The myth that minority parliaments are inefficient

In the past week or so, I’ve heard two people who I consider to be generally intelligent make the same argument with regards to minority parliaments.  The first was a person I just overheard while I was at school finishing up the final assignment for my degree, the second person was a commentator on this blog.

Both arguments were of the standard, prevalent format.  They both argued that in minority parliaments, there are too many political games that get in the way of governance and that, because of this, minority parliaments inefficient.

It is time now that we do away the myth that Canadians either want or should want (or even ‘need’) majority parliaments.

Indeed it’s not difficult to understand why some people hold such an opinion.  In fact, in the U.K., minority parliaments are called “hung parliaments” thus further lending creedence to the inefficient minority parliament thesis.  Thus, it is somewhat understandable why some individuals would take this assumption about minority parliaments and wrongly then hope for what Jeffrey Simpson rightly called the “Friendly Dictatorship” of majority parliaments.

The only problem with this argument is that the evidence simply does not support its conclusion.  Paul E.J. Thomas has a piece out in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, wherein he examines precisely the claim that minority parliaments are inefficient.  His piece, entitled, appropriately enough, “Measuring the Effectiveness of a Minority Parliament” employs a thorough quantitative study of Canadian minority and majority Parliaments and utterly blows this myth out of the water.

You can access Thomas’s piece for free online, here.

A brief excerpt from the abstract of Thomas’s article:

“The paper sets out the procedural context of the 38th Parliament and develops six criteria for evaluating its behaviour. It then explores each criteria using a qualitative and quantitative comparison of the actions of the 36th, 37th, and 38th Parliaments. This evaluation shows that the 38th Parliament was no less efficient than its predecessors, featured greater legislative deliberation, and was better able to hold the executive accountable for its actions [emphasis added]. As a result the paper concludes that while minority governments are by no means perfect, the example of 38th Parliament suggests that an electoral system which produced more minority governments could increase the quality of democracy in Canada.”

But, sadly, despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary, we’re already starting to see the capitalist media telling Canadians that they need the anti-democratic security of a majority parliament.  And, moreover, it unfortunately appears as though Canadians are starting to swallow that lie. 

See also:

On changing our electoral system

6 Responses to “The myth that minority parliaments are inefficient”


  1. 1 Ken Furber 21 April, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Good point Paul. My recent rant against minority governments actually was just frustration talking and not much more. I find this particular Tory minority government tiring and obstructionist. However, I agree minorities are actually the most democratic system possible under the circumstances. We have good examples of minorities that worked well in our own history, including both Lester Pearson governments of the 1960s. And this particular minority started out well enough. Unfortunately it’s been bogged down somewhat by premature electioneering on the part of the Conservatives. But my frustration and weakness of spirit aside, we’re definitely better off with a minority government. Besides the thought of this particular brand of Tories getting a majority makes my blood run cold.

  2. 2 Grant Bowen 21 April, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    If this is true, shouldn’t proportional representation no longer be the horror some would have us believe? it would mean a few Greens and Rhinos and the certainty of minorities for the foreseeable future. But I doubt we will see it as long as the major parties are holding out hope for majorities and the dictatorial power they provide

  3. 3 Abdul-Rahim 22 April, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Look at the Liberal government of Québec, even with such an Opposition from the ADQ and PQ, they have made significant gains for the working class in the country.

  4. 4 Erich Jacoby-Hawkins 23 May, 2008 at 1:14 am

    This theme is expanded in both detail and time scale (past history) in a new book by Peter Russell called “Two Cheers for Minority Government: The Evolution of Canadian Parliamentary Democracy”, with an interview in the Hill Times. Seems to support and amplify what Mr. Thomas said.


  1. 1 Daily Dose - April 23, 2008 « Your Daily Dose Trackback on 23 April, 2008 at 12:39 am
  2. 2 News Flash: Minority Governments Just as Productive as Majority Ones (i.e. Not Very) « Your Daily Dose Trackback on 23 April, 2008 at 4:33 pm

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