Don Moors, President and Joshua Matthewman, Director, Temple Scott Associates
The Top Line
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the most seats in yesterday’s federal election and will now form a second consecutive minority government.
The Liberals chose to dissolve the previous minority parliament and go to the polls early under the assumption strong public approval numbers that the Party enjoyed during most of the COVID-19 pandemic would translate into a majority.
Instead, voters returned the Liberals to power in a Parliament that looks virtually identical to the previous one. As of the publication of this note, the following are the Party standings in the House of Commons (based on candidates leading or elected):
- Liberals 158 (+1)
- Conservatives 119 (-2)
- Bloc Quebecois 34 (+2)
- NDP 25 (+1)
- Greens 2 (-1)
In some ridings, the counting of special ballots and outstanding election day ballots could yet shift the results, but the broad parameters of the new Parliament will not change.
With a strong plurality of seats, the Liberals once again have the luxury of drawing on either the Conservative, Bloc or NDP for support to maintain the confidence of the House, meaning they are not beholden to one Opposition partner. However, with the electorate sending a clear status quo message and many voters still questioning the need for this election, the Liberals will be the ones under pressure in the early days to make this Parliament work, meaning no party is going to feel the need to grant the Liberals carte blanche.
The commitments from the last Budget, combined with the election platform, mean the Trudeau government will have a significant policy and legislative agenda to get through in the first 12-18 months of its mandate. The final 12 months of the last Parliament saw the Opposition effectively use Parliamentary Committees and motions to delay the Liberal legislative and government agenda as the Prime Minister’s Office was forced to focus its efforts on managing Committee hearings on troublesome issues such as the WE Scandal and the firing of the two scientists at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. The whole purpose of the election was to gain a majority in order to avoid having to deal with these “distractions.” Now faced with another minority, for the Government to make progress on its ambitious agenda it will have to come up with a more effective approach to dealing with the Opposition parties that ensures some Parliamentary stability.
The Liberals are likely to find the most common ground with the NDP on the issues of climate change, child care, affordable housing and greater regulation in federally-regulated sectors such as telecommunications and banking. Look for the Liberals to find a way to secure NDP cooperation in Parliament, though not through a formal coalition.
The likely agenda for the government will also be heavily informed by the many consultations the Liberals embarked upon prior to the election, and by the policy and spending plans outlined in the 2021 budget. While the Liberals hoped to have a majority to execute on those priorities, the minority government can still be expected to return to those issues to form the core of its coming legislative agenda. Key issues that the Government is likely to tackle through the end of the year and into the 2022 budget cycle are climate change, child care, the implementation of a higher corporate tax rate on banks and insurance companies that earn over $1 billion annually, and a decision on how and when to wind down COVID-19 economic relief programs.
While last night’s results look remarkably similar to those from the 2019 election, if the Liberals want to make any progress on their agenda, they will have to take a much different approach to Parliament than they took for the past two years.
A Deeper Dive
Last night’s results held positives and negatives for all parties.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau managed to secure another minority mandate, despite a lackluster start to the campaign that threatened his grip on power. With a status quo result, the question that dogged the Prime Minister throughout the campaign of why he called what many saw as a needless election will remain a significant issue for many Canadians – and even some Liberal supporters. The Prime Minister’s brand was bruised and the Liberal challenge will be to find a way to put questions about his motives in the rearview mirror by driving an activist agenda while navigating another minority Parliament.
Once again, the Conservative Party won a larger share of the popular vote than the Liberals, and the gap is larger than in 2019. Erin O’Toole was widely credited with running an excellent campaign for the first three weeks, but once again the Party was unable to expand support enough beyond traditional bastions. While O’Toole ran a centrist campaign, many in his caucus will be to the right of his platform. As a result, the future of O’Toole’s leadership is likely the biggest “morning after” question of the campaign, even though he has said he will remain Leader. Much as they did throughout the last Parliament, the Conservatives are likely to push ethics, fiscal responsibility and natural resource development to the forefront as they seek to keep the Liberals and their minority partners on the defensive.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh once again had a strong campaign, but his party made only a marginal gain in seats. His continued strength will come from strong public approval numbers and the reality that it is the parties on the left that the Liberals will have to court for support in Parliament. With that said, questions will inevitably be asked as to whether he can translate personal popularity into more seats Parliament. For example, as of the writing of this note the NDP appear to have been shut out in the GTA once again under Mr. Singh.
