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DAVID JOHNSON: A hung parliament, advantage Trudeau

David Johnson
David Johnson - Contributed

This minority government has the potential to last longer than most of its predecessors

The 2019 federal election is now history and the people have spoken. But with a divided voice.

Justin Trudeau remains prime minister but with his Liberal party winning just 157 seats he faces the ordeal of leading a minority government. With a parliament composed of 338 seats any party wishing to form a majority government needs to win at least 170 seats. So the Trudeau Liberals fell 13 seats short. This is referred to as a hung parliament.

For Trudeau and his parliamentary caucus this is a setback, but not an insurmountable one.

Facing this Liberal cohort across the aisle in the House of Commons will be 121 members of the Conservative Party led by Andrew Scheer, 32 members of the Bloc Quebecois led by Yves-Francois Blanchet, 24 New Democrats led by Jagmeet Singh, and Elizabeth May and two other Greens. Jody Wilson-Raybould rounds out the list as the lone Independent Member of Parliament.

Minority governments pose far greater challenges to any prime minister compared to leading a majority government for the simple reason that with a minority government the prime minister always needs the support of one of more other parties to sustain the government in winning confidence votes in the House of Commons, passing legislation and turning policy ideas in program realities.

With the breakdown of seat totals in this new parliament a few strategic points are glaringly obvious. Neither the Greens nor Jody Wilson-Raybould have the numbers required to help the Liberals sustain the confidence of the House. So don’t expect Trudeau to be seeking their parliamentary support in any meaningful manner.

With respect to ideological and policy affinity the obvious paring that works for Trudeau is a Liberal-NDP relationship. Jagmeet Singh’s 24 seats can give Trudeau the parliamentary majority he needs to govern. And with these parties sharing many policy platform ideas such as the development of a national pharmacare plan, interest in promoting a national dental care plan, building affordable housing, investing in public transportation and defending the national carbon tax, look to see Trudeau working closely with Singh on all these files.

For Trudeau and his parliamentary caucus this is a setback, but not an insurmountable one. — David Johnson

But it will not be a coalition government. Trudeau has already ruled this out. Technically, a coalition government involves two or more parties in a hung parliament sharing the responsibilities of government by having senior leaders from each party sitting in cabinet.

At the federal level Canada has only ever had one coalition government at the end of the First World War. In all the other federal minority governments since 1921, the lead party has maintained full control of all cabinet seats, simply gaining the parliamentary support of one or more other parties to get throne speeches, budgets and all government bills passed.

So, this is the course that Justin Trudeau will now be following, and in so doing he will be following in the footsteps of his father, Pierre, who also had to navigate the tricky challenges of a hung parliament between 1972-74. And, as with his father, Justin will be working closely with the New Democrats.

But not always. The composition of this parliament does present opportunities for the Trudeau Liberals to work with one or more other parties if need be. Both the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois have the numbers required to sustain government legislation if it is amenable to either of these parties and their leaders.

Here, the obvious policy and program issue is the completion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline from Alberta to tidewater in British Columbia. This initiative is firmly opposed by the NDP but it is highly unlikely that the Conservative caucus would vote against any such legislation or budget initiatives.

Likewise, there could be times, on certain budget bills and supply measures, when the Liberals could gain the support of the Bloc Quebecois if these matters were seen by Bloc leaders as being beneficial to Quebec.

All in all, we’re looking at a potentially stable and long-lasting minority government.

Dr. David Johnson, Ph.D., teaches political science at Cape Breton University. He can be reached at david_johnson@cbu.ca

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