Politics·Analysis

For the opposition, a dilemma: work with Trudeau, or cut him down early?

Opposition leaders meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week issued some dire warnings about policy red lines and national unity. Much of that was mere posturing, and at least two of the leaders should see opportunities in this new minority government.

Singh and Blanchet can use the minority to get things done. Scheer may not have that option.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The unsatisfying federal election campaign of 2019 didn't really end on October 21.

Instead, it has splintered into a half-dozen smaller campaigns — a tangle of pursuits that, individually and collectively, will define Canadian politics for the next while.

Andrew Scheer is campaigning for his own leadership as his party tries to figure out what it should be. The Bloc Québécois and the NDP are trying to re-establish themselves as a relevant political forces. The Greens are in search of a new leader. In the midst of a climate emergency, the West is looking for someone to acknowledge its frustrations.

Meanwhile, the guy who actually "won" the election needs to prove himself again.

In the second full week of November, all of these little campaigns are crossing paths in Justin Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill.

Today, it's Jagmeet Singh's turn to visit — and he will arrive having issued something vaguely resembling a public threat. "We are absolutely open to voting against the throne speech if it doesn't include some of the priorities we know Canadians need," Singh told reporters Wednesday.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tells reporters he is willing to vote against the throne speech if it doesn't address issues, he says Canadians need and want, like pharmacare and dental care. 0:49

Cue the posturing

For however long this Parliament lasts, there will be no small amount of posturing and intrigue. It almost always will come to nothing. Until it doesn't.

There are no doubt various issues on which Singh and Trudeau will never agree. But there are any number of fronts on which they might find common cause, and multiple reasons for both leaders to want to.

Over the course of a few weeks in October, the NDP pulled itself back from the brink — but only barely. And having gone into the campaign with anemic fundraising numbers, it's hard to imagine the party has the financial resources necessary to mount another campaign any time soon.

The New Democrats likely would benefit right now from some time spent looking important and influential in Ottawa, even if they also have to worry about the Liberals co-opting too much of their policies and appeals.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says that he is not the best person to advise western Premiers about separation because he is not in favour of them trying to create an oil state in western Canada. 0:56

The same could be said (more or less) of the Bloc, whose leader, Yves-François Blanchet, visited Trudeau on Wednesday. The BQ just pulled off a successful election campaign while scarcely mentioning its sovereignist raison d'etre. It's hard to imagine the Bloc's political opponents allowing that to happen in the next election.

Trudeau can't necessarily afford to be seen pushing around either party. But on issues like climate change and pharmacare, there should be significant room for agreement with them.

Scheer's got his own problems

At the very least, Trudeau should find more room for compromise with Singh and Blanchet than he'll ever find with Scheer — whose brief sit-down with the PM on Tuesday morning seemed to underline just how little time they will have for each other.

Granted, Scheer probably can't afford to spend too much time worrying about Trudeau right now. First and foremost, the Conservative leader has to worry about keeping his job. And he'll have to keep worrying until April, when members of the Conservative Party will be asked to vote on his leadership.

Those members aren't likely to want to see Scheer agree with Trudeau on much of anything.

Scheer might not want to look completely obstinate. If the U.S. Congress agrees on a rewritten NAFTA this fall, for instance, the Conservatives presumably will line up to pass the implementing legislation.

But otherwise, Scheer probably will be happy to continue railing against Trudeau over any number of purported failures and misdeeds. Even as he was sitting beside Trudeau for a pre-meeting photo op on Tuesday, Scheer was claiming that the country has never been more divided.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Premier of Saskatchewan Scott Moe in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

On that note: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also stopped by Trudeau's office on Tuesday afternoon. As Moe tells it, their chat did not go well — mostly because Trudeau wouldn't agree to change everything about himself and his government.

"Disappointingly, after this meeting here today, what I do see is we are going to see more of the same from this prime minister," Moe said.

The premier had wanted Trudeau to "pause" the federal carbon levy, rewrite the federal equalization formula and commit to supporting other potential pipeline projects. That's a lot, although it's at least less than what Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has demanded.

The prospects for progress

Both Moe and Kenney are attempting to ride a wave of anti-Trudeau sentiment and neither man likely imagined that Trudeau would quickly agree to their terms, if at all.

But they might also like to show, at some point, that they are capable of getting the Trudeau government to actually do things.

Trudeau also might want to show some ability to work with (or at least gesture toward) the aggrieved premiers of two restless provinces. So some kind of progress is not implausible.

The common denominator in all of these meetings is, of course, Trudeau.

A publicly reprimanded prime minister faced with a minority Parliament and grumpy provinces has good reason to be seen sitting down with the other party leaders and premiers.

That's not to say these meetings are all for show. Personal rapport and private conversations can count for something. Trudeau's current situation likely will require him to do more of these get-togethers.

Trudeau's position is both stronger than it might seem at first glance — and still fairly precarious. Maybe no one is particularly eager for another election, least of all the voters. But Trudeau needs time governing to rehabilitate his own image and rebuild support for his government.

Navigating the tangle left behind by this fall's election should provide ample opportunities to show leadership. But Trudeau cannot afford too many more pratfalls. And a minority Parliament always offers new ways for leaders to get tripped up.

About the Author

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.

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