#onpoli newsletter - Your road map for what comes next

A look at a minority report, the kingmaker, 'Wexit,' and more
By Eric Bombicino - Published on Oct 24, 2019
Map of Canada showing various ridings in different colours based on which party won where.
2019 electoral map of Canada (Source: CBC)

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Hello, #onpoli people,

This election ended up answering a lot of questions. Was the federal carbon tax here to stay? Would Canadian voters punish Justin Trudeau for the SNC-Lavalin and blackface/brownface scandals? Would the crucial 905 region turn its back on the Liberals at the polls? And would Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada mine that vein of populism that others have succeeded in doing outside Canada?

(The answers, in order: Yes, a little bit, no, and a resounding no.)

But the results of this election have also sparked a number of questions. Consider this newsletter a handy guide for the things still left to ask. We may know what the electoral map looks like, but what comes next? I’ve footnoted each question with a related article or two for you to dig a little deeper, if you’re so inclined.

Minority report

First off: what shape will the Liberal minority government take in Ottawa? Will it govern on an issue-by-issue basis? Or, given that the Liberals’ 157 seats combined with the NDP’s 24 give them a majority, will there be some sort of written agreement between the two parties, as has been the case in British Columbia with the provincial NDP and the Greens? Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has mentioned that “everything is on the table” when it comes to arrangements for supporting the Liberals.

But yesterday, Trudeau said that “it is not in our plans at all to form any sort of formal coalition ... or informal coalition.” I asked #onpoli podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath what that means, and they said it’s not exactly clear. It does rule out any possible cabinet position for another party, but does it rule out a written agreement between the Liberals and NDP?

For example, in 1985, then-NDP leader Bob Rae signed a written agreement to support David Peterson’s Ontario Liberals. Would Trudeau consider that a formal or informal coalition? John Black Aird, the lieutenant governor at the time, saw the agreement as a purely political document that held no legal weight. And since Rae’s New Democrats had no actual hand in governing, in Steve’s view it wasn’t a coalition government at all, by any name. So we still don’t know for sure what shape the Liberal minority will take.

What we do know is that Trudeau will be in very different territory than he was in 2015. As Susan Delacourt wrote in the Toronto Star, the global celebrity he developed over the four years of his first term will be “almost irrelevant in a job that requires him to pay minute detail to domestic issues.”

And it’s not just his opponents he needs to worry about managing in a minority Parliament: it’s also his fellow Liberals. “Minority prime ministers require deft arts of caucus management, to guard against potential floor-crossers or disgruntled MPs who could be persuaded to vote with the opposition,” Delacourt writes.

So, how tough will it be to govern? Will Trudeau be able to get things done in a minority government?

As The Globe and Mail’s editorial board pointed out this week, the past 20 federal elections have produced nine minority governments — and historically, they have indeed been able to get things done. The example many have pointed to in recent days is Lester Pearson’s Liberal minority in 1963. Over five years, his government abolished the death sentence, designed the Canadian Pension Plan, created universal health care, and debuted the new Canadian flag.

The kingmaker

Although the New Democrats lost 20 seats from their 2015 total (from 44 down to 24), they hold the balance of power in Parliament: their combined seats put the Liberals across the 170-seat majority threshold. How should we understand the influence the NDP will have in Parliament? And what issues it focuses on?

Singh mentioned some big-ticket items in his election night speech, including the need for universal pharmacare, a wealth tax, and the urgency of climate action. But, as Brian Platt notes in the National Post, “[T]he NDP’s role as a kingmaker is not as powerful as it might seem at first glance.”

For starters, the NDP is broke. Its war chest in 2018 was dwarfed by those of both the Liberals and Conservatives, and they also took out a $12 million mortgage on their Ottawa headquarters. Quite simply, the “party’s leadership will still have to think very hard before casting a vote that could trigger a new election,” Platt writes.

Platt points out the second thing that constrains the NDP’s power is simple: parliamentary math. At 157 seats, Liberals have the numbers to get motions passed with support from any one of three parties: the Conservatives (with 121 seats), the Bloc Québécois (32), or the NDP (24). By the same token, all three parties would have to unite and vote together to defeat the Liberals.

‘Wexit’

However it shakes out, the Liberals will potentially be looking for support from the NDP and the Bloc, two parties that vehemently oppose pipelines. How can the Liberals square that with growing alienation in western Canada and calls for continued resource development in the region? It’s not an easy task.

As Rex Murphy writes in the National Post, western anger was hot before the election. Now? “It’s molten.” The Liberals were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and there’s a lone NDP island in the riding of Edmonton Strathcona in a sea of 47 Conservative seats across the region.

Calls for a western exit, or “Wexit,” have been growing. The Toronto Star reports that there have been renewed talks of organizing separatist sentiments in both provinces. One source said, “We’ve heard from very wealthy people, billionaires or just shy of that, who are talking openly about that or at least (funding) conferences or meetings to set the conversation.”

Trudeau said yesterday that the government will be continuing with the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. That might not be enough to calm western tempers.

Three angry men

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called on Trudeau to fast-track the pipeline project, and warned of the risk of lasting damage to national unity. “Albertans feel that everywhere we turn, we are being blocked in, pinned down and even attacked within our own country for what we do to contribute to it,” Kenney said in the Alberta legislature.

We can add one more premier to the pile-on now that the campaign is over and his gag order has been officially lifted: Ontario’s Doug Ford. He joined forces with Saskatchewan in the fight over the federal carbon tax. The Ontario government has said this week it will move ahead with its appeal to the Supreme Court.

What sort of opposition will the Three Amigos pose to Trudeau’s government in Ottawa?

The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson thinks “the strongest opposition will come not from within the House of Commons, but from provincial capitals, and it will be fierce.”

Bill 21 and Scheer’s future 

Let’s head east and check in with another premier: Quebec’s François Legault. The day after the election, he warned Trudeau not to challenge the province’s controversial Bill 21 in court.  

Trudeau was the only federal leader in the campaign to at least hint at challenging the legislation, which bans public service workers from wearing religious garments while on duty. Will he? The Bloc’s resurgence with 32 seats, and the fact that its leader Yves-François Blanchet enthusiastically supports the provincial law, makes it more unlikely. On Wednesday, however, Trudeau did double down on his campaign comments that he is “not closing the door … to defending basic rights.” 

And finally, although the Conservative party bumped its seat count from 97 to 121, the knives may be out for Andrew Scheer. Will he remain as leader of the party? Can the Conservatives pin their failure to oust Trudeau on Scheer? Or does the party need to do a bigger rethink of what it has to offer voters? 

Those are just a few of the big questions this election raises. Some will be answered in the weeks to come, while others will linger — maybe even indefinitely. What’s on your radar? Co-hosts Steve and John Michael will be answering listener questions in our final episode of the season, and we’ll follow up on more queries in newsletters over the coming weeks. So ask away! As always, write to us at onpolitics@tvo.org.  

That’s all for this week! 

Eric

#onpoli producer 

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