Official party status
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Official party status refers to the Westminster practice which is officially used in the Parliament of Canada and the provincial legislatures of recognizing political parties. In official documents, this is sometimes referred to as being a recognized party (French: parti reconnu). The type of recognition and threshold needed to obtain it varies. However, the most coveted privileges are funding for party research offices and the right to ask questions during Question Period.
Recognition in Parliament allows parties certain parliamentary privileges. Generally official party status depends on winning a minimum number of seats (that is, the number of Members of Parliament or Members of the Legislative Assembly elected).
Federally, the idea of recognizing parties for official status started in 1963. Prior to this, the only opposition recognition was that of the Leader of the Opposition, effectively limiting "official status" to the Government and the largest Opposition party. It was not until 1970 that the Elections Act was amended to allow parties to register and thus have their party name on the ballot.
Most of the rules governing official party status are not laws, but are internal rules governing the legislatures. Therefore, the members of a legislature may, if they choose, pass a motion to dispense with the rules and grant official status to parties that would otherwise fail to qualify. There are many examples of this practice.
|House of Commons of Canada||12 seats|
|Senate of Canada||5 seats|
|Alberta Legislative Assembly||4 seats, although status has been granted to parties with only 2 seats a number of times.|
|British Columbia Legislative Assembly||4 seats, although the current BC Greens caucus of 3 MLAs has been granted Official Party status with reduced funding.|
|Manitoba Legislative Assembly||4 seats|
|New Brunswick Legislative Assembly||5 seats or 20% of the popular vote|
|Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly||2 seats|
|Nova Scotia House of Assembly||2 seats and, with the exception of the official opposition, in the last election the party must have run candidates in three-quarters of the ridings and received at least 10% of the vote.|
|Ontario Legislative Assembly||10% of the total number of seats in the Assembly.|
|Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly||There is no official rule, but precedent shows that only one seat is required.|
|Quebec National Assembly||12 seats or 20% of the popular vote|
|Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly||2 seats|
House of Commons
Since 1985, a party must have at least 12 seats to be recognized as an official party in the House of Commons. Recognition means that the party will get time to ask questions during question period, and money for research and staff (both are proportional to the number of seats.)
In the Senate, a party must have five seats and must be registered by Elections Canada. Once the party has been recognized in the Senate, it retains its status even if it becomes deregistered, so long as it keeps at least five seats. This rule means that the rump Progressive Conservative Party caucus in the Senate qualified for official status after the rest of that party merged into the Conservative Party of Canada.
In 2016, Senators without any party affiliation formed the Independent Senators Group, which has been granted some privileges like those of a party.
In the general elections of 1997, 2001, and 2008, the Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP) failed to win the requisite four seats to gain official party status in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Nevertheless, the governing Progressive Conservatives (PCs) granted party status to the NDP after each election.
After the 2001 general election, new B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, leader of the British Columbia Liberal Party, was criticized for his decision not to grant the NDP official party status. It was the only opposition party in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia but it had won only two of 79 seats in the last election.
Since the 2013 election, the British Columbian Green Party has held their first seat as their then-member Andrew Weaver was elected in Oak Bay-Gordon Head district. After the 2017 election, they gained two more seats thus overall had three seats when the minimum for official party status was four. However, after the party entered a confidence and supply agreement with the New Democratic Party to allow the NDP to form government, it was granted official party status with reduced funding.
In New Brunswick, parties require 5 seats or 20% of the popular vote to get official party status. However, parties with one to four seats have been allowed time in Question Period with consent of other parties. The Liberals won all 58 seats in the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in 1987. The government allowed the Progressive Conservative Party, which finished second place in the election in the number of votes received, to submit written questions to ministers during Question Period.
Following the 1999 Ontario general election, the Ontario New Democratic Party fell to nine seats in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. The rules at the time of the election called for parties to hold 12 seats to maintain party status. PC Premier Mike Harris, citing the reduction in seats from 130 to 103 (-20.76%), subsequently lowered the required number of seats for official party status from 12 to 8 (33 1/3%). The mathematically corresponding cut would therefore have been from 12 seats to 9 seats (25%, slightly higher than the seat reduction) or 10 seats (16 2/3%, slightly lower). In the 2019 fall economic statement, the Ford government changed the rules to 10% of the total number of seats in the Assembly, so it is currently set at 12.
In the 2003 election, the New Democrats won only seven seats in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. The new Liberal government refused to accord official party status to the NDP, with Premier Dalton McGuinty instead offering the NDP additional funding in return for accepting their status as independents; NDP leader Howard Hampton refused and disrupted the throne speech in protest. MPP Marilyn Churley threatened to change her surname legally to "Churley-NDP" so that the Speaker would be forced to say NDP when recognizing her in the House (a non-official party loses the right to have its members addressed in the Legislature by party affiliation). The PCs' Bill Murdoch also considered joining the NDP caucus to help them make official status. Andrea Horwath's by-election win in May 2004 regained official party status for the NDP.
After Churley resigned to run in the 2006 federal election, bringing the party to only seven members again, the government decided to allow the NDP to retain official status pending the results of the by-election to replace her, which the NDP won.
In the 2018 Ontario general election, the Liberals dropped from a majority government of 55 seats to 7 seats, one seat fewer than official party status. The Green Party of Ontario also elected its first member in the 2018 election and similarly lacks official party status.
In 1989, the Equality Party won four seats in the National Assembly of Quebec (eight seats short of the total needed for official status). Although it did not receive official party status, its members were granted some of the privileges of an official party: their seats in the Assembly were placed together, as were their offices in the Parliament Building. They were also granted a limited number of opportunities to ask questions during Question Period. The party had no success in subsequent elections, and stopped organizing after the 2003 Quebec election. This precedent was followed when Action démocratique du Québec elected four members in 2003 and seven members in 2008. However, when the seven former ADQ members joined with two former Parti Québécois members in January 2012 to form Coalition Avenir Québec, the governing Liberals and opposition Parti Québécois refused to grant any status to the new party, requiring all nine members to sit as independents.
In the 2018 Quebec general election, the Official Opposition party Parti Québécois (PQ) fell from 28 to 10 seats, thus falling below the threshold of official party status. Québec solidaire (QS) rose from 3 to 10 seats but did not reach the threshold of 12 to gain official party status. However, before the National Assembly convened, all political parties agreed to give the PQ and QS the status of official parties in the assembly.
Official party status is not to be confused with being a registered party. A political party (even if it has no parliamentary seats) may register with Elections Canada or a provincial chief electoral officer. Doing so allows the political party to run candidates for office during elections, issue tax receipts for donations, and spend money on advertising and campaigning during election campaigns. In return, the party must obey campaign spending and donation limits, disclose the source of large donations, and obey various election laws.
- House of Assembly Act, RSNS 1989, c 1 (1992 Supp) s 2(1)(c).
- Legislative Assembly Act, RSO 1990, c L10, s 62(5), http://canlii.ca/t/53hkk.
- "House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition". Parliament of Canada. 2009. Parliamentary Institutions, Political Parties. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
- "Board of Internal Economy, Members By-Law". Parliament of Canada. 2012. Parliamentary Institutions, Political Parties. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
- "Ontario MPPs play party games". CBC News. 10 November 2003. Archived from the original on 21 Jul 2012.
- Presse Canadienne (November 22, 2018). "PQ and QS to get official party status in National Assembly". Monteral Gazette. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
- "Parties reach agreement in principle to give PQ and QS official party status". CTV news Monteral. November 22, 2018. Retrieved December 6, 2018.