Will the spirit of collaboration take hold in this Parliament?

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Full disclaimer. I love this time of year. Christmas is coming. People are in a social mood, the drinks are flowing and there’s a general, and enjoyable, uptick in the feeling of goodwill that people have for one another.

It’s even like that on Parliament Hill. Behind the scenes, there are a ton of holiday get-togethers and MPs greet each other jovially in the halls of Parliament, sending best wishes to one other’s families (I’m not kidding, I’ve witnessed it). 

Normally though, the goodwill has dissipated by the time MPs return to Ottawa in January and the session begins in earnest. Will this time be different? 

The rhetoric certainly indicates it could be. Just listen to what party leaders said following the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Their speeches were replete with references to the C-word: COLLABORATION. Over and over, Canadians heard their political leaders promise to have received the message they were sent in the election: Voters want them to work together for the betterment of our country. 

Lest you think I’m Pollyanna — I do have a few doubts about whether that will happen. First, there are the personalities involved. Remember the campaign? Dude, it was bitter. It’s hard to cast that aside and I’m not sure anyone feels inclined to. Especially in the case of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. 

Governor General Julie Payette delivers the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber, Thursday December 5, 2019 in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

I remember interviewing the prime minister a few years ago, about six months after Scheer became leader of the Tories. My final question in the interview was to ask him — in the holiday spirit — what are Scheer’s best qualities. You would have thought I asked him how it feels to have an appendix removed with a rusty spoon. After a spell, Trudeau said: “he’s a nice enough guy” and quickly changed the subject. 

Scheer’s not exactly gushing about his love for Trudeau either. Think back to his opening salvo in the English-language debate, when the Conservative leader called the prime minister a phoney and a fraud. That kind of language really makes you believe in his willingness to collaborate: #amiright?

There’s more evidence the holiday spirit might not take hold too fervently. Just a few short hours after the post-Speaker speeches were delivered, the big one happened; the speech from the throne. Right after, both Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh came out swinging, with Scheer saying he was disappointed and Singh saying the speech was full of empty promises. They both had genuine reasons for dismay, but all that post-speaker talk of getting along appeared to have evaporated with the three taps of the Usher’s Black Rod.

Take the speech itself. Sure, it threw the opposition a few bones on parental leave, tax benefits and money laundering, but the majority of the areas singled out by the government as having potential for collaboration were focused on policy areas that help ensure the Liberals a path to re-election. The Liberals, it seems, can collaborate on ideas with the opposition on areas of policy aimed at voters the Liberals want to win back — primarily in Ontario and Quebec. 

And that’s their right —  but it’s also a clear, and not unexpected, signal that we shouldn’t expect some sort of altruistic discarding of partisanship, on anybody’s part. 

In the end, collaboration will probably come through on policies that can produce benefits for more than one political party. Action on climate change, tax cuts, and health care are some examples that come to mind. 

That’s what happened in the past, and as a result, minority governments did some productive stuff. This country’s 12 previous minority Parliaments introduced universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, the Canadian flag, and legalized gay marriage.

I’m excited to see what this Parliament does — and how collaborative it may, or may not, be. We’ll get our first look this week, when MPs take their seats in the House of Commons. 

This is just one part of the Minority Report newsletter. In this week’s issue, Éric Grenier looks at what happens to the minority math if parties abstain from voting on key bills. Plus, the Power Panel gives its advice on what the parties should be doing in the week ahead, and we profile new Liberal MP Lenore Zann. To read all of that and more sign up for the newsletter here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox every Sunday.

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