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COMMENTARY: Minority governments can do some good, but they can also spell trouble

WATCH: As the NDP enjoys a surge of popularity during the home stretch of the federal election campaign, there are now questions about what could happen if a minority government is elected.

It will be a barn burner, a horse race, a photo finish, an election for the ages.

Based on all the available social scientific evidence, Oct. 21 will be a long night. It won’t be one of those Canadian elections where we just look at a sea of red in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario and have the thing declared for the Liberals before it’s even bedtime for toddlers and puppy dogs.

Everyone is talking minority government, and listeners who message me from across the country aren’t unhappy with that possibility. Interested observers like David Moscrop, an Ottawa-based professor and author, told me Monday night that the idea of a Liberal government supported by the NDP ought to have great appeal in Canada based on history.

The last time it happened was in the 1960s under then-prime minister Lester Pearson. His government managed to get a few things done that are less than trivial to Canadian life and our shared values. That list includes universal health care.

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Another Canadian writer, Devon Rowcliffe, tweeted out a list of accomplishments from the 1960s Pearson government, which had help from the NDP, led at the time by David Lewis. The list included universal health care, a national pension plan, a national flag, student loans, a 40-hour workweek, a two-week vacation, a new minimum wage, a national flag and the Order of Canada.

“So … bring it on?” he tweeted.

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Now, before all the progressives reading this get heated up with love for what’s inevitable on the Canadian horizon, let’s tell the truth: nothing is inevitable. A horse race is a horse race, and a barn burner is a barn burner.

We don’t know that the minority government will be quarterbacked by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau with coaching from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. It’s entirely possible that we get a Conservative minority led by Andrew Scheer with support from the Bloc Québécois.

That may look crazy on your screen. But all it takes in politics for two parties to find common ground is to find a common enemy. For the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, that would be the Liberals. The loathing of Liberals and the desire to keep them out of power for the next four years would give Conservatives and Bloc members a reason to work together.

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Now, it would be columnist’s malfeasance if I didn’t offer a warning about one potentially dangerous outcome of next week’s election math. If the Liberals wind up with fewer seats than the Conservatives and neither are in majority territory, the Liberals could deal with the NDP and the Greens and, as shocking as this may look, even with the Bloc Québécois. If Trudeau chooses to meet the House after the election and test his strength, he could govern despite having a Liberal caucus that’s smaller than Scheer’s.

If that happens, it will be dangerous for national unity. Many western Canadians, especially those living on the Prairie, will feel that they have been screwed by Trudeau one time too many, and it would pump up the volume on western separatism.

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I’m personally hoping that if the Liberals or Conservatives form a minority government, the prime minister will have a caucus with more members than what the Opposition leader has. Back in 2008, former Liberal leader Stephane Dion learned a hard lesson when he dealt with the NDP and the Bloc to try to remove Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from power. It didn’t work out very well for them.

Charles Adler hosts Charles Adler Tonight on Global News Radio stations.

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