Opinion-Policy Nexus

Let’s hope the new 43rd Parliament will not deteriorate into the ugly partisanship that marred the final months of the previous Parliament and that dominated the October election campaign.

Let’s hope that the election outcome has had a sobering effect. Let’s hope there will be more cooperation and less obstruction. Finally, let’s hope the new minority government, surely knowing its survival depends on it, will be more flexible than its majority predecessor and more disposed to move quickly on current issues and overdue reforms.

The Liberals always try to stake out turf close to the centre of the political spectrum, hewing to the right at times or tilting to the left, as they are these days. They seldom risk getting ahead of public opinion. They are content to travel in the slow lane, unless they are pushed – as they can be pushed in a minority government.

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, among other major measures.

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 exceed expectations.

One example would be climate change. When it enjoyed a majority, the Trudeau government certainly accepted the reality of global warming, but its 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 – that failed to address the urgency of the climate crisis.

Now, reduced to a minority, the Liberals have little choice but to heed the NDP’s demand for meaningful goals for carbon reduction and to commit itself to dates for meeting the goals. It’s a small but significant 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 the details of their 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 firm implementation dates for the drug plan.

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

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

Yves-François Blanchet made it clear the Bloc has no interest in another election and will be supportive unless Quebec’s interests are adversely affected. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe came out of his meeting saying he was “disappointed,” but he was not, to my ear, as overtly hostile as he has been in the past.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is different proposition. He went into the meeting – an awkward 30-minute affair – with a list of throne speech 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 the support of Singh and/or Blanchet. He doesn’t need anything from the opposition leader.

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.


Monday, November 18, 2019 - 09:23