It’s been clear for some time now that when faced with a choice between democracy and power, Republicans in the United States will almost always opt for the latter. It’s why their elected officials at the state level continue to aggressively gerrymander congressional districts in order to favour their candidates, why their elected senators hold up Democratic nominees for the Supreme Court while rushing theirs through, and why so many of them tried to pretend the 2020 presidential election had been stolen — while actually trying to steal it themselves.

Now, that anti-democratic strain of Trumpism is starting to show itself north of the border, albeit in an appropriately Canadian way.

Recent polls put Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party of Canada well ahead of the governing Liberals, but none of them show a path to a majority government. Instead, if he wins — and that’s far from certain given Justin Trudeau’s obvious gift for campaigning — it’ll take the form of a plurality of seats, one that will require Poilievre to find a legislative partner willing to support him. That won’t be the New Democrats, for any number of reasons, and it’s hard to imagine the Bloc Québécois siding consistently with the CPC if the combined Liberal-NDP seat count is higher. In other words, there’s every possibility Poilievre could win the most seats in the next election and not become the next prime minister.

This is, by the way, an entirely acceptable — if unusual — outcome in our political system. The party that governs in a parliamentary democracy is the one that can command the confidence of Parliament (or the legislature at the provincial level), and we’ve seen situations where the party with the highest number of seats isn’t the one calling the shots. In 1985, David Peterson’s Ontario Liberals won four fewer seats than the long-governing Tories but formed a coalition with Bob Rae’s NDP to force it from power. In 1987, the Peterson Liberals were rewarded with a crushing majority win. More recently there was John Horgan's NDP, which won fewer seats than Christy Clark's BC Liberals but reached an agreement with the BC Green Party that allowed it to govern. Voters there also rewarded Horgan with a big majority in the next election.

And, of course, there’s the famous (at least, to students of Canadian political history) “King-Byng Affair” of 1925, when Liberal prime minister Mackenzie King and then governor general Julian Byng crossed swords. King won fewer seats than Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives but continued to command the confidence of the House and requested the dissolution of Parliament and a fresh election. Byng refused, though, and instead asked Meighen to form a government. It didn’t last long. Meighen’s government fell in 1926, and King’s Liberals went on to win a majority in the ensuing election.

Now, almost a century later, it seems like some conservatives want to repeat this history. In a recent column, the Globe and Mail’s Andrew Coyne flagged the risks associated with an election that produces a Conservative Party of Canada plurality but a continued Liberal government. “The Liberals could cite constitutional principle all they liked, but in attempting to govern from second place they would still be pushing the limits of popular legitimacy. And if there is one thing we know about the present-day Conservative Party, it is that they delight in pushing limits themselves.”

As if on cue, conservative thought leader Sean Speer laid out the path his party might follow. “The Conservative narrative (which wouldn’t be entirely without basis) would be that the Liberals had conspired with left-wing academics, the broader opinion elite and the (publicly funded) media to effectively overturn the election results,” he wrote. “I think it’s hard to overstate the inherent risks to such a political climate. One could envision mass protests and even violence.”

Said narrative is, to be clear, entirely without basis. There is nothing in Canada’s Constitution or its political conventions that suggests the party with the most seats should automatically be the one that governs. Indeed, as Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders noted, it’s progressives who have been disenfranchised by Canada’s first-past-the-post system and its habit of producing false majorities. “In every election since the 1980s, 60% have voted for a left-leaning party. Yet right-facing parties have governed half the time because the liberal/left parties have a tribal resistance to governing together.”

But the fact that someone like Speer is mooting this argument suggests it’s very much on the mind of Canadian conservative leaders. Speer, after all, is no far-right crank. He’s a former adviser to Stephen Harper, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and an editor-at-large at The Hub, an otherwise sane forum for conservative ideas and arguments. Dan Robertson, the party’s chief strategist from the 2021 campaign, has also tried to lay the same groundwork here. “There’s just a natural sense among people that the party that won the most seats is the party that should form the government,” he told The Hub in April. “It’s easy to understand and it aligns with people’s sense of fairness.”

Could the result of the next federal election lead to "mass protests and even violence" from conservatives frustrated by a legitimate parliamentary outcome, as some pundits have warned? Only if Canada's Conservative leaders allow it to happen.

There’s no question that certain aspects of Canadian parliamentary democracy are hard to understand, and that not everyone is familiar with the outcome of the 1985 Ontario election, much less the intricacies of the King-Byng affair. But there should be even less question that conservative leaders need to tamp down any talk of those outcomes being “undemocratic,” lest they allow Trumpist ways of thinking to take even deeper root in their party. Their party might love to talk about how Canada is “broken,” but if they’re not careful, this is something that could actually break it.

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It's not like it's a hard concept. Flowchart:
Do you have a majority? Yes ----> Govern
No ---->
Are more people for you than against you? Yes ----> Govern
No ----> Too bad.

This is only hard for Conservatives to understand because they do not want to understand it.

RP wrote: "Do you have a majority?"
"Are more people for you than against you?"

Neither of these describe how our parliamentary democracy works.
As Max notes, "The party that governs in a parliamentary democracy is the one that can command the confidence of Parliament.
If you lose the confidence of the house, you lose the right to govern.

The governing party can hold a majority of seats, but if a sufficient number of MPs vote against the government on a confidence motion, the party loses its right to govern.
Likewise, if more people (voters) are for you than against you, but you lose a confidence vote in the House of Commons, you lose the right to govern.

