You might think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to this idea a couple of months late, but it’s worth noting, anyway. On Tuesday, he said this: “I am intending to govern as long as Parliament gives us confidence to do so.”
Of course, Mr. Trudeau was never going to accept the suggestion that he could have adopted that decision in July and skipped the election that brought him another minority. And he wasn’t going to swallow the assertion that with just 32 per cent of the popular vote, and less support than the Conservatives, he didn’t have much of a mandate for anything.
His answer to those questions ran through a lot of words about the campaign debates and broad support for progressive things, but let’s boil his point down to the essentials: He is still Prime Minister, and he can get his agenda through Parliament, and govern for some time.
And he’s right.
It might annoy many in the 67 per cent of voters who didn’t choose Mr. Trudeau’s party, but that is the bottom line. As a practical matter, mandate is beside the point. Mr. Trudeau can advance the Liberal agenda. Even more: He can entrench a lasting legacy.
On Tuesday, he went so far as to entertain the idea that he will serve out all four years of his term. “I hope so,” he said.
That’s pushing it. But for a substantial period of time, there won’t be a lot standing in his way.
For starters, opposition parties who complained about this year’s pandemic election can’t afford to force another. In fact, the bar triggering a vote will be pretty high for a while.
Mr. Trudeau’s fallacious claim that his Liberals have a mandate to act because a majority of voters cast their ballots for parties that supported some broadly similar policies to those of the Liberals – on climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and subsidized child care – is an absurd theory. There is no transitive law of politics that makes a vote for one party with a child-care policy equal to supporting another party that has one.
But in practice, it will be true enough for some time. The NDP, in particular, would be taking a risk in defeating the Liberals while they are finalizing child-care deals with provinces that the Conservatives pledge to cancel.
Mr. Trudeau has some room to manoeuvre. Not four years, but maybe two. And it may well be enough to embed a lasting political legacy. Chances are Mr. Trudeau is going to be thinking about that, now that he is in his second minority and third term, pretty soon. When their hold on power starts to fade, PMs tend to start thinking of what will outlast it.
Mr. Trudeau has things that come first – in particular, pressing ahead with federal vaccine requirements, as he promised again on Tuesday.
But following through on his child-care and climate-change policies in his third term are as likely to leave a lasting effect as anything he has done.
The $10-a-day child-care initiative outlined in the Liberal government’s April budget was at issue in the Sept. 20 election, since Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole had pledged to cancel it. Now Mr. Trudeau can finalize agreements with every province that will start subsidizing fees and expanding spaces. It won’t be easy for any party to run on scrapping that. It will start to build a national child-care system that will encourage the participation of women in the labour force, as it has in Quebec over the past 20 years.
Then there is Mr. Trudeau’s climate policy. Over the next two years, the Liberal carbon-pricing mechanism will ramp up, and businesses will have made plans on the assumption it will keep rising.
And Mr. Trudeau has incentive to keep pushing aggressive climate policies – he promised declining five-year emissions targets that he suggested would stop oil sands expansion – because it makes it harder for the NDP to defeat his Liberals in Parliament.
It turns out the PM with a minority government and 32-per-cent popular support will have a lot of room to advance his agenda, mandate or not. And maybe enough to build a legacy.
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