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Predictions for Canada’s 41st Parliament

by Archives October 28, 2008

Canada has once again elected a minority government, and with parliament returning in less than a month the Conservatives will have to find common ground with opposition parties in order to avoid, another election.
Expect the opposition parties to seek areas of common ground to broker with the Conservative minority, eager to produce results for their supporters.
Harper’s six-point plan on the economy, released Oct. 14, essentially a series of meetings – most of which would have happened anyways, shows that his government wants to be seen as taking action on the economy. The plan is a commitment to address the economic situation, however it contains no concrete steps. Expect the opposition to support this vague plan, at this point they doesn’t want to be seen as putting partisanship ahead of dealing with economic crisis. Expect solutions to be proposed on all sides, all of the parties want to put their stamp on whatever plan the government enacts, for the chance to say that they helped to save a sinking ship.
Look for the NDP and the Bloc to push for an environmental agenda, but expect little action from the Conservatives on the green scene. While both the NDP and the Conservatives have supported a “cap and trade” system, there are significant differences between the two. The Conservative plan calls for limits on carbon emissions to be based on a company’s production, allowing companies to increase their emissions as they grow. The NDP on the other hand wants a ceiling on the maximum amount any company can emit. While there may be some room for compromise, it doesn’t look likely.
After the failure of the “green shift” the Liberals will be disorganized on the environment and probably won’t take an actual stance until after their spring convention. While they have supported carbon taxes in the past, there’s a good chance that the Liberals will sit on their hands and allow Harper to pass his “cap and trade” plan.
On Afghanistan both the Liberals and the Conservatives have made clear their support of a 2011 pullout. While the NDP and the Bloc may try and bring up the issue don’t expect it to have much traction for the next couple years. However if Barack Obama is elected in the United States, as seems likely, expect him to ramp up the war in Afghanistan. Expect the issue to come up in 2010 when the Conservatives may call for an extension of the mission. The Liberals may be likely to support such a move, especially if it is championed by a President Obama.
Expect the Conservatives to have difficulty pushing through their tax agenda. Corporate tax cuts aren’t likely to play well with the NDP or Bloc base. But the Liberals will be in a tricky position – they want to broaden their appeal on the right without losing their left-of-centre appeal. And if the other two parties are opposed the Liberals may just fold to prevent another election. Though the Bloc may be the one to help this pass if some sweeteners are added for Quebec’s troubled manufacturing sector. Across the board tax cuts may also be able to get support from the Bloc, especially if it includes greater provincial control over transfer payments. While the Conservatives are unlikely to pursue further arts cuts outright they may slip it into the budget, especially if the economy worsens and cuts are made to services in order to pay for cuts to taxes.
Don’t expect many of Harper’s “tough on crime” policies to pass. The opposition to this in Quebec, which the Conservatives still need if they’re ever going to get a majority, is enough to keep it off the table. The question is if Harper will let it die, or come up with a watered down version that has broader appeal. Since the 2006 election Harper has backed off many of his most controversial proposals including putting an end to prisoner voting and the “artistic merit” defense for child pornography. It seems likely that on some issues – like tougher sentencing for teenage murderers he’ll probably find a compromise. But ending the gun registry will probably be one area where he won’t be willing to bend.
The Liberals aren’t going to be happy seeing their program end, but they may sit on their hands or support it in an effort to win back western and rural Canadians. While some NDP MPs have expressed support for ending the registry, the party’s official platform calls for replacing it. A free vote on the issue could be interesting and would likely split along urban/rural and east/west lines, but don’t expect that to happen. However one area where the Conservatives and the NDP have some common ground is on the issue of illegal guns, both parties have called for stiffer sentences for people who use guns to commit crimes.
The Conservatives have indicated that they want to push for senate reform, replacing the appointed, and many would say ineffective and unequal, body with elected senators. The Conservatives could find some common ground on this issue with the NDP. While the NDP has called for the senate’s abolition, they probably would compromise if senators were elected based on some form of popular vote. However expect the Bloc to oppose any proposals for reform in the upper chamber, like the NDP the Bloc has called for the Senate to be eliminated, but if popular vote was used the newly credible senate would check the Bloc’s disproportionate influence in the House of Commons.
After years of controlling the government, the Liberals have no interest in reforming the half of parliament that they still control. The only question would be is if this reform is constitutional. If Harper does get a senate reform bill passed expect it challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. The challenge would likely succeed, as Senate reform will probably require a constitutional amendment, a process that would require the support of seven provincial legislatures representing at least 50 per cent of the population. Since Quebec seems unlikely to support such a move it would in effect require the support of all the other provinces, an almost insurmountable obstacle.

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