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Potential Minority Government + “new” Senate = ?

The federal system in Canada could well be the most dynamic in the Western world, and certainly one that external stakeholders will need to have a strategy for navigating.

Welcome to the Federal edition of Beyond the Ballot! Over the next few months, we will be providing updates on key areas such as party policies and platform commitments, sector-by-sector analysis, insights from across the country including nomination updates and battleground ridings to watch, polling trends and debate summaries and perspectives on the thinking and strategizing that goes into transitioning in a new government and formulating a Cabinet, among many other items. Stay tuned for more from Beyond the Ballot as we go!

In today’s installment, and with the federal election on the horizon, we look at the dynamics in the “renewed” Canadian Senate and implications they could have for the next government, whether majority or especially in a minority situation. 



In October, Canada’s “super cycle” of political change will come to an end with the 2019 federal election. If one were to believe June’s polling numbers as a projection of outcome, one would reasonably predict a minority Parliament. Liberal or Conservative supported by Green or NDP? Some combinations are more realistic than others and all with significant differences for the governance landscape moving into 2020.  Three months is a long time in the electoral calendar and perhaps too far ahead for this kind of speculation to be overly useful.

What does require ongoing contemplation is how these potential outcomes will interact with and effect the “new” Senate of Canada and how the two Houses of Parliament, combined, will influence the business of government. This dynamic has the strong potential to frustrate private sector interests and increases the need for thoughtful public affairs consideration and planning.

You might remember that in August 2018, Global commented in an Insights piece on critical changes to the operations of government business with the complexity of the “new” Senate and the Trudeau government’s appointment of a rapidly-growing Independent Senators Group (ISG).  This has resulted in the following reality:

  • The Senate is no longer an institution of rubber-stamping.
  • While no government bills have been defeated, significant amendments to them have been advanced and adopted as long as they are consistent with legislative intent.
  • Increased use of procedural tactics utilized to tangibly demonstrate independence.

While deep in the weeds and much discussed in academic circles, the procedural term or notion “Complementarity” for the Senate as an institution was suggested to encapsulate a cooperative sentiment and notion that in large part the Senate is not established to block legislation. However, it is there for “tweaks” and minor adjustments to the government agenda.

Bill C-69, C-48, C-45 and a number of others have all been targets of significant attention by the Senate.  This has resulted in stakeholders engaging much more directly and aggressively with Senators than the previously ‘sleepy’ institution had seen in decades.

Back to where we started, if these kinds of changes to the workings of the Senate are combined with a minority Parliament, one might want to hold their breath when considering how the interdependence of the Houses of Parliament will operate in practice in that scenario.  Deal-making and negotiation, increased focus on procedural strategy and tactics will be employed by all parties in both Houses in tandem.  They will also be employed by stakeholders as a means to advancing their interests. This has the potential to be a frenetic, dynamic environment for pursuing advocacy and public affairs, and is one that requires thoughtful consideration but also agility in managing towards necessary outcomes – be they political, policy or legislative.

This is all happening against a global economic backdrop that might prove very challenging for Canada entering into 2020. Increased trade risk, intergovernmental challenges, managing through a likely recession and a consistently negative public sentiment about public institutions and elected officials are all troublesome issues for the government and for public discourse as a whole. So much for collaboration within and between governments!

Stretching back to 2014, when then-Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau stunned Ottawa by removing all Liberal Senators from his party’s Caucus, the “new” Senate was always on track to become a dynamic environment.  Fast forward to 2019, and the ‘new” Independent Senators now hold a majority of seats in the Red Chamber.  As it stands, under the strong majority currently held by the Trudeau Liberals, this has proven at times both unpredictable and unhelpful to the government’s pursuit of its own political and legislative agenda.  If you combine this with a minority government, the federal system in Canada could well be the most dynamic in the Western world, and certainly one that external stakeholders will need to have a strategy for navigating.


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