Majority Supporting the Government

Our parliamentary system requires that governments must be supported by the majority of Members in the House of Commons. Thus, a majority government results from a general election where one party (or a coalition of parties) wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons. A minority government usually occurs when the party which wins the most seats in a general election nonetheless does not hold the majority of seats in the House of Commons.1 Canada has never been governed by a true coalition of parties.2 Within each Parliament, party standings can and do fluctuate because of deaths, resignations, by-elections, Members who cross the floor or become independent, or other changes in the status of individual Members. As a result, the government’s ability to retain the support of the majority of Members can be increased or diminished.

All questions arising in the House are decided by a majority vote of those Members present,3 including the rules by which the House governs its own proceedings. The government’s ability to command the support of a majority of the House allows it to exercise control over the management of the business of the House and, by extension, of its committees. The government’s powers in this regard are in theory counterbalanced by its responsibility to the House to account for its actions.

The government’s role in the management of House business is established in several Standing Orders, which refer either to the government or a Minister as the initiator of certain types of proceedings.4 Likewise, there are many Standing Orders that recognize the House’s role in holding the government to account for its actions.5 Parliamentary procedure must balance the government’s power to manage the business of the House against the opposition’s responsibility to hold the government accountable. The crucial test of the government’s power comes in votes of confidence, for, in Canada’s parliamentary democracy, a government must enjoy the confidence of the House.