Poli Savvy: Challenges of a Minority Government

It is no question that the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau has achieved a considerable victory of sorts this month, namely the “privilege” of leading the entire country of Canada. However, it is still a political step down from the party’s status prior to the elections; that of a majority government. So, what challenges will the Liberals have to face?

First, cabinet management. It is customary for all Canadian federal cabinet ministers to be representative of each province. Cabinet ministers are MPs chosen from amongst the winning party based on their province. However, given that the Liberals have lost all their representatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the party effectively has no representation in the two prairie provinces. MPs from the other parties will have to be chosen for proportional provincial representation within the cabinet.

The second problem involves passing bills, specifically those related to the Liberal platform. Majority governments are formed when a given party attains 170 plus seats in the House of Commons and doesn’t face the obstacle of votes when passing a bill. Not anymore for the Liberals. They will now have to collaborate with other parties to get enough votes. Although, it is important to point out that Trudeau has ruled out any official coalition, according to the BBC.

The third and final problem, compromise. Looking at the platforms of some of the parties, it’s easy to see where some overlap; the Liberals, Greens, and New Democrats sporting clear similarities in both social and environmental policy fields. Regardless, the true success of a minority government lies in compromise, ensuring that their political partners have enough to gain to vote favourably. But where will it happen? On the matter of Quebec sovereignty with the Bloc? Doubtful, according to an article in Global News. By cancelling the Trans Mountain pipeline as encouraged by the NDP and the Greens? Not likely, reported CJME.

Anything with the Conservatives? When pigs fly.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Understanding the federal election: what happened?

On Oct. 24, Concordia organized a conference where six political analysts discussed the outcome of the 2019 election and how we got here. 

Three days after election night, six panelists took the D.B. Clarke theatre stage one after another to analyze and debate key aspects of the campaign. The panelists were Harold Clarke, Rachel Curran, Lawrence LeDuc, Kevin Page, Carole McNeil and Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

While most polls put Andrew Scheer ahead of Justin Trudeau, it might have come as a surprise that the Conservatives did not do as well as anticipated. To truly understand the outcome of the election, Clarke argued that people need to look at the three main drivers of electoral choice.

Firstly, social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion usually get a lot of media attention. But, it is actually how the political party performs, in terms of what Clarke referred to as valence issues, that will drive the voter’s final decision.

“These are issues that everybody agrees on the goal,” said Clarke, a professor at the University of Texas in Dallas and veteran of Canadian elections studies. “Issues such as the economy, or healthcare, education, security, and now climate change as well. It’s hard to find people who want bad healthcare and so on.”

Accordingly, the fact that the vast majority of people want a healthy economy strongly played in favour of Trudeau, explained Clarke. Indeed, the latest Statistics Canada survey, released on Oct.11, showed that today’s economy held a steady 5.5 per cent unemployment rate, the lowest in 40 years.

“It’s a big plus. Prosperity is a big plus,” Clarke said.

The second driver in the electoral choice, which explains surprises such as the NDP losing seats, is partisanship. Partisanship in Canada tends to be quite fluid and people are more than willing to leave their favoured party. According to Clarke, this creates situations where there are always possibilities for last-minute, large scale change.

Last, the third electoral driver proposed by Clarke is the leader image, which he believes played a major part in this election.

“Scheer simply didn’t make the impression he needed to make to win,” Clarke said.

Theme of the election 

While affordability ended up being the main theme of this year’s election, issues put forward by the parties were somehow irrelevant, argued Curran, Former Director of Policy to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“The measures [the political parties] were offering were very cynical and very shallow vote line efforts, at best,” Curran said. “What the parties ignored was the much bigger issues that we need to grapple and resolve as a country.”

As a matter of fact, this can explain the low voter turnout of 65.95 per cent. None of the leaders actually addressed the true underlying causes of issues such as why some Indigenous communities still have no access to clean water or why cellphone charges are extortionate, Curran pointed out.

Curran also believes that the inability and, perhaps even more, unwillingness of the parties to take a clear stance on issues such as the climate crisis, led to a problematic outcome; deep, regional division.

Canada has actually been sending various, very divided messages which resulted in broken national cohesion on election night.

“How do we reconcile resource development with environmental protection if we are in the business of fossil fuel, how do we address climate change in a credible way?” asked Curran. “And if we are not in the business, how do we fill the revenue hole and replace the hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs linked in the energy sector, particularly in Western Canada?”

