It’s been close to a month since Canadians elected a minority Parliament but really it was this week that we really started to see things go. All week we’ve seen a steady stream of leaders, both federal opposition leaders and some provincial premiers, make their way into Ottawa for meetings with the Prime Minister. And naturally so, this has been everyone’s focus, listening closely to every word uttered and parsing every statement within an inch of its life. Welcome back to life in minority Parliament Canada.
Through out the week many have tried to make a lot out of what every leader has said before and after their meetings, trying to tell us what this will all mean going forward. And really has anything big come out of any of this? Nope, no real new details, news or ideas. Some may look at this as a bad thing but in my view, this really shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone; this is life in minority Parliaments.
Putting that aside, what can we say about what we saw this week and what it might mean going forward. First of all, I would argue that all of the opposition leaders did what they needed to do and no one has overplayed their hand yet, despite what some are saying. That’s being said particularly of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, whose supposed faux pas was to say that his party was not afraid to vote against the Throne Speech. Some in the media scoffed at this, saying that “the party is broke”, “they can’t possibly want to force an election” and so on.
But here is the thing about those comments or at least my gut reaction to them; what exactly do they expect Singh to say? “Ooohh, I’m so powerless…. I can’t do anything but agree to whatever thin offerings the Liberals put in front of me?” Not only wouldn’t that be false, it’s not how anyone negotiates. Who goes into a negotiation downplaying their hand and undercutting themselves in the process? Come on man!
Plus, while many are focusing on the negatives in the NDP’s hand, they’re seemingly ignoring what the party has going for it. Firstly, the party’s financial situation isn’t as bad as some want to believe; the party had a record fundraising haul during the campaign, at a time when honestly the party was probably least able to spend it (i.e.: towards the end of the campaign). That means while the funding situation isn’t fantastic, it’s not that dire.
The second advantage for the NDP is frankly the other opposition parties. Some media yesterday was pointing to the Bloc Quebecois as a potential dance partner for the Liberals but let’s consider that for a moment. Given the tensions that are out there these days in the West, how easily can this government survive solely with the backing of the sovereigntist Bloc? How would that go over over time, with the Liberals being dependent on the votes of Mr. Blanchet’s team, all while he’s poking at western premiers? Furthermore, can you even count on the Bloc to support their agenda in the long term? In past minority governments, the Bloc was always a wild card and if you’re counting on the BQ to be your stable partner, then you’re making a very big gamble that’s not likely to work out so well.
Then add to that the situation with the Conservatives and the leadership of Andrew Scheer. Putting the Throne Speech aside, what are the odds being laid down that Scheer is still leader of his party by the time that the next Federal budget comes down? If the Conservatives take the holiday break to further this narrative that Mr. Scheer’s leadership is in trouble and manages to get him out of that role, that eliminates the chances the Conservatives will force an election until after they have a new leader in place. That would push us into 2021 and takes a lot of pressure off of the NDP.
Finally, in this political environment, there is a space that has been left vacant that Jagmeet Singh and the NDP can fill if they so choose. With all the regional tensions going on and the heat being raised all over, there is a space for the NDP to be the conciliators, the national builders and try to find solutions that speaks to the concerns of all of these sides. There is a space to try to mend that divide, and I’ll be interested to see if they take that chance.
Having said all that, despite those advantages and the potential they could bring, there is also the possibility that it could all blow up, but that’s the nature of minority Parliament. It’s higher stress and every choice holds more importance, so that’s the nature of the beast. For those who have forgotten the experience, this is life in a minority Parliament. It’s not straight forward, it’s more uncertain, it involves more negotiation and but eventually it normally settles down.
Normally that settling comes when we actually have things to vote on, like a Throne Speech. So while everyone is staking out their positions today (regardless of how likely people think they are), it’s all conjecture and assumption until we actually see something to vote on and a vote actually happens. I personally expect this Throne Speech to be rather bland and with minimal details, to make it easy to get passed. But still that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to vote for it; it will not be unanimous and rarely ever is.
With the cabinet being named next week and the Throne Speech coming on December 5th, we’ll keep looking for signs as to what might come and how the parties will react. We’ll see how much of these discussions this week will influence the outcome. Welcome to the minority Parliament Dance; where nothing is straightforward, everyone is wondering what everyone else is thinking and we don’t really know where it will all end.