On the Formation of Government


During the last decade, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, the media have competed to be the first to declare on election nights who will form the next government. Irrespective of whether they predicted that any political party would be able to obtain a majority of seats, these announcements have been made within only a few hours of the polls closing. These announcements have systematically preceded any public statement by the leaders of the political parties involved. Indeed, the media have developed the unfortunate habit of substituting an entire set of constitutional rules and principles leading to the formation of government by a simplistic heuristic: “The political party that wins the largest number of seats wins the election and has the right to form the next government.” The media present the issue as automatic, merely a matter of arithmetic. Even if this heuristic works well when a party has won a majority of seats, it is completely inadequate as a statement of the constitutional law and conventions related to the formation of government in our parliamentary system. This article thus aims to flesh out the Canadian constitutional rules and principles applicable to government formation and illustrate how constitutional considerations come into play in the variety of possible scenarios. A quick reference tool is appended to the text to facilitate consultation of the applicable rules and principles to those different situations.


Cyr, H. (2017). « On the Formation of Government », Review of Constitutional Studies, vol. 22, no 1, p. 103-141.

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