Is Canada heading for a coalition?

‘Lawn signs’ are being banged into front gardens across Canada with the 2019 Federal Election taking place on Monday (21st). With the polls close between the incumbent Liberals and the opposition Conservatives, and with neither looking likely to pull away, ‘The Hill’ could be a hung parliament. This would be truly historic as Canada has never previously had a formal coalition in Ottawa.

In recent weeks, the Liberals have pulled themselves level with the Conservatives after falling far behind the Tories in February. The polls suggest that the Liberals could win more seats than the Conservatives, but not enough to win an outright majority.

The role of the smaller parties will come to light here. The left-leaning New Democrats (NDP) are very much the third party but are closely followed by the regionalists in Quebec – the Bloc Quebecois. The Greens, who look set to pick up seats in the Liberal heartlands of the East, could also keep Trudeau in power. All of these parties have more in common with the Liberals than the Conservatives. If there is a hung parliament in Canada, it is more likely that Trudeau will remain at Sussex Drive, than Andrew Scheer.

Under Jagmeet Singh, the NDP have struggled to hit the heights of 2011, where under charismatic former leader Jack Layton, they pushed the Liberals into 3rd place. Singh won the Burnaby South by-election in February this year with an increased majority and will look to win similar ridings across British Columbia to advance from their 44 seats at the 2015 Federal Election. There is a lot of common ground between the NDP and the Liberals, and by winning in a similar number of seats (which is possible), they could help the Liberals over the line in October. With the election looking more and more like a two-horse race, it is entirely possible that the NDP will be squeezed even harder than in 2015. The election campaign hasn’t been easy for Singh, as several of his candidates have defected to the Green Party, believing they have a stronger chance of winning under the Green banner. Singh has said publicly that he could work with the Liberals in a coalition post-election.

The Green Party, under highly credible Elizabeth May, look set to gain seats in ‘Atlantic Canada’. They currently only hold 2 seats (out of 338), but in an election that is neck-and-neck, they could be kingmakers in Canada post-October 21st. Since 2015, the Greens have been on the march in regional elections, including in the April 2019 election in the province of Prince Edward Island, where the Greens beat the Liberals into third place. Like the NDP, there is common ground between the Liberals and Greens, and could work together in a coalition. One area of real opposition though, is the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which the Liberals have ‘green lit’ for a new phase of construction. If scrapped, there are no hard barriers to a Liberal-Green deal.

The Bloc Quebecois, a French-regionalist party from Quebec, could also be part of a government deal in Canada. There isn’t as much common ground between themselves and the Liberals, but Trudeau may need to hold his nose and work with them to maintain power. The BQ want more autonomy for the Province and would hold Quebec-based Trudeau to giving them greater devolution. Twenty-four years have passed since the narrow ‘No’ vote to Quebec sovereignty in the last referendum, and Trudeau would be foolish to grant another vote to buy support from the BQ. It may be more conceivable for the BQ to have a ‘supply and demand’ relationship with the Liberals, rather than a full coalition.

With the polls narrowing between the Liberals and Conservatives, political commentators in Canada will begin to look more closely at the reality of a coalition government in Ottawa. Depending on how the cards fall, it could be a ‘traffic light’ coalition between the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens. Trudeau, under the strapline ‘Choose Forward’, will be spending the last few days of the campaign working hard to avoid a coalition and go all out for another majority.

* Jonathan is a Lib Dem member in Bath. He studied European Politics at the University of Exeter and now works for a sustainability consultancy.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 16th Oct '19 - 12:32pm

    The Trans-Mountain Pipeline. This will have to be involved in any future discussion cos Trump will not be happy if he does not get his way.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Oct '19 - 1:00pm

    ” ‘The Hill’ could be a hung parliament. This would be truly historic as Canada has never previously had a formal coalition in Ottawa.”

    A hung parliament wouldn’t be “historic” though – they’ve had plenty of those, including three consecutive parliaments in the 21st century.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Oct '19 - 1:43pm

    Jonathan Adcock | Wed 16th October 2019 – 11:55 am
    At the previous general election I thought that (bilingual) Canadian Liberals were backing electoral reform by proportional representation.
    Is it correct that they did not implement that policy?
    Do they need it now?
    If the BQ are willing to be in the federal government are they nowadays comparable with the SNP? Welcome before it is too late.

  • Dear Alberta, a Liberal/NDP/Green coalition means kiss goodbye to your pipelines, especially when the Liberals no longer need your votes to win.

    Anyway, approving the pipelines really seems to make the Liberals inconsistent when it comes to fighting climate change, as the tar-sand oil is one of the dirtiest and most polluting types of fossil fuels.

  • It’s time for the new Coalition to give those pesky Albertans a boot.

  • Denis Mollison 18th Oct '19 - 8:34am

    @Richard Underhill
    Trudeau made a strong commitment to proportional representation at the last election, but the ensuing process (consultation and parliamentary committee) got bogged down in detail and Trudeau just cancelled the process.
    He’s also been pretty disappointing on climate change with his support of tar sands development, possibly the most environmentally harmful part of the fossil fuel industry.

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