4. What happens if two parties have an equal number of seats in the Commons?
If two parties were tied after an election, the Prime Minister would have to make a decision. The Prime Minister could try to gain the support of other parties – either formally or informally (a coalition government, or an entente; see the next question). If this proved impossible, the Prime Minister could still try to form a government and seek the support of the House. An incumbent Prime Minister appears to be entitled to try to form a government first. If it were clear that no other parties were willing to support the Prime Minister, a difficult constitutional question could arise for the Governor General, although he or she would probably let the Prime Minister attempt to form a government.
If the Prime Minister did try to form a government, he or she would need to have new Ministers sworn in. The Prime Minister would then advise the Governor General to recall Parliament and would have a Speech from the Throne. Inevitably, a vote of confidence would arise.
If the Prime Minister were defeated in that vote, he or she would have to tender his (her) resignation to the Governor General. The Prime Minister could advise dissolution and a general election, or suggest that the leader of the other party be asked to try to form a government. (The former advice would raise many of the same issues as the King-Byng Affair; see question 9 under “The Governor General.”) Many factors would be relevant to the decision of the Governor General: the numbers of seats of the two parties (and other parties); whether there were formal or informal offers of support to the other party; etc. Likely, if such a situation occurred shortly after an election, and there was a reasonable chance that the other party could form a government and obtain the confidence of the House, the Governor General would invite the leader of that party to form the government.