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Recent federal polling might remind those with long political memories of the January 23, 2006 election, that first brought Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada to power in Ottawa.

To indulge briefly in a few too many numbers, take the January 22, 2023 update for the 338Canada opinion poll projections.

In a 338-seat Canadian House of Commons it gives Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives 152 seats with 35% of the Canada-wide popular vote. The Trudeau Liberals are assigned 129 seats with 30% of the vote. (In the minor but still numerically important leagues the New Democrats are given 25 seats with  21%. And the Bloc Québécois has 30 with 7%.)

Going back almost exactly 17 years to the real-world Canadian federal election on January 23, 2006 (with a 308-seat House) the Harper Conservatives won 124 seats with 36% of the popular vote. The Liberals took 103 seats with 30%.  (The  New Democrats here won 29 seats with 18% and the Bloc 51 with 11%.)

In both cases — the real-world 2006 and the polling-based 2023 —  Conservatives won the most seats, but not enough for a majority government.

In 2006 a bare majority was 155 seats (170 in 2023) : Stephen Harper’s party had only 124. And the consequences 17 years ago arguably haunt the prospects for a federal election in 2023.

The January 23, 2006 “snap election” became inevitable when Jack Layton’s New Democrats finally joined the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois in seeking the end of Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government, in late November 2005.

Yet New Democrats could not be expected to keep a Stephen Harper Conservative minority government in office. (And in any case in 2006 Conservative and NDP seats combined were still not quite enough for even a bare majority.)

The Liberals could similarly hardly prop up a Conservative minority government. The reality of the House bequeathed by the Canadian people in late January 2006 inevitably pointed the Harper Conservatives towards Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Québécois.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the consummate political strategist, may have been more prepared to work with M. Duceppe than some of his fellow Conservative MPs.

There was also nothing between Conservatives and Bloquistes in 2006 (or later) remotely like the formal supply and confidence agreement between Liberals and New Democrats in 2023.

Stephen Harper, however, did work with Gilles Duceppe after the 2006 election. The zenith of the resulting symbiosis arguably came on November 27, 2006, when the Canadian House of Commons voted on a motion advanced by Prime Minister Harper.

The motion read: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” It passed by an overwhelming majority of 266 to 16.

Going back (or ahead) to the January 22, 2023 update for the 338Canada opinion poll projections, if a Canadian federal election were held today, the Conservatives would once again win the most seats but not enough for a majority government.

As back in 2006, neither Liberals nor New Democrats could realistically be expected to support a Poilievre Conservative minority government. Once again to remain in office any length of time the Conservatives would have to work with the Bloc (now led by Yves-François Blanchet).

What price, some might ask, would the Bloc demand this time? What further motion on the Québécois nation in a united Canada might loom in the Ottawa political air? And would this be a good thing? (As the November 2006 motion arguably enough was — and still is today!)

Questions of this sort may have lingered at the back of some minds during Pierre Poilievre’s recent Quebec tour.

As for Jagmeet Singh’s pulling the plug on the Justin Trudeau Liberals, as Jack Layton did in 2006, the New Democrats are at a healthy 21% of the popular vote in the latest 338Canada projection (compared with 18% in 2006). The March 2022 Liberal-NDP supply and confidence agreement is arguably working for the NDP.

Moreover, for the Canadian people at large the Liberals and New Democrats together, even on 338Canada’s latest Conservative friendly numbers, also have a 51% majority of the Canadian popular vote — as well as a majority of seats bequeathed by the latest 2021 federal election.

Diverse observers who do remember 2006 in Canadian federal politics might see several good reasons why it should not and in any case cannot quite be repeated (or even rhymed) in 2023.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Justin Trudeau has been Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister since 2015. Contrary to popular belief that’s been widely propagated by Liberal supporters and spin doctors, he’s accomplished almost nothing in office.

Until Monday evening, that is. Trudeau earned an unusual political distinction that no other Canadian PM has ever achieved. He found a way to shift the most left-leaning government in our country’s history even further to the left.

How did he do this? By signing a three-year agreement with Jagmeet Singh and the NDP.

Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement details the working arrangement between the two parties that will run from March 22, 2022 until Parliament rises in June 2025. It’s not an official coalition, which means no New Democrat will have a seat at the cabinet table. Rather, the NDP “agrees to support the government on confidence and budgetary matters – notably on budgetary policy, budget implementation bills, estimates and supply” and the Liberals commit “to govern for the duration of the agreement.” Moreover, the NDP has agreed to “not move a vote of non-confidence, nor vote for a non-confidence motion during the term of the arrangement.”

As the agreement states in part, “The parties have identified key policy areas where there is a desire for a similar medium-term outcome. We have agreed to work together during the course of this Parliament to put the needs of Canadians first.”

Some of these key policy areas include: introducing a dental care plan for low-income Canadians, passing the Canada Pharmacare Act in late 2023, new affordable housing measures, initiating massive emissions reductions by 2030, introducing Just Transition legislation to help workers, unions and other communities, ensuring ten days of paid sick leave is in place this year, additional investments for Indigenous housing, a fairer tax system, and removing barriers to voting and participation.

Dental care and Pharmacare, which are part of the current NDP playbook, have been rooted in socialist thinking for decades. They’ve been previously rejected by most Canadian voters, and not just right-leaning ones, due to the enormous costs and inefficiencies these state-run plans will undoubtedly incur. With the Liberal-NDP agreement in place, a proper debate in Parliament won’t happen and these policies will easily pass in a minority Parliament operating like a majority government is in charge.

Canada will also witness massive increases to the size of government, rate of taxation and role of the nanny-state. Any hope for a return to small government, low taxes and more individual rights and freedoms by voting out the minority Liberals has fizzled out in one fell swoop. If you thought things were bad under Trudeau for nearly seven years – and it’s been bloody awful – you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Liberals and NDP are both declaring victory with the signing of this agreement. That’s predictable, but here’s the thing. Only one of them has the right to do so, and it’s not the junior partner in this arrangement.

Singh naively believes Canadians will give his party full credit for bringing in programs like public dental care and Pharmacare, if they’re successful. Not a chance. Most people barely remember what they had for breakfast a couple of days ago, let alone the specific party that proposed certain policies. If these social programs (and others) achieve what Trudeau hopes they’ll ultimately achieve, he’ll take all the credit – and the voters will reward his Liberals for introducing these policies.

Here’s a historical example to prove my point.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation exists in Canada due to the efforts of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett and the Progressive Conservatives. They launched the state-owned Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, the CBC’s predecessor, in 1932. Without it, our public broadcaster may never have come to fruition – or could have ended up looking very different than it does today.

How many Canadians know this? Other than a smattering of historians and political junkies, the numbers are relatively small. Most Canadians would likely (and incorrectly) assume the Liberals and NDP had something to do with it, since they vigorously defend the CBC. Today’s Conservatives largely believe in either reducing funding for the public broadcaster, or defunding them altogether. So, their historical role has either been forgotten, ignored or usurped by parties that had nothing to do with the CBC’s creation.

That’s what will happen to Singh and the NDP.

Without any representation at the cabinet table, the NDP’s initiatives will be lost in the political wilderness. Singh’s memorable opposition to Trudeau’s three instances of blackface will become a tiny footnote in history. His party has seemingly accepted the fact that they’re irrelevant, can’t win federal elections on their own, and are more undeserving of representation in the House of Commons than ever before.

The NDP will be remembered for a couple of things. Protecting Trudeau, a weak, ineffective Prime Minister who has repeatedly embarrassed his country on the domestic and international stage. Propping up a Liberal Party that’s won the last two federal elections with minority governments and finished second in the popular vote both times, and giving them a safe political ride for the next three years.

Oh, and signing on to a misguided agreement that is, in the words of interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen, “little more than backdoor socialism.” Singh and Trudeau are probably both fine with this, truth be told.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The latest federal Throne Speech opening the 44th Parliament has attracted the usual wave of criticism. Some comments are thoughtful  while other complaints should be dismissed out of hand.

Those who point out the lack of emphasis on inflation, labour shortages or concerns about future deficits in the Throne Speech have raised valid points worthy of a constructive debate.

Other complaints about the vagueness of the Trudeau’s government statements are less well-founded,  given the history of Throne Speeches in most parliamentary democracies. They have rarely been specific.