Accordingly, we saw how cacophonic broadcasted debates were. It was arguably more of a who-can-talk-the-loudest contest than discussions on meaningful issues. It led to questions raised by a lot of media outlets as to whether the broadcasted debates are to be changed and how much impact they really have.

Jagmeet Singh was almost unanimously declared the winner after the CBC debate on Oct. 7. Yet, the NDP only won 24 seats last Monday night.

“I think we should, when evaluating the debates in the electoral campaign, avoid separating them from all the other things that we talked about in the context of the election,” said Leduc, professor at the University of Toronto. “Because even if Singh benefited from the debates, he only benefited from them being one of the several elements in the campaign.”

Leduc and Clarke both argued that the current form of debates won’t be seen again. A single debate between the two leaders of the main parties remains the innovation argued as the best.

Going Forward

Historically, minority governments never lasted more than two years. And before the evening was over, the panelists all took turns, gambling the durability of this one.

Interestingly, Clarke pointed out that Scheer might not be around that long, and the process of replacing him is going to take a while. Curran gambled that it will last at least two years.

Therefore, Trudeau is actually in a good position to hold power for a little while. Yet, losing 27 seats showed that his government needs to do better with Canadian issues.

“Climate change, healthcare and going forward with affordability, these are going to be the defining issues going ahead,” concluded CBC journalist McNeil.


Feature photo by Cecilia Piga


Liberals appeal $2.1 billion for First Nations children

On Oct. 4, the federal government appealed the ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), ordering the federal government to pay $40,000 dollars to each Indigenous child who was taken from their home under the on-reserve child welfare system.

According to CBC, over 50,000 children have been affected by the on-reserve child-welfare system.

“People are shocked about the appeal,” said Elizabeth Fast, a Métis professor in Applied Human Sciences at Concordia. Fast has worked with children transitioning out of the child-welfare system and is leading a research project aimed at improving First Nations child-welfare services in Montreal.

“It doesn’t make sense why the government is doing this,” said Fast. “So many years were spent fighting this, the court looked over all the evidence and it was a victory for the families involved.”

“People were happy with the victory, it was recognition for on-reserve children,” Fast said, referring to September when the CHRT gave the order.

Hours after the appeal was filed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberals agree with the tribunal’s finding that individuals who were harmed deserve compensation.

“But the question is how to do that?” Trudeau said at a press conference in Quebec on Oct.4, three days before the deadline to file an appeal. “We need to have conversations with partners, we need to have conversations with communities, with leaders to make sure we’re getting that compensation right.”

Trudeau stated that the federal government can’t have those discussions because of the election. Thus the federal government needs time to consider all options.

The CHRT ruled there was discrimination against Indigenous in the welfare system over three years ago, according to the National Post.

Fast said she doesn’t understand why the Liberal government is doing this during the peak election period.

“It is a total disregard of First Nations voters, it moves away from reconciliation, and assumes the public will be okay with this.” Fast said.

Yet, she does admit that not a lot of people know about systemic discrimination.

“I talked about it in my class, and none of my students knew about it.” Fast said, referring to her Critical Indigenous Perspectives course.

“The media can do more, to call people to action and hold the government accountable,” she said, warning that the government tries to distract people from issues like this.

What lead to the appeal 

According to The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Indigenous children in the on-reserve welfare system are given inadequate and under funded services.

The reason for this is because both provincial and territorial Indigenous child-welfare laws apply both on and off-reserve. However, because the children are on a reserve, provinces and territories expect the federal government to pay for the children’s services.

Thus, when the federal government does not adequately fund the child-welfare services, neither do the provinces or territories.

In 2000, the First Nations Child and Family Services Joint National Policy Review: Final Report, was released. It stated that Indigenous children received 22 per cent less funding for child-welfare compared to non-Indigenous children.

In 2007, the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint to CHRT, stating that the federal government discriminates against Indigenous children by not funding child-welfare enough on reserve.

A decade of gathering evidence went into the complaint.

According to CBC, by 2014 the federal government spent more than $5.3 million in legal fees trying to get the case thrown out.

In 2016, the CHRT deemed Canada to be guilty for discriminating against Indigenous children in the welfare system.

“Canada’s flawed and inequitable provisions of First Nations child and family services is discriminatory pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act on the grounds of race and national ethnic origin,” stated the CHRT in the McGill Law Journal, Érudit.

APTN reports that from 2013 to 2017, 102 Indigenous children connected to child-welfare died in Ontario alone.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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