A Christmas present for Canadians

With Christmas and the New Year traditionally associated with goodwill, the leadup to the season was a timely moment for the new parliament to get down to work.  Not only does the holiday help quell any hard feelings that linger from the election, but it offers Members an opportunity to reflect on those things that bring us together.  The truth is, there are more commonalities than differences between the people that represent us in parliament.

The fact that we are working in a minority situation bodes well for efforts to make the workings of the House less partisan and more functional.  With no clear majority, the government is forced to work with partners to pass legislation.  Although the scenario can be seen unstable and we will hear about the government potentially falling numerous times in the months and years to come, there is no reason to suspect that will happen any time soon.

The reality is that most of those stories are largely overblown and made for sensational news stories more than anything else.  Although there are some significant differences on important issues, there is more overlap amongst the parties on some very important issues as well.  That means government should find willing partners among the opposition parties when they move to address climate change, affordability, the economy, health care, and many more issues that were championed by two or more political parties in the election.

That should bode well for Canadians.  Of course, there will be disagreements over how to best approach any issue, but the government will have to bend to the wishes of at least one partner to move any item forward.  This could result in better legislation that considers a wider spectrum of concerns as it is developed, debated, and implemented.

One of the most difficult things for a minority government to pass is a budget.  This is where case-by-case support is tested since budgets are larger plans that can contain items which may conflict with a supportive partner’s policies.  The fix may lie in unpacking that legislation into numerous bills instead of employing the omnibus model that has become par for the course under recent governments.  Opposition parties have been calling out governments for cramming too many non-budgetary items into the omnibus budgets already.  Doing so would open the potential to pass budgets quicker and to approach more contentious items as stand-alone bills that may not be considered confidence votes.  It would help alleviate some of the election anticipation that accompanies budgets in minority situations.

The good news is that minority governments have delivered for Canadians on some significant items that we now consider part of the makeup of the country.  Items like universal coverage of hospitalization and Medicare, the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans, the Canada Assistance Plan, the Canada Student Loans program, official bilingualism, the 40-hour work week, tax credits for political donations and disclosure of donations over $100, your right to information (Freedom of Information Act), the gas tax transfer, legalization of same-sex marriage, and the Residential School Apology were all products of a minority parliament.

With all this in mind it is worth considering that Canadians gave themselves an early Christmas present when they didn’t elect a majority government.  Minorities have consistently performed in a way that delivers results.  In the 2015 election Canadians were promised they were going to be given electoral reform.  The committee recommendation was for proportional representation which is supposed to deliver decisions based in consensus.  Although we don’t have a parliament based on proportional representation, we do have one that will have to seek consensus for big decisions.  That is as close as we can get with the system we operate under.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope your holidays are filled with warmth and joy.

Carol Hughes