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Making it work: Minority government, major challenges

Nov 11, 2021

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The most recent federal election in Canada, as acrimonious as it was on the campaign trail, seems to have solved very little. With seat counts ending up virtually the same as before, we are left to wonder how the country’s political system will continue to operate in another minority situation. Which begs the question, how can politicians build consensus to push policy making that promotes national competitiveness and economic development for all Canadians?

This was the challenge presented by the Lawrence National Centre to a distinguished group of panelists to digest, discuss and debate. Moderated by LNC Fellow and Maclean’s Senior Writer, Paul Wells, former Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark, Senator Hassan Yussuff, and former Cabinet Minister the Honourable James Moore reflected on what the election accomplished, and how the new parliament will make the minority work for all Canadians.

During the 75-minute session, the panelists argued the public policy future in Canada would focus around core issues like combatting climate change, childcare programs, striking a balance between distribution and creation of wealth, and regulatory barriers.    

“I think childcare will be front and Centre for sure, the [government] really wants to deliver on that and I strongly support that. I think that’s the right thing to do, because we need to get women back into the workforce,” Clark said, adding long-term economic planning is vital to address areas where Canada is falling behind. “Long term planning is really about creating wealth, not about distributing. You see foreign direct investment has gone down…which will impact the auto industry as well as the resources sector. We are seeing our competitiveness with the US diminishing very quickly and we have a worker shortage.”

Senator Yussuff pointed to some policy areas that continue to cause anxiety amongst Canadians. “There are some really big issues, the housing issue, I think, is not going to go away anytime soon. And, of course, in all of this at the same time, we’re seeing the growth of inflation. Canadians get worried that’s going to be something to manifest itself in a way that will force Parliament to have a bigger debate. How we’re going to tackle that issue, recognizing of course, the economy has come back significantly from the height of the pandemic.”

The panelists detailed the challenges and the significance of collaboration, not only within Parliament, but across Canada’s federation. Issues like interprovincial trade, for example, are difficult, yet offer important opportunities for Canada’s economic health.

“[Interprovincial trade] frankly does hit roadblocks because provinces have to concede to a national jurisdiction and they have to agree to binding arbitration that they will lose from time to time,” said Moore, drawing on his previous experiences as Canada’s Industry Minister. “It’s a constant project…and by the way, it’s not a small number. At the worst point of our economic downturn, the benefits of internal free trade were two times what the loss was because of COVID-19.” Mr. Moore said there was some movement in his tenure on internal trade, but we still have a long way to go.  

In terms of further collaboration across jurisdictions, Clark believes a focus on areas of mutual agreement will go a long way in making progress on big issues. “The Prime Minister needs to stand up and start talking about the things in Canada that bind us together, what do we have in common…what is it that each province contributes that allows us to work as a country? That, I would argue, is the single most important job of any Prime Minister.”

Despite the challenges chronicled by the panelists, they did point to some signs of optimism for policy makers and governments across Canada in the year ahead.  

“I think there are some real challenges for the government to try to build a consensus, but..I think Parliament is on side to figure out how they can do this,” said Senator Yussuff. “They may differ on the approach, but I don’t think there’s much difference in Parliament right now on the bigger issues.”

Moore looks to Canada’s younger generation as a reason to be hopeful about the future. “Young people in this country have gone through more shocks than we realize: they grew up with 911 and the threat of terrorism, they went through the 08-09 economic crisis, now they’ve gone through COVID-19,” said Moore. “They’ve absorbed a lot of shocks and I think that toughens them up for a lot of the crises that are to come in the future.”

Click below to listen to the entire engaging talk looking at how a minority parliament could continue to function. All of this set upon the backdrop of a country emerging from a global pandemic, and seeking to improve its national competitiveness alongside socio-economic development for all Canadians.