Mr. Singh’s constant refrain that the Liberals repeatedly promise programs and do nothing would be more compelling if he did not routinely ignore major achievements such as a national carbon levy or a substantial child care program.

The strangest epithet hurled against the latest Throne Speech that I read was “like his father, Prime Minister Trudeau is determined to establish a legacy – and hang the consequences.”  Some consequence – patriation of the constitution and the charter of rights and freedoms.

This criticism aligns with Erin O’Toole blasting Mr Trudeau’s ‘ideological’ approach to policy making. Funny how those words could well apply to the vagaries of Conservative policy-making.

But there remains a distinctly anti-democratic tinge to some of the criticism.

Imagine a government actually wanting to focus and implement the platform on which it just ran in the recently concluded election. Is that not the purpose of an election, to give the public choices to make?

One media commentator, writing in a national newspaper, started his column by implicitly questioning the Liberal government’s mandate to press ahead with reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, combatting climate change, new housing supports and the national child-care program.

He notes “ in the last federal election, the Liberal Party received the support of less than one-third of the voters. No federal political party has formed government with a weaker public mandate”.

The column continues that ‘the Liberals appears determined to push forward with a weak electoral mandate and despite warnings from the central bank that interests rates are about to climb’.

The commentator then suggests that the failure of the Liberals to win the popular vote in five of the last 7 elections speaks in part to ‘declining legitimacy’ of political institutions in the country.’

There are numerous caveats that should be applied to these types of analysis.

The first is recognition that the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc Quebecois  campaigned in favour of a host of policies which mirrored a number of these Liberal agenda items. Adding together their collective vote, almost two thirds of Canadians supported focus in these areas.

Depending whether you count the Conservative flip flops on climate change and their support for a tax-based child-care program, it would be reasonable to argue that an even greater number of the electorate support at least some of these policy thrusts.

The second is the reality of a minority government. Unless the Liberals secure the support of at least one other party (other than the Greens) for each piece of specific legislation, the initiatives will fail to pass.

With the emergence of more flexible voters, prepared to switch their votes among parties, politicians have to work harder than ever to adapt to the changing public mood rather than count on entrenched supporters.

What could be more democratic.

Cutbacks to the CERB and other Covid relief programs will be enacted because of announced support from the BQ and perhaps the Conservatives. The NDP has signalled its support for the continuation of a hybrid Parliament, thereby ensuring its passage.

What troubles me the most is the recurring suggestion that minority governments and adapting governance processes to meet Covid somehow delegitimize a government.

For centuries, whoever gets the most seats in a ‘first past the post’ Westminister system has been given the right to try to form the government. Casting aspersions about legitimacy of a duly elected government trying to advance its agenda is a far greater threat to our democratic institutions than innovative efforts of governing.

As to those critics who believe that an opposition and the media can only hold a government to account through ‘in person’ sittings of Parliament, I say welcome to the 21st century. We are working on changes to the way Canadians vote [electronic], interact with parliamentarians and the public service [virtually, electronically rather than pure paper bound and in-person processes]. We continue to explore in some jurisdictions changes to the ‘first past the post’ system to include ranked ballot or proportional representation.

Canadians so inclined can immediately access from start to finish the details of every question and important debate as well as committee sessions on widely available public channels.

As to complaints that hybrid or virtual sessions diminish the value of Question Period, its value will be established only by the quality of the questions and the analysis they are based upon.

Sadly, since the advent of broadcast sessions, all sides including the Opposition play primarily to their own constituencies. That includes the use of visual aids and theatrical pranks

To truly hold government accountable, the challenge keeps coming back to the need for better quality research, investigations and analysis. That includes raising the bar for the Opposition, media, special interest groups including business and union groups , academics and think tanks.

With broadened access to Information legislation, transparency measures such as enhanced lobbyist registries and empowered independent officers of the legislature such as the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Auditor General, the Opposition and media have never been better equipped to hold governments to account. This is particularly true in minority governments where many important committees are chaired by opposition members.

Instead, in the prevalent ‘horse race’ type of analysis, too much reliance is placed on the interpretation of public opinion polls to evaluate government programs.

There remain many challenges to democracy in Canada today. Minority government and governments following through on their current election platforms are not among them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.