Political déjà vu or not, Canada’s minority 44th Parliament could achieve real change

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Members of Parliament returned to the House of Commons this week as they left to contest elections two months ago. The Liberals and NDP held a few seats, the Conservatives lost a couple, and the Block and Greens held theirs.

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In the Green Chamber, it’s déj vu again.

This prompted many observers to question the point of the entire campaign. Since not much has changed, this “Groundhog Day” election seems like a waste of money and effort. I disagree. By electing parliament almost exactly as it replaced it, Canadians actually sent a strong message: not only about what they wanted the government to do, but also about how to do it.

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After 18 months of the pandemic, amid glimmer of hope it might soon end, Canadians were faced with a historic choice. Should the country now return to some pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’? Or has the pandemic changed what we expect from our governments more permanently?

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Even before the ballots were counted, it was clear that the latter option reflects a strong plurality of Canadian opinion. Even Conservative leader Erin O’Toole felt Canadians wanted more from government in the future, not less, so they set up a massive spending platform with deficits roughly matching Justin Trudeau’s liberals. prepared. Parties with an even more ambitious vision of post-pandemic reconstruction won the majority of the vote.

So the message to voters is very clear: the government must do more, not less, to keep Canadians safe and secure, even after the pandemic has passed (hopefully soon). Furthermore, by returning another minority, Canadians hope that their leaders will implement this vision in a collaborative and efficient manner – without common currency and ultimatums.

In the present moment and 1960s Lester B. There is a striking analogy between the successive liberal minority governments led by Pearson. Now universally regarded as one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers, Pearson was elected in 1963 with 128 (less than a majority) of the then-265 seats. He promised several major new programmes, but progress was slowed by minority stalemates.

Eventually, Pearson called another election, gambling on the majority. He ran on an even more ambitious stage, but still fell short of the majority.

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So Pearson rolled up his sleeves and got down to business. Tommy Douglas – whose NDP also won more seats – prompted Pearson to move further and faster. It is no exaggeration to say that the second Pearson minority had an epic influence on our country.

The shining achievements were Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. But there were many others: the Guaranteed Income Supplement, student loans, the Canada Aid Scheme, and more. That time is now regarded as the “Golden Age” of Canada’s nation-building.

Can the next parliament emulate that expansive, costly vision? Of course, the world is much different than it was in Pearson’s time. But both the need for visionary policy innovation and the potential to make it happen are undeniable.

The seemingly stagnant results of this latest election confirm that Canadians want to see powerful measures that improve their lives – not just during COVID, but after. And he clearly rejected the traditional political infatuation with a balanced budget that stifled previous initiatives. Those are historic decisions, even though there is hardly any change in the number of seats.

There are several initiatives on the agenda of this parliament that could constitute a historic shift in economic and social policy, not unlike Pearson’s second minority 44 years ago.

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child care

The new national program will certainly go ahead, and the pressure to sign off on the final holdout provinces will be irresistible.

employment Insurance

Each of the major parties advocated reforming the EI. The pandemic reminded Canadians that reliable income security is not a “handout,” it is a necessity.

Labor Law

A new $15 minimum wage takes effect at the end of the year in federally regulated industries. And there are other ways this government – ​​as Pearson did with its first National Labor Code – can take advantage of better labor standards.

Accommodation

Housing was a top priority for voters in this campaign, and all parties talked about it. Big initiatives to expand affordable supplies can win support across the room.

Real progress in these and other areas may enter this Parliament in the history books as a moment that made the most of a challenging moment. But turning these grand visions into tangible progress will require a more collaborative, less partisan approach. Neither party wants another election soon. So it’s time to stop playing chicken and get the job done.

Some even propose a formal coalition to eliminate the threat of another election, and force leaders to focus on implementing what Canada voted for. But even without formal agreement, there is enormous political and economic room for this parliament to significantly improve the lives of Canadians.

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Let’s hope MPs get to work quickly and do so.

Jim Stanford is an economist and director of the Center for Future Work based in Vancouver.

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