emerge. No one panicked. Labour and the Conservatives both negotiated with the Liberal Democrats. The media waited. Even when Brown resigned, before the deal between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was formalised, the media simply recognized that David Cameron would be the PM, but what sort of government he would lead – Conservative minority or coalition – that they did not yet know and no one declared anything. Only once the coalition agreement was signed did the media start referring to a coalition government. This is what I want the Canadian media to start doing.
It’s really a small thing to ask – don’t take it upon yourselves to declare what form of government we will have following an election result in which no party has a majority. Wait until the parties sort that out. That’s their job, not yours.