Disappointed but not surprised: Liberals to go at it alone in minority territory

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

Just this past week, the Liberals announced that they would not be seeking to form a coalition, formal or informal, with any other party in the House of Commons, following their election to a minority government on October 21.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

I’m disappointed because I expected that the Liberals would be able to read the writing on the wall. They got one million fewer votes than they did in 2015, losing the popular vote to the Conservatives by over 200,000. Their share of the popular vote, 33 per cent, is the lowest share of the vote any winning party has ever gotten in Canadian history. While they made a few seat gains here and there, they lost 29 seats that they previously held, including every single seat they had in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. Given these results, it’s safe to say that their win was less than decisive and that the Canadian electorate is divided, maybe more so than it has ever been before.

Despite all of that, I’m not surprised by their announcement to go at it alone, because that’s how they have governed the past four years.

Prior to the election, I figured that the early coalition talks between the Liberals and NDP were a bit exaggerated. Talking coalition before election day should never be taken too seriously because at the end of the day, it comes down to the seat count. The Liberals or Conservatives won’t talk coalition unless they absolutely have to and this recent instance is a perfect example of that.

The Liberals seat count, at 157, is only 13 short of a majority. They had been projected to get only 130-145, but this final result really played into their hands. This strong minority ultimately means that they don’t have to cooperate with the NDP or the Bloc in any substantial way, such as in a coalition. This is because it’s far simpler to get 13 members to agree issue to issue than to give in to multiple goals of any individual party. It also helps that both parties are likely broke, which should motivate them to support the Liberals without them having to offer much in terms of compromise, avoiding another election for a long time.

But this emphasis on seat math and party finances really misses one major element of our government: our democracy. The division within the country and the message sent by 66 per cent of voters should not fall on deaf ears. Trudeau should’ve taken this opportunity to actually do politics differently, something he promised to do when he was first elected four years ago. Instead, he stole a move right from the Conservative playbook.

Creating a broad based progressive coalition could have turned Canadian politics on its head. There’s far more agreement between the Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc platforms than distinction in terms of policy positions. If Trudeau had chosen to recognize that and attempt to represent all progressive voters by working cooperatively on Parliament Hill, not out of necessity but out of smart political strategy, then I would have been more optimistic about this upcoming Parliament.

Instead, given the announcement that the Liberals are pursuing further tax cuts and building the Trans Mountain pipeline first and foremost, it’s clear that they are falling for traditional political strategy and attempting to pivot back towards the right, a move so cynical and tired it seemed too predictable to actually happen and yet, here we are.

However, is it fair to entirely abandon all hope so early into this second “mandate”? Absolutely not, especially in a minority scenario. Things are likely to be as unpredictable as ever, with all the poll positioning, manic fundraising and backroom deals between parties you may have come to expect from minority governments.

What is fair to assume however is that their decision to abandon the progressive voters that got them elected in 2015 and tried to send a message of warning this time around, will likely spell a poor political future for the Trudeau Liberals.

This doesn’t mean that a conservative pivot for this government will do them any favours on the right however, where Trudeau is easily nearing Kathleen Wynne levels of unlikeability. That’s why the move to the right, one so tired in Canadian politics it hurts, seems so ill informed to me. There’s no votes for the Liberals with right leaning voters, at least not under their current leader.

The whole situation leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Trudeau had the opportunity to learn from this election result and work for the voters instead of just for himself and his party. Instead he’s falling on an old Liberal favourite that’s likely going to do little but hurt them electorally the next time around. So what is the angle here?

My immediate thought is to please the donors, as it’s a lot easier to promise pharmacare for the millionth time then to actually follow through on it, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. I think Trudeau and his team are wed to a bygone political era, one where voters were less aware of what was going on at Parliament Hill and were easier to take advantage of. This era has been dying since the late 2000’s financial crisis and the coffin was finally shut with the election of Donald Trump. Trudeau is one of only a few of the survivors in the political world. My fear for the Liberals is that they likely won’t make this same realization until it’s too late.

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