Last Week in Canada, Our Minority Parliament Worked the Way It Is Supposed To

Now that the second COVID-19 lockdown has taken effect here in Montreal and people are upset with the Legault Government for its seemingly haphazard approach (no gatherings but schools are still open), I think it’s a good time to take a trip back to last week. Way back when our Federal politicians were responding to the pandemic by doing exactly what a Minority Parliament should do — or at least some of them were.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh not only knows how to do his job effectively, he excels at it. He currently has the job of both opposition leader in a Minority Parliament and the head of a party that, at its core, looks out for the average working-class Canadian.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberal Party delivered their Throne Speech, complete with tons of unnecessary pomp and circumstance. I’m talking about a five minute minivan ride from the Senate Building to the House of Commons and back to pick up the MPs who had already agreed to attend, all carried on live TV.

The speech itself was full of platitudes and vague promises. That didn’t stop the Conservative Party, our Official Opposition, from saying that they would vote against it because there was nothing specifically for the West. The Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, indicated that they would vote against it unless there were extra transfers to the provinces (to Quebec, really) without conditions on how the money was to be spent, so a no-go.

Since the Liberals are a Minority Government and the Throne Speech is one of those things that needs to pass if they are to hold power, all eyes shifted to the NDP. Singh’s New Democrats are the only remaining party that holds enough seats to avoid a fall election by voting with the Libs in favour of the speech.

Turning Words Into Action

In his press conference following the speech, Singh said that the Throne Speech was just “words on paper” with no real-world effect. He made it clear that if the Libs wanted the NDP to vote Yea on it, they needed to turn some of that flowery language into legislation before the vote.

In particular, Singh outlined that the NDP wanted two things:

  1. When the government transitions the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB), they won’t claw back $400 a month and turn $2000 a month into $400 a week every two weeks. The bi-weekly approach is fine for the NDP, but they want it kept at $500 a week.
  2. Federal paid sick leave for Canadian workers.

This set off a predictable series of questions from reporters trying to get Singh to make a firm commitment on the Throne Speech vote, casting what he was asking for as amendments. Singh held his ground and even corrected one journalist who erroneously claimed that no other legislation was possible before the Throne Speech vote.

Turns out Singh was right. Bill C-2 is currently being tabled in Parliament with the changes the NDP asked for.

This legislation dealing with the transition from CERB to CRB will no longer cut $400 a month from benefits. Singh announced this negotiation victory in a Facebook post last Thursday:

Justin Trudeau and the Liberals wanted to cut help for people unable to work because of COVID-19 by 400$ a month.We…

Posted by Jagmeet Singh on Thursday, September 24, 2020

Then, last Friday evening, we got word that C-2 would also include a massive extension of access to paid sick leave. And with that, news that the NDP would vote for the Throne Speech, provided, of course, C-2, when tabled, includes the negotiated changes, which it does.

That, my friends, is how you do it. You don’t focus on electoral politics or that weird little cult the PM was part of (We Charity), you recognize that a political opponent needs your support to survive and you use this as an opportunity to get some concrete policy that will actually help people enacted in exchange for it.

This isn’t a time for political glory, but rather one of policy success. Sure, it’s Justin Trudeau who will be proverbially signing the cheques, but everyone knows Jagmeet Singh raised the amount on them.

You don’t ask for the moon, either. Instead, ask for a couple of things that are major, but that you also have a real chance of getting.

As for the Liberals, this was a real no-brainer. On one hand, they could accept a couple of changes that would only endear them to the left and the recipients of the benefits while, at the same time, not lose any corporate donors because they “had to do it” to get the NDP on board. On the other hand, they avoid an election during a pandemic that they very well may be blamed for.

Minority Parliament FTW

Minority Parliaments in recent years (recent decades, to be honest) have been treated by the public, the media and the Members of Parliament themselves as placeholder governments. The party in power just wants to turn it into a Majority, while the opposition parties are looking for the right moment to bring the government down without being tagged with it going into a new election.

That’s unfortunate, considering what Minority Parliaments have achieved in the past. In 1966, for example, a Minority Parliament passed our first National Universal Healthcare law.

That was also a Liberal Minority Government being supported/propped up and pushed further left by a strong NDP.

Who knows what we’ll get if the Trudeau-Singh show keeps going? Some are even speculating Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Sure, UBI may be a pipe dream, but we currently have the right plumbers for it. Even if it doesn’t happen, though, our current Minority Parliament may achieve more than any Liberal or Conservative Majority has in the past half-century.

At the very least, though, we can be happy that, for the first time in a long time, a Minority Parliament is behaving the way it should.

Featured image by Makaristos via Wikimedia Commons

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