Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent says the NDP and the Liberals should work together to replace the Conservatives even if they win a strong minority government on Monday.
Polls suggest a minority Parliament is the most likely outcome of the Oct. 19 election, but the stage is set for an unusual sequence of events should the Conservatives have the most seats.
Calculations done on Oct. 16 by political scientist Paul Fairie for The Globe and Mail based on public opinion polls indicate only an 11 per cent chance that any party will get a majority. Dr. Fairie said there is a 74 per cent chance the Liberals will win the most seats and a 27 per cent chance the Conservatives will do so.
Usually, the party that wins the most seats in a Canadian minority Parliament finds a way to get its agenda through the House of Commons. Given public statements by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, it would appear that a Liberal or NDP minority would be able to govern with the support of the other party in the House of Commons.
However, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper would have a much harder time if his party finishes first. Mr. Harper led two minority governments between 2006 and 2011 before winning a majority. But the political environment has changed.
The Liberals and the NDP said clearly during the campaign that they would not in any circumstances support a Conservative government. That means a Harper minority could be defeated on its first confidence vote.
Some observers say the Liberals and NDP should stand down if the Conservatives win a strong minority that is relatively close to the 170 seats required to have a majority in the 338 seat House of Commons.
Mr. Harper has said during the campaign that the party with the most seats should govern.
He put it more bluntly during a 2010 trip to the United Kingdom, stating that "losers don't get to form coalitions."
Mr. Broadbent, who took part in 2008 negotiations with the Liberals – including former prime minister Jean Chrétien – on a potential minority government coalition that would have unseated the Conservatives, strongly disputes Mr. Harper's comments.
"He's totally, factually wrong," Mr. Broadbent said.
While in opposition, Mr. Harper appeared to take a different view than the one he now holds. In 2004, he wrote to the governor-general suggesting the second-place party – his – could form a government.
In 2004, during the Liberal minority Parliament under Paul Martin, Mr. Harper signed a joint letter with Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and then NDP leader Jack Layton that urged then governor-general Adrienne Clarkson to "consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options" should the Liberals request an election.
"He just has a flexible memory," Mr. Broadbent said.
Mr. Broadbent added that he has not been speaking with the Liberals lately and does not know what the NDP is planning in response to a minority government result. However, he said he would expect the two parties would act quickly if there is a minority government.
"They've both made it clear that they want Mr. Harper gone from office. They're both serious men who would know that the people of Canada are looking for some kind of stability in government and I would think that they would respond reasonably quickly and give the early signs of such discussions on their part to the media," he said.
Former Liberal MP Bob Rae has a unique perspective on the issue. He supported a 1985 agreement as leader of the Ontario NDP to support Liberal leader David Peterson as premier of a minority legislature, even though the Progressive Conservatives had the most seats.
In an interview, Mr. Rae said Mr. Harper is wrong to argue that the first-place party automatically gets to govern, although he suggested the second and third place parties will have to consider a political grey area based on the final seat count.
"There's constitutional legitimacy and then there's political legitimacy, and that I think is something that everybody has to weigh and that I'm sure is something that will be on the minds of the people in all the parties," he said. "The real point is the idea – which is the one that Mr. Harper has espoused since 2006 – that whoever wins the plurality of seats wins all the marbles is just complete nonsense. ... It has no basis in Canadian law and I think whether it has a basis in political opinion really depends on the arguments that are made to the public and to political leadership."