It's hard to predict the outcome of an election. But this time around, if the Harperites receive a plurality of votes, Nelson Wiseman writes that 2006 and 2008 should have taught the opposition parties a few lessons:
If the 2015 election produces another Conservative minority, the first lesson that should be drawn from the case of 2008 is that the opposition parties will be hard-pressed to bring down a minority government at a time and on an issue of their choosing.
If they pass the speech from the throne when the next Parliament convenes, they will give the government unconditional authority until it introduces a major spending measure. If the measure meets the opposition’s opprobrium, the prime minister knows he can repair to Rideau Hall once again to postpone and possibly avoid his government’s defeat as he did in 2008. He will ask for a prorogation or for Parliament’s dissolution and fresh elections. Given the history of his office and the record of his predecessor, the enfeebled Governor General will consent.
The corollary of this lesson is that in another Conservative minority situation, the opposition parties will have to act expeditiously and with greater resolve than they did in 2008. Expect negotiations on an alternative government to a Conservative minority to begin on election night and no later than the next day. A publicly acknowledged negotiation process by the Liberals and the NDP, if not the contents of the negotiations, will prepare the public for what may be coming.
The opposition parties did not do this in 2008 and they paid for it. An alternative government will emerge as a coalition government — where members of the two opposition parties are in the cabinet — or as a Liberal minority government after the Liberals sign an accord with the NDP, the likely third party holding the balance of power. Such an accord would ensure a stable Liberal minority government with the NDP refraining from voting non-confidence for a fixed period in exchange for the Liberals entertaining some of the NDP’s agenda.
The model is the accord between Bob Rae and David Peterson which followed Ontario's 1985 election. Expect Stephen Harper to claim that coalitions are illegitimate. That claim, of course, is completely bogus. And the present Governor-General is on record on that subject: “I think that most jurisdictions that have a system of first-past-the-post or proportional representation will from time to time have coalitions or amalgamation of different parties.”
This time around, the opposition know who they are dealing with. If they fail, they will have no excuses.