A ‘stable and working minority’ government
Affordability issues and fighting climate change offer common ground
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the nation’s capital Tuesday to begin planning for his second term as Liberals expressed confidence that common ground with opposition parties on affordability issues and climate change action will produce a “stable and working” minority Parliament. And NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a potential political dance partner for the Liberals, said his party is open to all possibilities: a formal deal to prop up the Liberals, a power-sharing coalition, or to simply pressure them on their policy wish list on a vote-to-vote basis.
“This minority government gives us the chance to be able to fight for the things that we’ve laid out all along this campaign,” Singh told reporters at a Burnaby, B.C. hotel Tuesday.
“The New Democratic Party will be constructive, will respect the choices that Canadians have made, and we’ll approach building the new parliament with open minds and an open heart,” he said.
Liberals won 157 seats in Monday’s election, more than the 121 seats won by the Conservatives but short of the 170 seats needed for a majority. That means the Liberals will need the support of opposition MPs to move forward on their agenda in the minority Parliament.
Trudeau didn’t speak with journalists on Tuesday. He’ll hold a post-election news conference on Wednesday. However, in his election night comments, Trudeau called the results a “clear mandate” to act on affordability issues, climate change, gun control and “investing in Canadians.”
As they weighed the results Tuesday, Liberals felt confident they could win the support of the New Democrats, with 24 seats, or the Bloc Québécois, at 32 seats, on an issue-by-issue basis.
“There’s definitely potential
for a stable and working minority that works with other parties and delivers on our priorities,” said one strategist, who spoke on background. “There’s a number of other parties whose priorities are not that different from ours.
“We’ll try to find a good way to work together and listen to all sides,” he said.
Almost two-thirds of Canadians cast a ballot for the Greens, Liberals, NDP and Bloc, signalling strong support for action on progressive issues, he said.
But he cautioned too that a minority Parliament requires the support of opposition parties. “It’s not just the governing party that has to be co-operative and put their hand out to work with others,” he said.
Being able to hold leverage in the minority Parliament is a silver lining for Singh, who surpassed expectations in this campaign but still saw his party lose 13 seats.
Singh said Tuesday that he hasn’t spoken with Trudeau about the dynamic of the incoming minority parliament. But he had outlined his party’s “urgent” priorities in the final days of the campaign, as he tried to lure progressive voters by pledging to push a minority parliament to the left.
With his diminished caucus of 24 MPs, Singh said he will pressure the Liberals to spend more on health care, affordable housing, student aid and Indigenous infrastructure and services.
He has also called for a new one per cent “super wealth tax” on the value of an individual’s assets that exceeds $20 million, as well as a hard cap on cellphone and internet bills and cancellation of subsidies to oil and gas companies.
Singh would not discuss any specific conditions for his support of the Liberal minority.
Still, there are obvious areas of potential co-operation. For example, the Liberals and NDP committed to the implementation of a national pharmacare program.
The Liberal platform also pledged financial assistance for affordable housing and student aid, an increase to Old Age Security payments for those over age 75 and more generous benefits for children under the age of one, all issues that would likely find support from the NDP.
The New Democrats and Green party have made urgent action on climate change a priority. Trudeau himself has said that more action is required. But the aide cautioned that any strategy on climate change has to be “doable.”
One flashpoint is the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Liberals bought the line in a bid to spur its expansion to better move Alberta oil to the west coast for shipment to overseas markets. But New Democrats oppose the project, raising the question whether the minority Parliament means the project is now in jeopardy.
Singh refused to say whether he would try to use his newfound power in parliament to cancel the multi-billion-dollar expansion of the pipeline.
“Everything is on the table. I can say that much, that we are not ruling out anything. But we’re not going to negotiate that here,” Singh said.
There’s a financial incentive for the parties to work together and avoid a snap vote. With spending allowances of just over $29 million each for the major parties in this election, mounting another budgetstraining campaign in the near future could be a challenge.
Trudeau got an early start Tuesday morning when he went to a Montreal subway stop to greet commuters, as he did after his 2015 win. Then he hit the road for Ottawa and the decisions that will shape his next government: whom to appoint to cabinet and to work in his office and when to recall Parliament.
In 2015, just over two weeks passed between the election and the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall.
Beyond the challenges of navigating a minority Parliament, the election results hold a jarring message for the Liberals, despite their win. Compared to the 2015 results, they were down just over a million votes. They lost 20 seats from their pre-election standing. The party has no MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
And turnout was also down slightly at 66 per cent compared to 68 per cent in 2015, suggesting voter dissatisfaction with this election.
That message too has been heard in the prime minister’s office, the strategist said.
“He has heard it loud and clear to listen to Canadians, to work with other parties,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits to greet commuters at a metro station in his Montreal riding Tuesday morning.