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