"'UK governments continue in office only as long as they have the ‘confidence’ or support of the House of Commons. This means that they are able to command a majority in the Commons on key matters.
"Governments do not always have to prove they continue to hold confidence, but governments are expected to resign or seek an election if they clearly lose the confidence of the House of Commons.
"In between elections, losing confidence happens through particular votes, known as confidence motions, or if a government determines that it can no longer command the confidence of the Commons (for example, if it loses a vote on a major policy issue that is a core part of its agenda).
"Confidence is also implied in big set-piece votes like the Queen’s Speech or the budget – because if the government cannot win a vote on such core parts of its agenda, it suggests that the Commons may not have confidence in the government as a whole. But, unlike specific votes of confidence, this is not guaranteed. It is likely that a defeat in either would need to be followed by an explicit vote of confidence, unless the government chose to respect the principles and resign or call for dissolution anyway."
"Confidence motions and parliament"

This is why we desperately need an electoral system that

A) lets people vote for who they really want elected, this means ranking the candidates

B) a system that results in a parliament that is actually representative of what the people want. This means electoral districts in which more than one candidate is elected., maybe even five, so that the range of values of the people are fairly represented.

Note that there is no ideal system. Multi-member ridings with ranked ballots seems to be closest to the ideal. Counting the ballots can be done using STV, but it is not the only method.

We need a national citizens’ assembly to make the choice. This could be done by having assemblies in each of about six regions of Canada, each taking a year to do the work, and then each electing representatives to a National Assembly. Its recommendations should then be instituted. At no point should be politicians involved as they have far too much conflict of interest..

I don't want to rank candidates: I want to vote for a local MP and for a federal leader. And what makes you think that six regional assemblies would suffice and that politicians won't dominate them?

A couple of notes:
When the Liberals and NDP threatened to approach the GG with a workable coalition/working agreement that would have toppled a Conservative* government, the PM of the day prorogued parliament to avoid the non-confidence vote he was facing. The most seats, but unable to command the confidence of the House.

Mr Saunders works from a popular fallacy about his progressive support claim. That is that the Liberal Party of Canada is a progressive party. As anyone who has been paying attention since the days of Trudeau Sr can attest, the Liberals are only progressive when either they have a leader of that inclination or a minority government dependent on the support of the NDP. All you have to do is look at the Chretien/Martin days for evidence. Chretien campaigned on; repealing the GST, restoring funding to the CBC, and vague promises of pharmacare - sort of, maybe, possibly. Upon winning a majority in the 1993, he famously claimed - in spite of the recorded evidence - that he had never said he was going to get rid of the GST. Ten years, three elections and a continuing record of neoliberal policies solidly placed this government in the centre-right (at best) column of the Canadian political spectrum.

* Also clearly evident to anyone paying attention, the label "Conservative Party of Canada" is either a fig leaf disguise for the Reform Party of Preston Manning or absolutely no relationship of the Progressive Conservatives of yore. The latter died the moment Brian Mulroney sought Parti Quebecois supporters to run under his banner in 1984. The final nail in the coffin was the handshake agreement between Peter McKay and the "Alliance" Party leader.

The Liberals have changed with the times and their respective leaders but the conservatives? Absolutely a sea change, so far to the right you could even call it an alternate reality.
So all things being relative, the Liberals are indeed progressive. The simple fact of what they've done with the NDP clinches that.

The Conservatives are already deeply entrenched in “Trumpian” political antics, particularly under the leadership of Pierre Poilievre. Their consistent record of opposing electoral reform speaks for itself: they know full well that they wouldn’t be able to continue to attain power by winning a false majority if our archaic First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system was rejected and replaced by a system of Proportional Representation (PR). In essence, the CPC (and provincial conservative parties) are prepared to perpetually deny Canadian voters the right to have parliament and provincial legislatures reflect the wishes of the electorate. Who needs real democracy when you can win power via a false majority; that is the motto of the Conservative Party of Canada.

There's that telling 60/40 split again; in every election since the eighties 60% of Canadians voted for progressive parties so conservatives have only kind of "stolen" power when the NDP split the vote more than usual. Saunders mentions their "tribalism" being the ongoing obstacle to getting together, but they have wisely if temporarily circumvented that unevolved trait with their supply and confidence agreement, a sufficiently innocuous name in the context of the ever more hair- trigger, hysterical CPC. Recalling their former success in weaponizing the word "coalition," I see in the Hub article they're priming the pump by calling this the "costly coalition," revelling in the alliteration (this is as far as their literacy actually GOES mind you.)
In that same Hub article one of Boilievre's aides who did not wish to be named, when talking about possibly being legitimately sidelined AGAIN by the agreement/coalition after the next election (hehehe) and in keeping with conservative's actual disdain for ALL our institutions proceeded to give them and himself away when he said "that's their constitutional right" but "we'll go nuclear."
That's why the Liberals, and hopefully soon the united Progressive Party of Canada will in fact remain the natural governing party of this country. Because they're not crazy.
And "The Hub," claiming to be open to new and/or bold ideas? Just another bunch of conservative apologists. They need more and more of those, just like the Catholics....

Because it's not crazy to keep on pushing O&G?

??? And someone thinks that Poilievre's Cons might be worried about looking like Trump?
One doesn't have to refer only to Ontario Politics of long ago, but to recall what S. Harper did with his plurality win, and what happened to the coalition of the other parties when they approached the Governor General.
Maybe someone should start having conversations with Mary Simon, just in case.

If anyone wants to follow the far right, feel free to take your Trumpism south of the border where is is welcome.
Many Canadians want to rebuild the Conservative party to be center right, and in doing so have a chance to return to power.

Beating a dead horse; the conservative brand is now officially sh*t.
Your party no longer exists. It's not your fault but it's left you for the "Proud Boys."