The general election held in September produced a minority Parliament that, with respect to the parties’ standings in the House of Commons, will look very similar to the one that existed prior to dissolution. The majority that the Liberals were looking for proved evasive, and there is speculation that the Liberals and the New Democrats will form some sort of formal partnership to ensure that Parliament will be stable in the coming years. However, such formality is not necessary to avoid the defeat of the government, nor is it politically desirable for either party. The next Parliament is likely to function much like the last one did, with the Liberals governing as though they had a majority amidst fake suspense around whether they will lose a confidence vote.

There are a few reasons why the Liberals and the NDP will not form a coalition, despite the overlap between their platforms and priorities. First, political parties in Canada are adversarial in nature. They do not play together well, even when they agree on things. They think in zero-sum terms; a gain for “them” is a loss for “us.” While members of a political party tend to unite around a set of common values, priorities, and interests, the main objective and purpose of a political party is to win as many votes as possible. Therefore, any sort of formal partnership is very difficult to fathom in our political system because it would require the parties involved to shift their strategies toward a shared interest rather than competing interests. They would no longer be able to throw mud at one another or to question one another’s integrity or competence in the same way that they do now.

Second, a true coalition government would involve having more than one party represented in cabinet. This would be an extreme departure from how cabinet government has evolved in Canada. Being a cabinet minister means being sworn into the Queen’s Privy Council and, as an active member of the executive, being in the know on the issues facing the government. The cabinet table is where key political strategies are developed and where ministers speak freely and candidly about policy proposals. Having more than one party around that table is counterintuitive to the reality of party politics. How would the parties then campaign against one another in the next election? Why would the Liberals want to share its plans and strategies with the NDP? How could the Liberals justify any of this to their supporters, many of whom do not want anything to do with the NDP? And how could Jagmeet Singh refute accusations of selling out to the Liberal agenda?

Even in a coalition, there would be a power dynamic between the Liberals and the NDP. There is only one Prime Minister, and it is around this individual that power resides; the NDP party would appear to be along for the ride and would lose its ability to hold the government to account.

Third, a coalition is just not necessary. There is no threat to the Liberal government’s continuity apart from the Liberals themselves. Whether this Parliament survives for three years will depend on whether the Prime Minister can resist the temptation to, once again, call an early election in search of a majority. The NDP has no reason to want a premature election. Their popularity seems to be stuck at under 20 per cent over the past three elections and it is not clear what, if anything, will improve their prospects. We might see a leadership change if party members feel that having someone else at the helm could make them more competitive, particularly in urban ridings where NDP candidates did well but did not come first.

Now, just because coalition government is very unlikely does not mean that there is anything wrong or illegitimate about a coalition in a parliamentary system. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who is preoccupied with serious challenges to his leadership from both within and outside the party caucus, has embraced rumours of a potential Liberal-NDP coalition as a way of distracting people from the Conservatives’ internal problems. His rhetoric is meant to remind people of a period of intense political drama back in 2008, when the Liberals and the NDP were actively contemplating a coalition. The circumstances were different then in that the government stood a very real chance of being defeated on a specific budget-related item that the opposition parties were willing to unite over. Though the current situation is nothing like that, O’Toole is hoping to sow voter suspicion and distrust over the illegitimacy of a coalition that neither the Liberals nor the NDP campaigned on.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in his third term and, regardless of whether he pursues a fourth, he is facing pressure to make concrete progress on the complex policy files that could frame his legacy, including climate change, reconciliation, and the affordable housing crisis. The NDP will, no doubt, continue to act as a partner for the Liberals, but there will be nothing formal about it.