House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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2. Parliaments and Ministries

Majority Supporting the Government

Governments must be supported by the majority of Members in the House of Commons whether or not they are majority governments or minority governments. A majority government is supported by the party or the coalition of parties holding the majority of the seats in the House of Commons. (Canada has never been governed by a coalition of parties.) A minority government is supported by the party or the coalition of parties holding a minority of the seats in the House of Commons. Within each Parliament, party standings can and do fluctuate because of deaths, resignations, by-elections, floor crossings 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 to be decided by a majority vote of those Members present. [1]  Even the rules by which the House governs its own proceedings are adopted by simple majority vote. It is therefore obvious that 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 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. [2]  Likewise, there are many Standing Orders that recognize the House’s role in holding the government to account for its actions. [3]  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.

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