(CN) – Canadians will likely elect a minority government where multiple parties would rule together, but current Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his main rival, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, remain determined to eke out a majority win – and with it the mandate to rule as a single party.
Scandals and attack-filled debates have meant a surge in support for the Green Party, progressive New Democrats and the separatist Bloc Quebecois ahead of Canada’s federal election Oct. 21.
Trudeau recently apologized for three incidents between the late 1980s and 2001 when he wore blackface and brownface. This past April, Canada’s independent ethics commission found he tried to derail a corruption trial against the construction company SNC-Lavalin Group. Scheer has called for a criminal investigation into the latter. On Wednesday, Scheer announced that if elected majority leader, he would introduce financial penalties for politicians who violate the Conflict of Interest Act – which he says Trudeau has done.
For his part, Scheer recently acknowledged his dual U.S. citizenship. Scheer, whose father is American, has said he didn’t broach the subject because no one asked him about it. And the conservative has refused to make clear his positions on gay marriage and abortion.
As of Thursday, left-leaning voters increasingly favored the progressive New Democratic Party (18.3% of voters) and the Green Party (8.4%), while Bloc Quebecois’s numbers were also up (6.8%). The two leading parties were holding at 32.2% for Conservatives and 30.9% for the Liberal Party.
Based on those numbers, Scheer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation the Liberals should “respect the fact that whichever party wins the most seats gets to form the government.”
But that’s not how Canada’s parliamentary system works.
Canadians don’t directly elect their prime minister. Instead, a party must win 170 of the 338 seats in Canada’s House of Commons to cement a majority win and the mandate to form the government. If the party that wins the most seats doesn’t pass the 170-seat threshold, there will be a minority government with multiple parties governing together.
In recent elections, sitting prime ministers have resigned when another party has won more seats but neither elected more than 170 members of Parliament though Canada’s constitution doesn’t require the prime minister to step down in such situations. So if the numbers between the liberal and conservative party were close, Trudeau could legally remain as prime minister – even if Scheer’s party wins more seats in the House of Commons than the Liberals.
Whatever the outcome, the new government must make a “speech from the throne” before the House of Commons outlining its agenda. After a debate, the new government must survive a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. If it fails, a new election could result.
Canada has had 13 minority governments, most recently from 2008 to 2011. They are more vulnerable to toppling by such no-confidence votes and are typically short lived, averaging two years.
Trudeau has spent the week trying to convince voters that a coalition government wouldn’t stop Scheer from advancing a conservative agenda.
“A Liberal government will always defend women’s rights, including when challenged by Conservative premiers,” Trudeau told supporters at a campaign stop in New Brunswick Tuesday. “That’s something we know Andrew Scheer will not do.”
There’s some evidence the polls are pushing Trudeau further to the left. On Tuesday, he announced that his administration would force a conservative province to fund abortions at a local clinic – one of only four in the province of New Brunswick – that is currently slated to close due to lack of funding.
Early clues show the tumult may be energizing voters. If early returns are an indication, voter turnout is up this year. About 4.7 million Canadians voted early – a nearly 30% increase over 2015. And 52,000 Canadians living abroad registered to vote – almost five times as many as in 2015. Those numbers got a boost from a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year allowing expats to vote in Canada’s elections no matter how long ago they left the country.
President Barack Obama threw his support behind Trudeau on Wednesday, endorsing the current prime minister in a tweet.
“I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as president,” Obama wrote. “He’s a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change. The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term.”