Justin Trudeau’s minority government will face two confidence votes this week as MPs return to Ottawa.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said the government views both votes – Monday on the Throne Speech and a Wednesday vote on the new North American free-trade deal – as matters of confidence.
“It’s a fundamental agreement,” said Mr. Rodriguez of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement at the centre of the free-trade vote. “It’s such a big part of our economy. So I’m very clear that it’s a confidence vote in both cases.”
A defeat on a confidence vote could trigger the end of the minority government, though such a scenario is unlikely given that none of the main parties are currently eager to fight another election.
Nonetheless, the Prime Minister’s decision to navigate the minority Parliament on an issue-by-issue basis, rather than striking a deal with one other party to ensure survival through confidence votes, means the Liberals will be reaching out to different parties for support depending on the issue.
The Official Opposition Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP all have enough votes on their own to avoid an election by voting with the government on a confidence vote.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has said his party would support the Throne Speech, which would allow the Liberals to survive Monday’s vote.
On Wednesday, MPs will vote on the first of several votes related to ratification of the deal updating the North American free-trade agreement.
The vote is on a procedural motion that would allow the government to introduce ratification legislation. That bill would then need to go through all stages of the House and the Senate before the deal is formally ratified by Canada.
MPs from all three main opposition parties have criticized the deal. The Conservative Party would appear to be the most likely of the three parties to vote with the government on the trade deal, but the party has yet to officially take a position.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters Saturday that his party wants more details from the government before announcing how it will vote.
“We’ll see,” he said. “But in general, we support free trade and we realize that it’s essential that the Canadian economy has certainty. And so we will use our power in the House of Commons responsibly.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland released a public letter Sunday to the opposition parties, urging them to “get this important work done without undue delay.”
Votes on Throne Speeches and budgets are generally always confidence votes. Whether or not confidence applies to other issues, such as votes on specific bills, largely depends on whether or not the issue has been declared a matter of confidence by the government.
Ms. Freeland’s concern about “undue delay” touches on one of the biggest challenges the Liberals will face now that the party has been reduced to a minority. The government no longer has the votes to approve procedural measures that limit debating time in order to move legislation along.
Mr. Rodriguez, the Government House Leader, said the relationship among party House leaders, who meet weekly when the House of Commons is sitting, will have an “enormous” impact on the tone of the 43rd Parliament.
He said relations have been positive to date and predicted the minority Parliament will get work done. He said the other house leaders have his cell number and he’s told them he’s available around the clock.
“Up to now, based on the context that I’ve found with them, I’m convinced that we can have a very productive relationship and a very productive Parliament also," he said.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian agreed the early interactions have been positive but cautioned that future action is what matters.
“It will be the next few weeks that determine the tone that the government sets,” he said Sunday. The NDP’s priorities, he said, will be issues such as pharmacare and dental care and pushing for tax hikes on business and high-income Canadians to pay for improved programs.
Mr. Scheer has said the Conservatives will focus on fighting wasteful spending, as well as raising concerns with Liberal plans for gun-control measures.
Mr. Rodriguez said free trade will dominate the House agenda early on and the government’s broader legislative agenda will flow from the Liberals’ election platform.