New Zealand switched electoral systems from single member plurality to mixed member proportionality for the 1996 election. The country’s leadership was well aware that this change would mean that no one political party would have a majority of seats in the legislature, so extensive study was undertaken in advance with respect to coalition and minority governments. While this advance work held the public service in good stead, the political parties failed to respond adequately to the new governing dynamics. Even with the leadership of a former senior jurist as governor general, it would take until Y2K for the political elites to learn how to operate within the new paradigm. The procedural improvements made by New Zealand in this period have most recently informed improvements to parliamentary government in the United Kingdom and Australia. This paper examines these and other lessons that New Zealand may offer Canada.
Canada, along with the United Kingdom1, Australia2. and New Zealand share the ‘Westminster-model’, so named because this design has been inherited from that used for the British at the Palace of Westminster. Also called ‘responsible parliamentary government’, a label that emerged here in Canada, it is a parliamentary system whereby the people elect representatives to a legislature and it, in turn, chooses a government. The process is guided by a set of unwritten constitutional conventions. And while these conventions offer specific guidance as to by whom and how decisions should be made, when it comes to the ‘reserve powers’ of the monarch or her governor general – dissolving parliament, proroguing a session and choosing or dismissing a prime minister – they have begun to operationalize differently in each of these countries.