You’ve got to hand it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: He knows how to turn a minority Liberal government into one that’s able to function like a majority.
His method is simple. All you have to do is handcuff Parliament’s role as a check on government.
Mr. Trudeau did it after the 2019 election, when he used the COVID-19 crisis to team up with the NDP and the Bloc Québécois to adjourn Parliament for much of 2020.
He was able to govern largely unimpeded by the Official Opposition Conservatives. And when the House of Commons returned and the Conservatives started making his life miserable over the WE Charity scandal, he prorogued Parliament. Problem solved.
Now, after a second minority election result, he’s done it again. On Tuesday, he announced his party had reached an agreement with the NDP that will see the NDP support all Liberal supply and confidence votes, including the next four budgets, in exchange for a promise to push NDP priorities.
Those priorities include a dental-care program for people in households that earn less than $90,000 a year, “progress toward a universal national pharmacare program,” a special tax on the profits made by banks and insurance companies during the pandemic, and more affordable housing.
It all seems redundant. Other than the dental-care plan, the Liberals had already committed, to some degree, to these priorities in their 2021 election platform. It’s not like the NDP would have voted against them, or couldn’t have pushed for amendments.
Nor is it likely that the NDP would have let the Liberal government fall in a confidence vote. And they’re not alone. The Conservatives have no interest in forcing an election in the middle of their lengthy leadership campaign, or before their new leader has a chance to settle into the job.
At the same time, no one should doubt for a second that Mr. Trudeau will call an early election if it suits his political purposes at some point, deal or no deal, between now and 2025, the purported lifespan of the agreement. His contention that the deal will provide stability during “highly uncertain and difficult times” should be weighed against the fact he called a snap election during the highly uncertain and difficult times of last year.
So if it doesn’t guarantee a stable Parliament, and the programs the Liberals and NDP will collaborate on would have happened anyway, what exactly is the purpose of the deal?
For that you have to look at the part where the NDP and Liberals will use their combined majority to control Parliamentary committees, in order to prevent the Conservatives from using tactics to stall legislation, and so that the committees can “continue their essential work.”
It was various committees that brought so much heat on Mr. Trudeau in 2020 that he prorogued Parliament. Now it appears he doesn’t have to worry about that for the next four years.
Mr. Trudeau loves to claim that the Conservatives are obstructionist, and have prevented Parliament from doing its job. He did it in January, and he did it again in the text of the deal with the NDP, implicitly accusing the Official Opposition of causing “parliamentary dysfunction.”
But there simply isn’t any evidence of that. A quick analysis of the legislative record shows that, in the two-year minority Parliament that ended with the 2021 election call, the Liberals introduced 47 government bills, of which 31 received royal assent. If you don’t count four bills introduced in the final days of the summer session last year, which were doomed from the start because everyone knew an election was coming, that’s a 72-per-cent success rate.
In the previous four-year Parliament, when the Liberals had a majority, the Trudeau government tabled 102 bills and saw 83 get royal assent. Which means they had an 81-per-cent success rate as a majority, and a 72-per-cent success rate as a minority. It’s hard to spot the difference.
Throughout the last Parliament, the Trudeau government was able to push its agenda ahead mostly unhindered. It now looks as if it will be able to do that again, thanks to a deal that effectively neuters the Official Opposition.
In Mr. Trudeau’s mind, the “essential work” of Parliament is to pass Liberal government bills with as little debate as possible, as would happen in a majority. Once again, he has subverted the role of Parliament to his political interests.
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