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Minority government: Maintaining a delicate balance

On October 20, 2019, Canadians expressed their wish for federal politicians of all stripes to work together for the greater good of our country. Faced with the prospect of either staying the course or making a change, voters instead decided to hedge their bets. Our political leaders had to respond in kind.

The federal minority setting offers parties an opportunity to show Canadians that, when push comes to shove, elected officials are willing—and able—to work collaboratively, and that they can tone down some of their off-putting partisan rhetoric.

However, competition is inherent to politics. While leaders can get along, their ultimate goal is to seize power so that they can craft and implement policies that stay true to their core beliefs. But each party somehow benefits from the current situation for different reasons. They all have a vested interest in making this legislature work for the short-to-medium run.

While the current session is just getting started, the past few weeks have already highlighted how parties intend to preserve this tricky equilibrium:

  • The Liberal Party looks firmly in command and has enough latitude to carry forward important planks of its platform. However, the Liberals have been keen to extend their hand to the opposition on occasions. A good example of that is the tabling of Bill C-5, a legislation aiming to provide sexual assault awareness training to federal judges. This bill was introduced years ago by former Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose. She was brought along and heavily featured during the press conference that heralded the upcoming bill. Team Trudeau is on a mission to win back the support of voters that were left disappointed by its first mandate and prove that its party offers solutions for all, regardless of political or regional affiliations. Yet, just how it will execute against the (now public) core ministerial mandate letter commitments remains to be seen.

  • Speaking of Bill C-5, the NDP readily endorsed it, claiming that “Canadians expect (them) to support this important bill to help survivors and to work together with all members of the House to make sure this happens as quickly as possible.” However, most likely to prevent being too closely aligned with the Liberals, they also tabled a motion asking the government to fast track the passing of the bill. The NDP’s current goal is to stand out independently and provide a constructive leftist opposition to the government, while hoping that their fundraising game improves in time for the next federal election. This move fits that narrative.

  • Perhaps no other party better captures the challenges of maintaining balance than the Bloc Québécois. Owning its current status to the backing of nationalist voters, the Bloc caucus has to deliver wins for Quebec, in a context where its leader openly admitted having no interest in making the Confederation work. Furthermore, its stance on sovereignty will forever limit any ideological alignment with the CAQ-led provincial government. The efforts towards the ratification of CUSMA are a rather telling example of this situation. The Bloc Québécois wants to delay the treaty, citing its negative impact on Quebec’s aluminum sector. Meanwhile, the Quebec government urged parliamentarians to promptly ratify it, even asking the Bloc not to obstruct. Since the aluminum industry itself endorsed the treaty, the Bloc had to justify its position on the well-being of aluminum workers. This exercise accelerates the learning curve for a caucus largely composed of rookie MPs.

  • As for the Conservatives, they are trying to present a robust, pragmatic opposition, while waiting for their upcoming leadership race to fully take shape. On CUSMA, they have stayed true to their free-trade credentials, without outrightly endorsing the Liberals’ actions. They are, after all, in no rush to re-enter the electoral fray, and see many immediate benefits in not engaging in front-facing opposition until the time is right. The minority setting offers them the prospects of quick political wins (they have beat the Liberals on two votes so far) while they build some momentum around a new leader. Why risk a good thing?

Cooperation. Competition. Stability. These are the core components of this 43rd legislature. As we inch closer to the reveal of Budget 2020, Canadians will be paying close attention to how all parties can come together and compromise. NATIONAL’s bilingual team of pan-Canadian government relations experts continues to monitor and decrypt major happenings of the "new normal".

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Written by Anne Stubbert

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