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Collective Wisdom of the Canadian Electorate

In a Parliament of 338 seats, the progressive parties (Liberals, NDP and Green), whose platforms have a great deal in common, have 183 seats and about 55% of the vote. These numbers do not include the Bloc Quebecois, which on many issues could also be viewed as progressive and has 32 seats and another 8.4% of the popular vote.

It was unrealistic to expect the Liberals to retain their majority. This was a turbulent term renegotiating NAFTA with a very destabilizing government in the US, a legal quagmire over the SNC affair that eroded trust, not to mention some personal costuming missteps.

A loss of 29 seats is a testament to Canadians’ continued hope that Justin Trudeau will live up to their hopes for him. At the same time, voters have hedged their bets by putting Jagmeet Singh in a position to negotiate for his key platform promises. Singh exceeded expectations in the campaign, proving himself likeable and cool under pressure. His bargaining strength will be constrained by the NDP’s lack of financial capacity for an early election.

Our new government is likely to consist of some sort of cooperative arrangement between Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh, leaders who have a great deal in common in core values and in platform. Past minority governments like this have led to universal healthcare, pension plans, paid vacation and the 40-hour workweek: all things many Canadians resisted at first, but now few would want to overturn. The issue of our time is climate change, and we have elected a majority of MPs who are well-aligned on the importance of taking major and rapid steps for Canada to do our part in addressing it.

All is not rosy, however. The rejection of the Liberal party in much of the West, and in particular in Alberta, continues a division in the country that the previous election had offered glimmers of hope might heal. That this happened in spite of Justin Trudeau’s decision to purchase and push through the Trans Mountain Pipeline, against much of his base’s wishes, and in the face of a lacklustre Conservative campaign, means the rift has deepened.

Trudeau has promised to continue to govern for all Canadians, but he is clearly a long way from regaining the trust of the West. In my view, this is in part because of the contradictions inherent in the Paris climate accord for Canada. (See: This is not in Trudeau’s control to fix perhaps, but he could make some points with the West by advocating in their interests (which are ours too), and he could do so without being in contradiction with his environmental goals. In this, it will be essential that he resist the NDP pressure to hobble the energy sector. The world still wants our oil. We must continue to balance the goal of reducing fossil fuel usage worldwide with the business objective of gaining as much as possible of the hopefully quickly shrinking market. Just because two facts seem to contradict each other does not make them any the less true.

Another concern is of course the resurgence of the Bloc. It does seem that the more the Federal government seeks to impose a national vision on our country, the more fractious Provincial-Federal relations become. Harper’s more laissez-faire approach probably contributed to greater harmony on this front.

The driver this time seems to be the different view that Quebecers have on how to maintain secular society in the face of visible signs of faith-based multiculturalism. Whereas most of the rest of the country has opted to tolerate open religious expression, Quebec wants to keep it in the private sphere and has banned religious garb in public service roles. In this, they follow the French, who as long ago as 1918 banned the visible wearing of the crucifix in schools and government buildings, as a way of reinforcing the separation of church and state.

Quebecers’ silent revolution in the sixties and seventies was a wrenching event, throwing off the pervasive influence of the Catholic church. Their response to the increased presence of visible signs of religion in public institutions is understandable in this context. For some Quebecers there may be a nativist element as well, but not for all who support it. This is a difficult issue for the Federal government, and it seems likely that the Bloc’s resurgence is in part due to Quebecers wanting to send a message of support for this approach to the Federal government.

Quebec’s sense of itself as a distinct society, and Western alienation, are nevertheless longstanding elements of the Canadian condition that ebb and flow with events. They are only two of the reasons for the Liberal minority this time.

These concerns aside, Canadians have given voice to their tolerance and their broadly progressive values in this election, while trimming Trudeau’s sails and rewarding a new face on the political scene with considerable influence.

If Canadians had wanted to test Justin Trudeau’s ability to manage a complex Parliament, with the ability to withdraw their support as close as a vote of no confidence, they could not have structured this government better for the purpose. Trudeau is continually underestimated. Among those who know him, even his critics recognize there is more to him than appears on the surface. He may well rise to this challenge.

Part of this will be seen in the makeup of Cabinet, and that brings us to Oakville. Pam Damoff was returned to Parliament despite the challenge of a strong Conservative candidate in Sean Weir, but the big news is the victory of Anita Anand, who came on the scene when John Oliver chose to step down for personal reasons. She is eminently qualified for a significant role in Cabinet, and she is tireless. I have witnessed many campaigns over the years, and many very hard working, relentless canvassers knocking on doors, but Anita takes the cake. She has earned her seat the old-fashioned way and sooner or later I am sure the Prime Minister will have to give her a seat at the Cabinet table.

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