#onpoli newsletter - A clear-eyed look at our murky federal political future

Last week, we encouraged loyal #onpoli listeners to send in their questions about federal politics. Today, we provide some answers
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Nov 07, 2019
The federal scene is what is on our readers' minds these days.



Hello, #onpoli people,

Daniel Kitts here, standing in for the inimitable Eric Bombicino. We’re busy producing our next season of #onpoli podcasts, but we’ll still be sending out the newsletter once a week. (While you wait, you can always catch up on any podcasts you missed last season).

Last week we encouraged you to send us your political questions. We got a lot of interesting ones, most of them related to the recent federal election. Today, we’ll answer a few of them.

CPC a big N-O when it comes to PR

I recently saw an analysis that concluded that, if we had proportional representation, the Conservatives would almost always win. Is this true? If it is, why didn't the Conservatives institute this when they had a majority?

It’s true that the Conservatives could well end up with the most seats after every election under a proportional-representation system. After all, the Tories have finished first in the total vote in four of the past five elections. But, if decades of Canadian voting history are any indication, they would hardly ever end up with a majority of seats. (The last time a federal party got 50 per cent or more of the total vote was way back in 1984,  when Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won in a landslide.)

That distinction is crucial: if the Conservatives were to win the most seats but not achieve a majority, the other parties would be able to form a coalition government. And even if the other parties decided not to formally join forces, likely the most the Conservatives would get under a PR system would be a weak minority government unable to enact much of its agenda.

That could be part of the reason the party was united in its opposition to electoral reform during the first Trudeau government.

À la carte co-operation

What are the chances that the Liberals and NDP will play nice and get proper legislation passed on climate change and other issues? Is it possible that the NDP will block the pipeline?

Chances are good that the Liberals and the NDP will work together at least some of the time; the odds that the NDP will be able to block the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia are less good.

Political observers have already suggested that the Liberals will likely seek the NDP’s support on certain issues. There’s even talk that the New Democrats and Green party will be able to push the minority Liberals to take more aggressive action on climate change.

But it’s hard to see how the NDP will be able to block pipeline expansion. A parliamentary vote is not required for Trans Mountain to go ahead. Only cabinet needs to approve. And Justin Trudeau has already ruled out forming a formal coalition with any party, stating that the Liberals will seek the support of other parties on a case-by-case basis. That means that, while Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh may find common ground on such issues as the carbon tax, the prime minister may turn to the Conservatives for help in order to fulfill his Trans Mountain promises.

The question of SNC-Lavalin

Why would the NDP, Liberals, Greens, and Jody Wilson-Raybould [who’s sitting as an independent] not force this [SNC-Lavalin] issue now? A private member’s bill compelling the Liberals to co-operate in a full investigation into the affair should be top of the agenda.

It’s unclear how the SNC-Lavalin issue will play out in Trudeau’s minority parliament. It’s true that the opposition parties will have more power on committees tasked with investigating such matters now that the Liberals no longer have their majority. And Singh has already said that his party intends to revisit the matter.

However, there’s some talk that the Conservatives may not be so keen to focus on SNC-Lavalin. The Toronto Star has reported that some party strategists are telling leader Andrew Scheer not to fixate on the issue and instead to “articulate a positive alternative vision to tackle everyday issues.” These operatives point to the Ontario Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak, who hammered a minority Liberal government over the 2011 gas-plants scandal. In the end, the scandal didn’t provide the payoff the PCs were hoping for: the Liberals won a majority in the 2014 provincial election.

What’s up with the West? 

I would like to understand Western alienation. The government bought the pipeline, but that doesn’t seem to please Westerners. What exactly are they upset about, and, in particular, what are they looking for?

You aren’t the only one trying to figure out why folks in Saskatchewan and Alberta are seething at the moment. Fortunately, The Agenda With Steve Paikin has you covered. Watch an in-depth discussion of the raw feelings out West.

This recent #onpoli podcast on populism, featuring an interview with Reform Party founder Preston Manning, also provides insight into the causes and ramifications of Western alienation.

That’s it for this week. But keep those questions coming. Write to us at onpolitics@tvo.org.

#onpoli producer

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