It is quite likely that questions about Bill 21 in the English language debate rescued the Bloc campaign and with it ended any faint possibility of a Liberal majority. The Bloc gained two seats and throughout the campaign said it will work with any party that protects Quebec’s interests. Ergo, the Bloc can be strategic partners for the Liberals where their priorities align, such as on the Broadcast Act reforms that failed to pass in the last Parliament. The Liberals may also seek Bloc support for closure motions on legislation that is being delayed by the Conservatives, which was a significant problem during the final six months of the last Parliament.
Finally, by any measure Green Party Leader Annamie Paul had a tough night, finishing fourth in her riding of Toronto Centre. The Greens saw their share of the national vote go from 6.5% in 2019 to 2.3% yesterday, and lost the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith and failed to regain Fredericton (which they won in 2019). However, the Greens won their first-ever federal seat in Ontario, picking up Kitchener Centre. Looking ahead, Paul’s very public fight with elements within her own Party and her fourth-place finish in Toronto Centre, a leadership race is a virtual certainty.
Impact on Advocacy
Another minority government will require continued focus on relationship-building with both the Government and Opposition Parties in order to advance advocacy efforts. That is especially true given that minorities rarely last the full four years – meaning that the Government and Opposition Parties will once again not be focused on long-term issues. With the continued Bloc contingent in Parliament, consideration of how an issue impacts or is viewed in Quebec will also need to be considered in all advocacy efforts in this Parliament. In addition, House Committees will continue to significantly impact legislation and policy direction for the Government given their Opposition majority.
While the election was fought in the context of a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the coming Parliament is likely to focus less on COVID issues given the high vaccination rate in Canada and the widely-perceived need to wind down some COVID-related spending. However, expect that “a return to normal” – in-person meetings and flexibility by the Government to address a wide range of non-COVID issues – will be slow to return in Ottawa. Additionally, the Government will view securing COVID booster shots for Canadians and growing Canada’s vaccine manufacturing capacity as key near-term priorities.
The immediate test for Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party will be to form a new Cabinet. With a number of 2021 budget commitments still unfulfilled as well as a seemingly endless number of Government consultations launched in the late-summer, look for the Cabinet to be appointed in the next few weeks and the non-legislative priorities of the Government to resume relatively quickly. While it is unclear what changes will be made to the Cabinet, they will need to address the defeat of three Ministers: Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef, and Seniors Minister Deb Schulte. Another vacancy was created with Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna not running again. We expect the Prime Minister to continue with a gender balanced cabinet.
New mandate letters may take longer to craft. For example, in 2019 it was approximately eight weeks between election day and the release of mandate letters. We also expect to see a number of changes in Ministerial offices as some staff had planned to leave at the end of the mandate.
Given the volatility of the final months of the last Parliament, we expect it to be slightly delayed in its return. Look for Parliament to be reconvened for a Throne Speech in November and possibly a Fall Economic Update. However, without some form of agreement on how to approach Parliament with one of the Opposition Parties, it is likely that Parliament will not be fully functioning until the New Year (i.e. Committees established and a return to daily business).
Finally, the other short-term priority for the Government will be to prepare for a strong presence at COP26 in early November.
The Bottom Line
Because of the precarious nature of minority governments, it will be important to move quickly in advocacy efforts with elected officials and the public service. History shows that minority governments typically last no more than 24 months. There are many pieces of unfinished business left from the last mandate as well as an ambitious election platform for the Government to implement. Practically, it will be impossible for the Government to deliver on all its policy and legislative priorities. Stakeholders that move quickly and that successfully build linkages with Opposition Parties will have the greatest chance of seeing their priorities addressed.
Key Seat Gains
- Markham—Unionville (Paul Chiang)
- Calgary Skyview (George Chahal)
- Cloverdale-Langley City (John Aldag)
- Richmond Centre (Wilson Miao)
- South Shore—St. Margarets (Rick Perkins)
- Peterborough—Kawartha (Michelle Ferreri)
- Bay of Quinte (Ryan Williams)
- King—Vaughan (Anna Roberts)
- Nanaimo—Ladysmith (Lisa Marie Barron)
- Port Moody—Coquitlam (Bonita Zarrillo)
- Chateauguay—Lacolle (Patrick O’Hara)
- Kitchener Centre (Mike Morrice)