The rules pertaining to government formation have never been codified in Canada. During and immediately following an election, the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders hinge on interpretations of tradition and convention that are not well understood. Now, during a period of comparative stability with a majority government, it might be a suitable and opportune time to address this issue.

Over the past year, Canada's Public Policy Forum has convened a series of discussions exploring the idea of establishing a set of Canadian guidelines on government formation.

In February 2011, we released a Background Report that outlines some key constitutional conventions and explores the roles of various actors in the government formation process.

In March, 2011, we brought together constitutional and policy experts to identify the most significant issues during periods of government formation and transition. The findings of this roundtable are published in our report, Government Formation in Canada: Public Policy Forum Ottawa Roundtable.

In June 2011, the Forum invited Sir Gus O’Donnell, then-Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service of the United Kingdom, to meet with a group of Canadian constitutional and parliamentary experts to discuss the UK’s Cabinet Manual and how it addresses questions of government formation. The findings of this roundtable are published in our report, Government Formation: The Need for Clear Guidelines, Roundtable with Sir Gus O’Donnell.

Subsequently, we conducted 20 executive interviews with policy and constitutional experts whose insights helped refine the findings of our previous roundtable discussions. This group included former Canadian Governors General, Clerks of the Privy Council, High Commissioners, senior public officials in the UK, New Zealand and Australia and Canadian constitutional scholars.

On June 1st, 2012 we published our final report, Towards Guidelines on Government Formation: Facilitating Openness & Transparency in Canada’s Governance. The report calls for the establishment of guidelines in Canada and offers recommendations on how senior government officials can help make government formation clear, predictable and transparent.

Related Documents

Making Minority Government Work: hung parliaments and the challenges for Westminster and Whitehall - The Institute for Government
Adjusting to a New Era of Parliamentary Government - The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights
UK Cabinet Manual
New Zealand Cabinet Manual
UK General Election Guidance 2005


In the News

David Mitchell's Op-Ed in the Ottawa Citizen
The Chronicle Herald's article on coalition politics
The Toronto Star's article on coalition governments
The Ottawa Citizen's article on minority governments

PrimeTime Politics
The election kick off
  PrimeTime Politics
The possibility of a coalition

For more information contact:
James McLean, Research Associate
613-238-7858, ext. 225