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Former Ontario premiers Bob Rae and David Peterson in 1998. In 1985, Mr. Peterson held a minority Liberal government in Ontario that was propped up by Mr. Raw's NDP.

CP/The Canadian Press

During this year's federal and provincial elections, Stephen Harper and Dalton McGuinty repeatedly characterized minority governments as unstable choices, liable to be held to ransom by opposition parties and unable to properly steer the state through perilous economic times. The campaign tactic played into an assumption that hung parliaments produce nothing but constant squabbling, frequent elections and legislative gridlock.

One person you won't hear making such arguments is former Ontario Liberal premier David Peterson. He has plenty of experience with the subject, sitting on the opposition benches during the Progressive Conservative minorities of Bill Davis in the 1970s and running his own from 1985 to 1987, with the support of Bob Rae's NDP.

"I think [a minority]will force common sense on people and make them find common ground, and that's not a bad thing," he said. "Minorities can work."

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He says that his government was proof of this. The deal struck with Mr. Rae, he said, paved the way for pay equity, greater environmental protections on toxic spills, beefed-up tenant-protection laws and better workplace health and safety guidelines.

"Most people look back at that session and they say it was one of the most productive," Mr. Peterson said.

In a minority, the House becomes all-important, as the parties need to ensure members are on hand for votes, he says, and draws far more attention than during a majority. Finding ways to co-operate and make real progress will be the challenge for all three parties.

"Articulate the things you think are important. I wouldn't be only aggressive or say 'only my way will carry the day,'" he said, when asked for his advice for party leaders. "I think people will see through the grandstanding and the clichés."

Mr. Rae, for his part, says the challenge facing the minority will be the economy and the budget.

"One can only hope our export markets strengthen, and growth returns," he said. "Any 'deficit slaying' requires three things: fiscal discipline, healthy revenues, and strong growth. The absence of any one of these things makes life difficult indeed. Austerity alone won't do the trick."

There are, of course, key differences between 1985 and 2011. At the time Mr. Peterson first took power, the Liberal Party had great momentum provincially and, shortly after its agreement with the NDP expired, Mr. Peterson called an election in which it won a large majority.

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This stands in contrast to the current climate.

"My sense is none of the parties is looking for an early election, which will temper the mood of the House," said Mr. Rae, adding that there also doesn't seem to be much desire for a deal between parties of the kind that he struck all those years ago.

The electorate likely isn't looking for another trip to the polls any time soon, either.

"In my opinion, the people don't want another election. They're going to want the politicians to behave like grownups and make it work," Mr. Peterson said. "They're going to be watching closely to see who makes a contribution."

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