With mi­nor­ity sta­tus, Trudeau has a chance to be bold and cre­ative

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Thomas Walkom

Tech­ni­cally, Justin Trudeau’s Lib­eral govern­ment is con­strained by its mi­nor­ity sta­tus. It will not be able to get bills through the Com­mons with­out the agree­ment of at least one of the three ma­jor op­po­si­tion par­ties. This is an arith­meti­cal fact.

But in a strange way, the makeup of the Com­mons in this hung Par­lia­ment also gives the Lib­er­als both an in­cen­tive and an op­por­tu­nity to be un­usu­ally bold.

If Trudeau is able to seize the mo­ment, as the lead­ers of pre­vi­ous Lib­eral mi­nor­ity govern­ments have done, he can in­crease his chance of win­ning a ma­jor­ity of Com­mons seats the next time Cana­di­ans go to the polls. That is the in­cen­tive.

And if he can skil­fully man­age his re­la­tions with the New Democrats and Bloc Québé­cois, he will be able to stick­han­dle a bold left-of-cen­tre agenda through the Com­mons that in­cludes univer­sal phar­ma­care and mean­ing­ful moves to com­bat cli­mate change. That is the op­por­tu­nity.

There is prece­dent. In 1972, Pierre Trudeau’s cum­ber­some and overly bu­reau­cratic Lib­eral govern­ment was re­duced to mi­nor­ity sta­tus. But the elder Trudeau used this set­back as an op­por­tu­nity to re­cal­i­brate his govern­ment and seize the is­sue of the day, eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism.

With the back­ing of the NDP and in an ef­fort to re­duce U.S. con­trol over the Cana­dian econ­omy, he estab­lished the For­eign In­vest­ment Re­view Agency. Un­der NDP pres­sure, he also set up a na­tional oil com­pany, Petro-Canada, to con­front the ma­jor, for­eign-owned en­ergy gi­ants.

Both moves were over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar and helped the Lib­er­als win back a ma­jor­ity in the 1974 elec­tion.

In the mid-1960s, a mi­nor­ity Lib­eral govern­ment un­der Lester Pear­son and backed by the NDP seized the mo­ment to cre­ate the ar­chi­tec­ture of the mod­ern Cana­dian wel­fare state, in­clud­ing medi­care, the Canada Pen­sion Plan and fed­eral fund­ing for so­cial as­sis­tance.

Pear­son didn’t reap the po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fits of these moves, but his suc­ces­sor, Pierre Trudeau, did.

A third mi­nor­ity Lib­eral govern­ment, un­der Paul Martin, made a sim­i­lar ef­fort to seize the mo­ment af­ter the 2004 elec­tion. It ne­go­ti­ated a na­tional child care pro­gram with the prov­inces.

But be­fore that pro­gram could be im­ple­mented, Martin lost the sup­port of the NDP. In the en­su­ing 2006 elec­tion, his Lib­er­als were re­placed by Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tives. The na­tional child care pro­gram died.

This his­tory pro­vides two lessons for Justin Trudeau. First, bold­ness works. Trudeau may not be able to get all prov­inces to agree to, say, a univer­sal phar­ma­care pro­gram. But that doesn’t pre­clude him from es­tab­lish­ing the leg­isla­tive frame­work for one.

When the fed­eral law gov­ern­ing medi­care came into ef­fect in 1968, only two prov­inces — Saskatchew­an and Bri­tish Co­lum­bia — signed on. The rest joined later. New Brunswick, the last to adopt medi­care, didn’t do so un­til 1971.

Sec­ond, it’s best to act quickly. Smaller par­ties like the NDP and Bloc will be re­luc­tant to force an im­me­di­ate elec­tion. Elec­tions are just too ex­pen­sive. But that re­luc­tance will fade with time.

Much is made of the Lib­er­als’ fail­ure to have any MPs elected in Al­berta and Saskatchew­an.

But too of­ten for­got­ten is the fact that vot­ers in the other eight prov­inces elected plenty of Lib­er­als. These vot­ers didn’t elect Lib­er­als just so they could sit on their hands and apol­o­gize for not be­ing from Al­berta. They elected them to do some­thing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.