10 basic facts about our parliamentary system: Crib notes for conseratives

I appreciate this is a presentation of everything everybody already knows about our parliamentary system. Therefore treat the following as set of rapid fire FYI bullet points for those of you with conservative friends who seem clueless about parliamentary systems.

1.) We elect individual candidates who may or may not belong to a political party.

2.) We do not elect the prime minister, parliaments do.

3.) Political parties elect their leaders.

4.) The prime minister is the person who enjoys a majority of the support of the elected members of parliament.

5.) When a party wins the majority of individual ridings it forms the government with its leader as the prime minister.

6.) A majority government may change its leader any time the party decides to and continue to rule for the duration of their mandate in virtue of their majority in the house of commons. Just ask Kim Campbell how she became prime-minister.

7.) Political parties only have a mandate to govern if they have a majority. If not, they have to coalesce* to form the government.

8.) There is thus NO SUCH THING AS A MINORITY MANDATE TO GOVERN. Parliamentary tradition says that the party that won the most seats has the right to try and form a government. Parliamentary tradition says that the icumbent government has the right to try and form the new government (see RC’s comment below). But parliamentary tradition also says that any majority group of MPs can form a government. Why? because we elect individual MPs not political parties to represent us in the House of Commons.

9.) There is such a thing as a minority parliament which receives a mandate from parliament at each moment there is a vote on major money bill or when the legislation in question is deemed a confidence vote.

10.) All minority parliaments in this sense are run by coalition governments in that they require the support of other parties to stay in power.

Conservatives that do not know 1 through 10 need not be taken seriously even if that conservative happens to be the man who may or may not form the next minority government with the support of centralists, socialists and sovereigntists.


[koh-uh-les] Show IPA verb, -lesced, -lesc·ing.
–verb (used without object)
to grow together or into one body: The two lakes coalesced into one.
to unite so as to form one mass, community, etc.: The various groups coalesced into a crowd.
to blend or come together: Their ideas coalesced into one theory.
–verb (used with object)
to cause to unite in one body or mass.

7 thoughts on “10 basic facts about our parliamentary system: Crib notes for conseratives

  1. “Parliamentary tradition says that the party that won the most seats has the right to try and form a government.”

    Actually, parliamentary convention says that the incumbent government has the right to first see if it can command the confidence of the House, even if it does not win the most seats in an election – which is why Gordon Brown did not resign immediately following the last UK election even though Labour finished 2nd in seat count to the Tories. He first tried to see if a deal could be reached with the Lib Dems and other parties. When it was clear that wouldn’t happened, then he tendered his resignation, 5 days after the vote.

  2. Nice post, although unfortunately you’ve opened up a Pandora’s box of befuddlement for Conservatives. For instance, you’ve referred to the BQ as sovereigntists. Conservatives will not recognize nor understand this. Perhaps a post on 10 reasons why its incorrect to call the BQ Canada hating “separatists”? Any chance you have a direct line to the one Conservative most in need of such elementary information: Stephen Harper?

  3. Good point RC. But can you think of instance of that happening in Canada. We share the same basic institutions but the traditions do not fully match up.


    I could call Chuck Strahl’s son and see if he would relay the message to SH.

  4. Great post. I hope you don’t mind if I re post these 10 Points on a site in our area of Canada. I am sure that some of our local yocals believe the PM has the same status as the president and that he can veto anything he doesn’t like. Or in our case prorogue?

  5. I’m not certain what you are asking. Parliamentary convention, here and in the UK, is that the incumbent gets first shot at trying to form a government. Obviously, if Party A is the incumbent party and Party B wins an outright majority, it’s a moot point – there is no way Party A could command the confidence of the House, so in those instances, the incumbent resigns, usually immediately. However, in 2006, for example, Paul Martin could have waited a few days, talked to the NDP, etc. to see if some sort of arrangement could have been worked out that would have allowed him to command the confidence of the House. He chose instead to resign – that was his prerogative. It’s the same parliamentary convention here as it is in the UK. I’ve blogged a lot about this issue on my own blog, including yet another post today.

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