Canada has elected a Liberal minority government.
As of this writing on Tuesday morning, the Liberals have 157 seats, the Conservatives 121, the Bloc 32, the NDP 24 and the Greens 3. 170 seats are needed for a majority so the Liberals are 13 short.
This is a good outcome for Canada.
Minority governments, in fact, have become common-place in this country. They’re certainly nothing to fear and have often been highly productive.
It will be up to the Liberals to seek support from other parties. To do that successfully, Prime Minister Trudeau will have to learn some new political skills — particularly around negotiation and deal-making.
What explains last night’s results?
Pollster Frank Graves and commentator Michael Valpy see the emergence of two distinct blocks of voters in Canada.
One block consists of “people rooted in a specific place or community and often that community is located in rural and small town Canada. They are also socially conservative, often less educated, mainly male, mainly but by no means exclusively older and white”. This is Canada’s populist voting block.
The other block consists of “those who come from “anywhere” — footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated.”
Graves and Valpy see Canada’s political parties orienting themselves around these two blocks of voters. The result is that on election night, the Conservative Party attracted the vast majority of right wing, populist voters in English Canada while the Bloc attracted a similar, French speaking voter in Quebec (albeit the Bloc support is more nationalist than right wing and is much greener).
According to Graves and Valpy, the other three main parties – Trudeau’s Liberals, Singh’s New Democrats and May’s Green’s – are splitting the more urban, socially liberal voting block.
This is clearly what happened last night. The problem for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives is that their 34% of the vote is good for only about 125 seats concentrated in the West and rural and small town Ontario. In those 125 seats they tend to run up huge margins of victory. For example, in Alberta they received 60% of the vote with much more in rural areas.
The Conservatives are also politically isolated from the three left-of-centre parties who are unwilling to work with them because of profound ideological differences on issues such as climate change and social programs.
And while the Conservatives and Bloc attract similar voters in terms of a discomfort with immigration and the increased role of visible minorities in Canadian society, they are diametrically opposed on the climate change issue and social spending. So there is almost no potential for co-operation there.
Canada’s left-of-centre parties received about 65% of the vote last night with the Liberals at 33.6%, the NDP at 16%, the Greens at 6.3% and the Bloc at 8.7%.
Given that 65% of the electorate voted for parties that take climate change seriously and are generally supportive of increased social spending, what could better reflect the political will of the Canadian people than a minority Liberal government which will have to wheel and deal with parties to its left to get things done.
So what was determined by the results of the election is that Canada is going to have a centre-left government as opposed to a right-wing, populist government.
What hasn’t been determined is the precise governing arrangements between the centre-left parties that will allow for the centre-left policy agenda to be implemented.
How is Trudeau going to get things done?
Trudeau has a few options for governing. For one, he might bet that no party will want to bring down the government and potentially force another election — or otherwise give the Conservatives the opportunity to form a government.
In that case, Trudeau would not make any agreements with the opposition parties, bet that he would survive a potential confidence vote anyway, and from there see if he could secure support on an issue-to-issue basis.
But if he wants a more stable situation, Trudeau could make a more formal deal with another party to secure its support on confidence matters, an arrangement dubbed a “confidence and supply” agreement.
Such a deal is in place in British Columbia, where the NDP are in government and maintain a parliamentary majority thanks to support from the provincial Greens.
At the federal level, the most likely partner for such an agreement would obviously be the NDP under Jagmeet Singh. During the campaign, Singh laid out six priorities for supporting another party in a minority situation, including pharmacare, investments in housing, a wealth tax, and action on climate change.
In exchange for maintaining the minority government on issues of confidence, the NDP would expect to influence government policy on these and many other files.
And if he consistently wants the support of the NDP, Trudeau may have to move to the left of his generally centrist comfort zone.
One clear challenge for the Liberal government is how it will repair relations with Alberta and Saskatchewan while relying on support from the NDP, which strongly opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline.
One option for Trudeau would have been to form a formal coalition government with one of the smaller parties. Jagmeet Singh’s NDP would have been the most likely coalition partner but Trudeau made it clear on Wednesday that he had ruled out this option and did not want opposition MP’s in his cabinet.
So the most likely scenario? Trudeau seems to be almost certain to opt for dealing with opposition parties on an issue by issue basis with issue specific deals with the New Democrats, more often than not, to get legislation through.
Canada held an election and the result appears to be a couple of years of a minority Liberal government being pushed a bit to the left on issues such as climate change, pharmacare and taxing the rich.
A good night for Canada, indeed.
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