Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Parliament will be able to find plenty of common ground with opposition parties on legislative issues, but the real challenge is healing the deep regional divides across Canada, experts say.
The Liberals were reduced to 157 seats in Monday’s election, well ahead of the 121 seats won by the Conservatives but short of the 170 seats needed for a majority.
If they plan on passing any legislation laid out in their election platform, the Liberals will need the support of some opposition MPs.
The NDP will be a natural ally to support many of the Liberals’ signature campaign promises, like an expansion of the Canada Child Benefit, its pledge on affordable housing or plans for a national pharmacare program, political experts say.
“Most people would say we get better policy when parties work together,” said Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. “The required bridging to maintain the confidence of the House will produce outcomes that should satisfy more Canadians.”
The NDP was reduced to 24 seats on election night but could provide enough support to put the Liberals past the 170-seat majority threshold.
In his first press conference since the election, Trudeau said he has no plans to establish any sort of formal coalition but will work with other parties to fight climate change and reduce the cost of living.
“Canadians sent the clear message that they expect their leaders to work together on the issues that matter to them, with two of them being climate change and affordability,” Trudeau told reporters Wednesday. “Fortunately, those are big parts of our platform, but we are also going to work with other parties to make sure we are making the right decisions for all Canadians.”
Other crossover items from the Liberal and NDP platforms include a pledge to reduce cellphone bills, increase student aid and expand child care and the Old Age Security program. The two parties also agreed on a variation of a national tax on foreign ownership in Canadian real estate.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said yesterday that his party will approach the next Parliament with “open minds” when it comes to working with the Trudeau Liberals. Singh said he wouldn’t discuss specific priorities with the media but that his focus would be on increases in funding for health care, Indigenous services and affordable housing.
“This minority government gives us the chance to be able to fight for the things that we’ve laid out all along this campaign,” Singh told reporters in Burnaby, B.C., on Tuesday.
“The New Democratic Party will be constructive, will respect the choices that Canadians have made, and we’ll approach building the new Parliament with open minds and an open heart.”
The Trudeau government has said action on climate change will be priority — an issue strongly supported by the NDP and the Green Party – but the Trans Mountain pipeline extension from Alberta to British Columbia could be a minefield when Parliament resumes.
The Liberals bought the pipeline to help get Albertan oil to market, but the New Democrats and Greens both oppose the project. Trudeau repeated his plans to move ahead with the project on Wednesday. Construction on the expansion is currently underway and is supposed to be done by the middle of 2022.
“We made the decision to move forward on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion because it was in Canada’s interest to do so — because the environment and economy need to go together,” he said.
In this case, the Liberals could turn to the Bloc Québécois, with 32 seats, for support.
“The Bloc Québécois have already said: ‘We don’t give a damn what happens outside Quebec,’” said Donald Savoie, a professor at the University of Moncton and Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance.
Savoie said though the Liberals were able to capture a sizeable plurality of seats, he doesn’t see any issues arising for two years, as most parties will want to avoid another costly election.
“The NDP cannot afford it … and the Bloc are elated they got 32 MPs,” he said.
Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Tuesday that his party will fight to prevent any pipeline development in Quebec, but they will not stand in the way of the expansion of the Trans Mountain project.
“Apart from the fact that I don’t like our money being invested in oil because it is the energy of the past and it is destroying the planet, I will let Western Canada do their own thing,” he said during a press conference.
Both Thomas and Savoie said the biggest hurdle for the upcoming Trudeau government lays outside of Ottawa as it will have to face feelings of alienation in Western Canada and the division between rural and urban voters.
“It’s the first government in history that lost the popular vote. The divisions in this country are pretty remarkable,” Savoie said. “Trudeau’s got a problem. But it’s outside of Parliament, not in Parliament.”
The Liberals were shut out completely from Alberta and Saskatchewan. Liberal stalwart and former cabinet minister Ralph Goodale lost his seat in Regina-Wascana and Amarjeet Sohi, also a former cabinet minister, lost his seat in Edmonton Mill Woods.
Among the central concerns from western premiers are equalization payments, in which they feel billions of taxpayer dollars from “have” provinces — namely Alberta and Saskatchewan — are sent to Quebec and other “have not” provinces.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney issued a five-page letter to Trudeau that outlined Alberta’s plans to hold a referendum on equalization if the Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t built or changes aren’t made to Bill C-69, which some critics have called the “No More Pipelines Act.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe issued his own letter making similar demands, including a call to cancel the federal carbon tax.
Trudeau said he has spoken with Kenney and Moe over their concerns around western alienation.
“It’s extremely important the government works for all Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters. “As I’ve endeavoured to do over the past years and as I will do even more now, deliberately, I will be reaching out to leaders across the country and reaching out specifically to westerners.”
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Selecting a natural resources minister who can help mend relations with the oilpatch will be one priority for Trudeau, with his new cabinet to be sworn in Nov. 20. He is promising to make his cabinet gender-balanced as it was in 2015.
Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Tuesday that he has no plans to resign and vowed to stay on as Conservative Party leader to face Justin Trudeau in the next election.
“Justin Trudeau now has to make a decision — if he’s going to change course, have a more co-operative approach with all provinces, or if he’s going to continue down on this path,” Scheer said in Regina. “We’ll continue to prepare and fight for when the government falls.”
— With a file from the Canadian Press