If incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to get anything done with the new mandate Canadians handed him during Monday’s election, he’ll need to find a dancing partner among the opposition parties.
That’s because, while Trudeau has a plurality of seats, he doesn’t have enough Liberal votes in the House of Commons to pass legislation without securing the support of a handful of opposition members. That’s the exact same position Trudeau’s Liberals faced when he called the election back in August.
“We’re right back where we started,” said Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Toronto.
“We got the same results, although it was a draw on the federal treasury — $610 million, and (it) meant a lot of us had to wait in line to vote.”
Before Parliament was dissolved, parties took turns playing kingmaker as various issues emerged. Often, it was the NDP that kept Canadians from heading to the polls when issues of confidence hit the floor of the House of Commons. The progressive party also teamed up with Trudeau to pass beefed up legislation on matters like pandemic benefits.
Grace Skogstad, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Trudeau will have to find a way to work with the other parties — and that the NDP might be his best bet.
“He’s going to have to work with the other parties. And in some ways, I think some of the items on the Liberal agenda are easy ones for him to work with the NDP on,” Skogstad said.
She pointed to issues like childcare and pharmacare as areas both parties would like to make progress on.
“He’s got a willing partner there,” she said.
When pressed on whether he’ll put on his dancing shoes and take Trudeau’s arm yet again, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh left the door open on Tuesday — but not without getting in some final jabs.
“Everything I said was true. And so I’m going to stand beside it,” Singh said of his criticism of Trudeau throughout the campaign.
“But I’m going to go back and say, you know, you messed up, but (that) doesn’t mean we can’t still work to get things done for Canadians. And I stand by that.”
Robin MacLachlan, who is an NDP strategist, agreed that the NDP will be willing to work with the Liberals on a number of issues — to a point.
“I think (Singh’s) priority now will be … to make sure that the new Trudeau minority government puts people first again, and that the NDP can see their priorities reflected in Parliament’s legislative agenda,” MacLachlan said.
He added that if there’s a “genuine conciliatory and cooperative approach to this Parliament,” then he expects the NDP and the Liberals to be able to work together. “But,” MacLachlan added, “they have to want to.”
“This Parliament ended because the Liberals, in large part, were trying to make it look like Parliament wasn’t functioning when in fact there was plenty of opportunity for the Liberals and the NDP to collaborate,” MacLachlan said.
“So my hope is that one of the lessons Liberals take from this is that Canadians are putting them back to work.”
Even if things don’t quite shake out for the Liberals and the NDP to make a perfect parliamentary pair, Wiseman noted that other parties didn’t entirely stick their nose up at the prospect of working with the Liberals to advance mutual interests in the last Parliament.
“I think all three parties have danced with the Liberals,” Wiseman said.
“If the NDP puts up a no confidence motion, the Conservatives will vote with the Liberals because they don’t want an election. And the Bloc Quebecois has propped up the Liberals a number of times. … The parties all know this. And they all negotiated in a way.”
While the NDP and the Liberals might find themselves more frequently aligned on issues of social policy, Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives have also made climate change a bigger priority for the party than previous iterations of the Tories. That acceptance of the importance of addressing climate change could be a source of common ground for the Liberals and the Conservatives, according to Skogstad.
“Even Erin O’Toole does seem to see the merits of a climate change policy,” she said.
“So I think that there are issues there that the Liberals can work with the other parties on.”
No matter which party the Liberals find themselves leaning on as they try to make good on the promises they made in the election campaign, Skogstad said the overarching message from voters is clear: “make it work.”
“That’s what Canadians are saying,” she said.
“We want you to get to work and solve these really pressing problems.”