Better is always possible. So is the status quo. Canadians woke up to a new parliament that looks a lot like the old one.
Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will head back to Ottawa with a minority government. Votes are still being counted in some tight races, but the seat count will be essentially the same as 2019, give or take one or two gains or losses for each major party.
However, the landscape has shifted: the Liberals won back some seats in the West and lost some key ministers in the East, the Tories failed to make gains, and the balance of power remains with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP.
The map looks a bit different, but Canadians rejected both wholesale change and sweeping new powers for the Trudeau team. The message voters sent was clear: get back to Ottawa and work together to get us out of the pandemic.
Here’s what else you need to know to make sense of the changes to the status quo:
Get Back to Work — Fast
The Liberals need to show they got the message and get down to it. In contrast to 2019, we can expect an accelerated timeline for the selection of Cabinet and the delivery of a Throne Speech.
Between the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP 26, coming up fast in November, there is real urgency to get a new Cabinet in place and parliament back to work.
The logistics require at least a few weeks to hammer out, so we can expect a new Cabinet at the earliest shortly after Thanksgiving with the Throne Speech to follow.
A Fourth Wave and the Fall Economic Statement
The fourth wave of the pandemic will require immediate fiscal action, which means a Fall Economic Statement and accompanying legislation sooner than later.
This accelerated timeline will present a challenge to those looking to influence the agenda. Now is the moment to present the renewed minority government with smart policies and wins they can implement fast to show they are working hard for Canadians.
New Throne Speech
The election wiped the legislative agenda clean. The Throne Speech is the government’s opportunity to offer its wish list for that agenda this fall. It also must serve to get at least one opposition party onboard.
The Liberals have some options to do so. Increased health care transfers could help get the Bloc. New taxes on the wealthy, a renewed push for pharmacare deals with the provinces, and/or measures to cool the housing market could gain needed support from the NDP.
The Throne Speech can be expected shortly after the new Cabinet is sworn in. It will be the first test of the new minority, but it’s unlikely to trigger another election. Canadians don’t want one, and the parties can’t afford one.
Fall Economic Statement
The Throne Speech will outline a sweeping vision, but a Fall Economic Statement (FES) will offer the fiscal path to implement it.
The FES requires more time to prepare than a Throne Speech. Why? Because it includes financial details and fiscal updates the government won’t have access to until the public service resumes normal duties. (A caretaker convention prevails during the writ and the early days of a minority government, under which ministries restrict their work to routine and non-controversial matters that don’t require new spending. The independent public service will resume normal functions once it’s clear who holds power).
The FES presents an opening to get issues on the agenda now for near-term implementation. Our team is ready to hit the ground running and influence the plans being made right now that will set government policy for the months ahead.
Liberal Caucus Changes: New Faces, Missing Members
The Liberals added some much-needed talent from Western Canada and a couple of seasoned former Ontario cabinet ministers. But they also lost four women Ministers. For a government committed to gender parity at the Cabinet table and in need of better regional representation, both factors will play into who visits Rideau Hall in the coming weeks.
There are also dozens of new MPs heading to Ottawa — 32 incumbents did not run again and at least a dozen seats flipped between parties, though votes are still being counted in some very close races. New members need to be briefed on issues that matter to their constituents, and some of them will end up in Cabinet.
In a minority parliament, committees also set and influence the agenda. They have the power to initiate studies, amend legislation, or stymie government policy.
In the last session, we saw opposition MPs use committees to request access to documents and call witnesses. Expect even more of that this session given the fractions exacerbated by the election. Once again, committees will be a place opposition members — and government relations practitioners — can advance political and policy agendas.
Committees have also demonstrated they will use their powers to bring discussions that formerly took place in private into public light. Parties and other external stakeholders will also use Access to Information (ATIP) to bring those same issues into public view. Successful advocacy will continue to require integrated communications plans.
Tax and Capture the Rich
The NDP spent the campaign arguing to tax the rich. The fact is the Liberals and then Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland spent months prior to the writ trying to do so. G7 leaders pledged earlier this year to work together to close international loopholes the wealthy and large corporations use to avoid paying taxes.
They promised to continue to advocate for these measures at the upcoming G20 in Italy in late October. Expect taxation to be an area the Liberals bend to progressive politics to keep the NDP onside, especially given they have already increased taxes on high-income earners and luxury goods such as sports cars and boats.
Preparations for COP26
Climate change loomed large over Canada this past summer, with droughts devastating crops in the prairies and smoke from B.C. wildfires reaching deep into Ontario.
COP26 is less than six weeks away. Trudeau is now among the elder statesmen of the world’s progressive-leaning leaders, and given his penchant for environmental issues and global glad-handing, expect this conference to figure prominently in the government’s priorities in its early weeks back in power.
Leaders and Their Parties
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s personal popularity will likely save him from any efforts to turf him, despite the fact he failed to make any significant gains. Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet is also safe.
However, Green party leader Annamie Paul failed again to win her own seat. The deep divides within the party, its massive loss in the popular vote, and its failure to run a full slate of candidates will likely result in her leaving the party sooner than later.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole used his concession speech on Monday to make a pitch to his membership to stay the course, despite the far-right People’s Party of Canada eating into their support and a disappointing election result. He faces a mandatory leadership review, a fight he is already preparing for. There are leadership hopefuls already swirling overhead, so expect internal divisions to distract the Official Opposition in the near-term.
As for Prime Minister Trudeau, don’t expect him to take any long walks in the snow this winter. While the election gambit did not return the desired majority, he did win his third mandate and the party does not look ready to drop the Trudeau brand.
Our team of advisors has extensive experience both working in and with minority governments. Two years ago, we offered six key insights into how minority parliaments work, including the role of committees, the newly independent Senate, and the caretaker convention that will continue until Prime Minister Trudeau demonstrates he has the confidence of the House. You can refresh your memory about the workings of minority parliaments here.
But 2021 is not 2019. The pandemic isn’t over, the urgency to address climate change is heightened, economic anxieties are real, social and racial equity have moved to the forefront of the discourse, and Canadians are more aware of the need for Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples than ever before. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) approach underscores our work, and our team is ready to help you navigate the weeks, months and years ahead as Canada’s 44th parliament gets underway.