History tells us great things are pos­si­ble with a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in Ot­tawa

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Ge­of­frey Stevens

Let’s hope the new 43rd Par­lia­ment will not de­te­ri­o­rate into a reprise of the ugly Oc­to­ber elec­tion cam­paign.

Life will be more com­pli­cated and ar­du­ous for the prime min­is­ter and his cabi­net, but the re­al­ity of mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment is that it opens op­por­tu­ni­ties for fresh initiative­s and over­due re­forms.

The Lib­er­als al­ways try to stake out turf close to the cen­tre of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. At times, they hew a bit to the right. Th­ese days, they are mod­er­ately left. They will em­brace change as long as it does not go too far or too quickly. Un­less they are pushed — as they can be when they find them­selves op­er­at­ing with a mi­nor­ity.

Opin­ion sur­veys some­times rank Lester Pear­son as the best prime min­is­ter of the mod­ern era. He never man­aged to win a ma­jor­ity, yet his two mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ments — 1963-65 and 1965-68 — ac­com­plished some amaz­ing things. Pushed by Tommy Dou­glas and the NDP, those two Lib­eral mi­nori­ties built the cor­ner­stones of Canada’s so­cial wel­fare sys­tem by in­tro­duc­ing medi­care, the Canada As­sis­tance Plan and the Canada Pen­sion Plan.

There is no rea­son why Justin Trudeau’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, pushed by the NDP and sup­ported on many is­sues by the Bloc Québé­cois, could not also ac­com­plish im­por­tant things.

One ex­am­ple would be cli­mate change. When they en­joyed a ma­jor­ity, the Lib­er­als cer­tainly ac­cepted the re­al­ity of global warm­ing, but their re­sponse was far from ro­bust. Striv­ing for a bal­ance be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal protection and re­source de­vel­op­ment, it came up with a com­pro­mise — ex­pand the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line while try­ing to re­duce the coun­try’s car­bon foot­print with a tax de­signed to con­strain con­sump­tion.

Now, re­duced to a mi­nor­ity, the Lib­er­als have lit­tle choice but to heed the NDP’s de­mand that the gov­ern­ment set mean­ing­ful goals for car­bon re­duc­tion and com­mit it­self to dates for meet­ing the goals. It’s a small but im­por­tant step for­ward.

Both the Lib­er­als and New Democrats had na­tional phar­ma­care in their elec­tion plat­forms. A ma­jor­ity Lib­eral gov­ern­ment would prob­a­bly have taken its sweet time, study­ing the idea half to death, before an­nounc­ing a plan just in time for the next elec­tion.

Now, how­ever, the Lib­er­als have to lis­ten to the NDP. Its leader, Jag­meet Singh, es­sen­tially told Trudeau last week that his party’s sup­port when Par­lia­ment con­venes on Dec. 5 will be con­di­tional on phar­ma­care be­ing in the speech from the throne. As with cli­mate pol­icy, Singh wants to see a sched­ule with im­ple­men­ta­tion dates for the ini­tial stages of the drug plan.

He will prob­a­bly get that wish, though per­haps not an­other wish — for a na­tional public den­tal in­sur­ance pro­gram. Singh may be over­reach­ing on that one.

Over the past week or so, Trudeau has met with all the party lead­ers, along with pro­vin­cial pre­miers. The meet­ings went as well as could have been ex­pected — per­haps bet­ter, given the bit­ter­ness of the elec­tion cam­paign.

Yves-François Blanchet made it clear the Bloc has no in­ter­est in an­other elec­tion and will be sup­port­ive

(Pear­son) never man­aged to win a ma­jor­ity, yet his two mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ments — 1963-65 and 1965-68 — ac­com­plished some amaz­ing things.

un­less Que­bec’s in­ter­ests are ad­versely af­fected. Saskatchew­an Pre­mier Scott Moe came out of his meet­ing “dis­ap­pointed,” but not, to my ear, as overtly hos­tile as in the past.

Con­ser­va­tive leader Andrew Scheer is dif­fer­ent mat­ter. He went into the meet­ing — an awk­ward 30-minute af­fair — with a list of pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing a na­tional en­ergy cor­ri­dor, a “road map” for com­ple­tion of the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line and adop­tion of el­e­ments of a Con­ser­va­tive plan for the en­vi­ron­ment. “It’s up to Mr. Trudeau to find com­mon ground to get this throne speech passed,” Scheer told re­porters.

That’s true, but Scheer seemed to be stuck in cam­paign mode. He lost the elec­tion, and losers don’t nor­mally made de­mands of win­ners. Trudeau will need Singh and/or Blanchet. He doesn’t need any­thing from Scheer.

Scheer can taunt Trudeau. He can delay him in Par­lia­ment. But he can­not de­rail him — es­pe­cially not when he is fight­ing to keep his own job in a Con­ser­va­tive party thor­oughly dis­en­chanted with his lead­er­ship.

Cam­bridge res­i­dent Ge­of­frey Stevens, an au­thor and for­mer Ot­tawa colum­nist and man­ag­ing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Guelph. His col­umn ap­pears Mon­days. He wel­comes com­ments at ge­off­[email protected]

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