National Column: Grits positioned to craft stable minority

by Chantel Hebert

With the wind at his back in the last week of the campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is asking voters to give his party a majority on Monday. To measure what a feat that would be, consider that to reach the magic majority number of 170, the Liberals – with 36 MPs at dissolution – would have to more than quadruple their seats next week.

A leap of that magnitude may turn out not to be in the cards, but Trudeau is – at campaign’s end – better positioned than Stephen Harper to craft a viable minority government.

The poll numbers tell only part of the story.

With just five days to go in the campaign, it is easier to project a Conservative defeat than a majority victory.

Three polls this week pegged Harper’s party more than 10 points behind the Liberals in Ontario and trailing by five to seven points nationally.

With those numbers, the Conservatives would need most three-way local battles to break their way to eke out a narrow minority win on Monday.

And that victory could amount to little more than a pit stop en route to the opposition benches, or to another election.

Citing irreconcilable policy differences with the Conservatives, the other parties have all pre-emptively warned they would bring down a Harper-led minority government at the first opportunity.

In short, such a government would be dead on arrival in the House of Commons.

By comparison, a Liberal minority government would not have to look all that hard to find enough opposition support to survive and to implement most of its platform.

Yes, there is plenty of animosity between the Liberals and their rivals – in particular the NDP – but as Harper himself demonstrated twice, reciprocal affection is not a precondition to a stable parliamentary

Having foreclosed the option of keeping Harper in power, the NDP would have little alternative but to do what it takes to make the Liberal alternative work.

In most instances, that would involve the New Democrats putting water into their wine or, in this case, putting wine in the water of their cautious platform.

The two parties disagree on fiscal policy.

Mulcair spent the campaign preaching the need to balance the federal budget each and every year of the next mandate. Trudeau is planning to run deficits for three years.

But would many New Democrat voters truly want their party to bring down a Liberal government for running deficits and spending more on Canada’s social and physical infrastructures?

And what of Trudeau’s plan to cut off the federal child benefits of high-income families to redistribute the money to the less wealthy ones? Would the NDP really hold a parliamentary knife to the throat of a
minority government in the name of the more well-off Canadians?

The line in the NDP/Liberal sand rarely gets deeper than on the issue of C-51, the Conservatives’ controversial anti-terrorism legislation. Mulcair has vouched to scrap it while Trudeau – whose party voted for its adoption – has promised to improve it.

It is unlikely that a minority Liberal government would stake its survival on getting its amendments to C-51 through Parliament.

But would the NDP oppose corrective amendments such as the introduction of parliamentary oversight of Canada’s security services if the alternative was to leave unchanged the law passed under the Conservatives?

Mulcair has made it clear that no amount of Senate reform can reconcile his party with the continued existence of the institution.

Fair enough, but Trudeau does not need the support of another party to set up an arm’s-length process to select the future members of the upper house.

The way a prime minister goes about getting advice for Senate appointments is left to his discretion.

If he were prime minister, Mulcair would scrap the just-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trudeau has kept his options open subject to the fine print of the deal.

But a Liberal minority government would not need the NDP to ratify the TPP, for it could count on Conservative support to do so.

Finding enough common ground to defeat a minority Liberal government would not come easily to the New Democrats and the Conservatives, or at least not for a while.

Copyright 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services

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