Saturday, October 23, 2010

Do the Harper Conservatives actually have the longest serving minority?

I've heard it repeated often, even in the comments on this blog: the Harper Conservatives have had the longest serving minority government in Canadian history. That's related to both the 39th Parliament (2006-2008) and to Harper's overall tenure in government so far (2006-2010).

It's often used to cajole and poke fun at the rather co-operative spirit that seems to exist between the Liberals and the Conservatives. If Harper is so unpopular, how come the Liberals let him run the longest minority ever? Hm?

I could get into the politics of convenience, renewal, stupidity, and all sorts of other things, but I thought I'd delve into the actual issue and see whether or not the claim that's so often attributed to the Harper government is actually true.

To start off, let's look at how long Harper was in office from 2006-2008, counting only the days that the 39th Parliament (or any Parliament) actually sat, which was from April 3rd, 2006, to September 7th, 2008, using this handy online counter.

The 39th Parliament sat for 889 days, 127 weeks, or 2 years, 5 months, and 5 days - shortened down to 2.4 years, to make it easy.

So far, the 40th Parliament has sat for 705 days, or 1.9 years.

This makes for a grand total of 1,594 days that the Harper government has sat (not counting prorogation, mind you!) in minority Parliaments, or 4.3 years (4.4 if you want to round the 16 extra days up).

That is a pretty long-ass time to sit in a minority Parliament, to be sure. Considering that Paul Martin's tenure in the 38th Parliament only lasted 422 days (1.2 years), and Joe Clark lasted only 67 days (0.2 years), Harper has lasted much, much longer than either of those two. He's also been in relative comfort while doing so.

But let's hark back to an earlier time, specifically the 1960's when Lester Pearson wrestled power back from John Diefenbaker in the 1963 election.

The first Pearson minority lasted from May 16th, 1963, to September 8th, 1965. That's 847 days, or 2.3 years. Close, but no cigar, as Harper's 39th Parliament lasted 42 days longer.

The second Pearson/Trudeau minority lasted 827 days, or 2.3 years, giving us a total of 1674 days, or 4.6 years. Given that Harper's tenure is probably not up anytime soon, I won't hold this over anyone.

But, we're still not done. There have been a grand total of 40 Parliaments, and 11 of them have been with a minority government in power. However, the mother of them all is more than likely to be controversial.

That mother is Mackenzie King's 16th Parliament, which lasted from 1926 to 1930 as a minority government. The reason why this is controversial: while King's Liberals had 116 seats, or 47.35% of the seats, there sat 8 "Liberal-Progressives," which were party members that essentially sat with the Liberal caucus, but had split affiliation with the Progressive Party as well, which you could call the period's third party. That124 seats gave King's government 50.61% of the Parliament's votes, or a bare majority. 125 if you count the one "Independent Liberal," or 51%. The issue is whether or not you can consider the Liberal-Progressives as caucus members (their leader, Robert Fourke, was a cabinet minister), or you consider them a separate party. They did support King's government, but they did have demands of their own, held their own separate caucus meetings (while attending Liberal meetings as well), and were not always impressed with what he did.

But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that King had a minority government. Technically, he did, though in practice, he had an extremely slim minority in all probability. How long did it last?

The 16th Parliament lasted 1269 days, or 3.5 years. Harper's two minority terms together have lasted longer, but not by themselves.

Adding up all total minority Parliaments, this is how it stacks up:

16th Parliament - 1269 days - 3.5 years - Mackenzie King (Liberal)*
39th Parliament - 889 days - 2.4 years - Harper (Conservative)
26th Parliament - 847 days - 2.3 years - Pearson (Liberal)
27th Parliament - 827 days - 2.3 years - Pearson/Trudeau (Liberal)
40th Parliament - 705 days - 1.9 years - Harper (Conservative)
15th Parliament - 542 days - 1.5 years - Mackenzie King/Meighen (Liberal/Conservative)
29th Parliament - 430 days - 1.2 years - Trudeau (Liberal)
38th Parliament - 422 days - 1.2 years - Martin (Liberal)
25th Parliament - 133 days - 0.4 years - Diefenbaker (Conservative)
23rd Parliament - 111 days - 0.3 years - Diefenbaker (Conservative)
31st Parliament - 67 days - 0.2 years - Clark (Conservative)

So, as you can see, if the 16th Parliament counts as a minority (and technically, it does), then Harper has had the second longest minority. If it doesn't count (practically, it may not), then he has the longest minority by 42 days. A paltry month and a half, but one and a half nonetheless.

You be the judge - has Harper really had the longest minority? It all depends on how you look at it.


  1. It's not quantity its quality that counts.

    Name one positive thing this government has done that will pass the test of time. I have said it before and I will say it again, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have done nothing that will not be undone by succeeding governments.

    Then look at Pearson's legacy.

  2. Ah, I agree with you of course, ottlib. But, there's not really a lot of objectivity in qualitative arguments, is there?

    The fact that the Harper government has been pretty neglectful and partisan is not lost on most, I think. His legacy will be nothing compared to Pearson, or even Mr. Martin's. Indeed, I view Harper's reign in the future the same way I think many viewed Richard Bennett's - who the hell was that guy?

  3. Certainly you can objectively measure the quality of their governance by the accomplishments of their governments.

    Mike Pearson gave us Medicare and invented peacekeeping to name just two of his government's accomplishments.

    Now look at Mr. Harper. Every time his government decided to pursue something important to his followers he failed. SSM and the LGR to name just two. Otherwise, his government has not done much even though it has been in power for much longer than most other minority governments in Canada's history.

  4. why do you spend so much time on LibLogs anyway, bridlegown? Your fellow Con-bots can barely stand you, either? Try the Jehovah's Witlesses - they'll have you.

  5. If you only read sites you agree with, you never get a clear perspective. I might often not agree with some of you folks but it's still interesting to see it from your side.

  6. I'd be inclined to combine consecutive same party minorities (and not count King) so by my view I'd say he's had the second longest minority with 26-27 eclipsing 39-40.

  7. ottlib,

    Of course, the question is whether or not you find those contributions to be positive or worthwhile. Certainly you or I believe they were, as do the majority of Canadians. But, that's not everyone.

    The fact is that objectivity is numbers is plainly objective in its scope. Numbers don't lie, and when asking a question that you plainly need an objective, factual-based answer to, like whether Harper's minority has been in power for more days than any other minority government, turning it into a referendum on whether or not the Harper government is worthy is kind of missing the point, don't you think?


    Indeed. It's always good to check out whether or not the facts fit what your opponents are actually claiming.


    That's a good point, though given that so much of the claims have focused on the 39th Parliament, I thought breaking it up into the separate Parliaments themselves, consecutive or not, would be more appropriate. In case of what you're saying though, Harper's 39-40 is definitely outclassed by 26-27, and even the 15th and 16th.

  8. @ridenrain: great, read Far and Wide (oops, or in this case, Blunt Objects), commendable, but why must you leave a pile or puddle on the rug wherever you visit? Aren't you housebroken? Do you talk smack whenever you visit a library or store, too? Or do you just like people abusing you every time you try to get a rise out of them?

  9. as it is, by leaving such obvious tracks / a wake wherever you go, you keep showing the "intelligence" part of "gathering intel" continues to elude you.