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.