Stephen Harper, the last prime minister to run a minority government, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should avoid making deals with the opposition to keep power over the next few years and instead focus on keeping the public’s support.
Speaking alongside former prime minister Jean Chrétien at a luncheon event in Calgary on Thursday, Mr. Harper also warned of the growing regional divisions the next federal government will face. Mr. Harper said loud groups of Albertans agitating for their province to leave Canada should be taken seriously, while Mr. Chrétien shrugged that anger in Quebec and the West has been burning his entire public life.
The two men spoke just more than a week after a federal election in which Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals were reduced to a minority government. Mr. Trudeau has not governed at the head of a minority government yet and has dismissed suggestions he will strike a coalition, either formal or informal, before his new cabinet is sworn in on Nov. 20. However, the Prime Minister has said he will sit down with the various party leaders and see how they can work together.
Those types of conversations were largely inconclusive, Mr. Harper said of negotiations with other leaders while he ran Canada’s longest-serving minority government between 2006 and 2011.
“The style I used suits the current configuration,” Mr. Harper said of his approach to minority government. He had earlier stressed during his conversation with Mr. Chrétien that he didn’t want to provide Mr. Trudeau with advice, but would rather see the Liberal Leader go down to defeat.
“I always found people tell you go out and negotiate with the other parties, find out what it is they want and cut deals with them. I actually very seldom did that. I found that’s not a wise way to do it. The wise thing to do is try and do the right thing, make sure the public is on your side, don’t make deals. If the public is on your side and you’re doing the right thing you’ll find somebody amongst the various parties that will support you on almost anything,” he said.
Mr. Harper expressed concerns that Mr. Trudeau’s instincts might cause him to avoid the advice and govern from further left along the political spectrum rather than seek common ground with other parties.
The Liberals lost their majority during the October federal election, dropping to 157 seats, 13 shy of the number needed to govern without the support of any other party.
At the luncheon held by the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the two former prime ministers differed in their predictions of how long the new government will remain in office.
Mr. Chrétien, who only operated in the prime minister’s office at the head of majority governments and joked that he envied Mr. Trudeau’s opportunity now to sharpen his political instincts, said the Prime Minister could hang on for several years.
“It could last three or four years,” he said. “The NDP is not in very good shape, the Green are not moving very fast and the Bloc, they are all happy to have income coming from Ottawa. They will want to stay there as long as possible without a vote.”
Mr. Harper said he doesn’t think Mr. Trudeau’s minority will fare well: “It’s my read of the characters involved.”
The current Liberal government has been largely shut out of Western Canada. It lost all its seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan and has no MPs between Metro Vancouver and Winnipeg. That lack of representation in the West comes at a time when alienation is climbing in the region, according to Mr. Harper.
“You have Western alienation on the rise for obvious reasons and I think it is very big – certainly, I’ve seen polling data that is quite shocking. Quebec regionalism creeping back in this election. I think in this day and age of populist upheaval everywhere, this is considerably risky,” Mr. Harper said.
His advice for Mr. Trudeau was to spend more time in Western Canada, speaking with people outside of politics and getting their honest opinions on what’s going on.
Mr. Chrétien said it isn’t unusual for a Liberal government to suffer from a dearth of representation in the West. “The so-called Western alienation or Quebec alienation, I’ve had to live with that all my life,” he said.
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