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Canada’s minority government faces first test

By AFP - Dec 06,2019 - Last updated at Dec 06,2019

US President Donald Trump (left) talks with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the plenary session of the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, on Wednesday (AFP photo)

OTTAWA — A chastened Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reconvened parliament on Thursday to unveil his legislative agenda in the first test of his minority government.

After a nasty election fight in October and rejecting a formal coalition, the youthful premier must now rely on the support of opposition parties on a case-by-case basis to stay in power.

That starts with giving strength to his agenda, outlined in a throne speech on Thursday by Governor General Julie Payette.

“It will be a real test of his leadership,” Lori Williams, a politics professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told AFP.

Trudeau, she said, “is used to having a great deal of power and controlling things much more centrally”.

“There’s no question that he’ll need to be willing to make compromises with others and be conciliatory.”

Trudeau just returned from NATO talks where a hot mic gaffe revived his feud with US President Donald Trump.

Trump branded Trudeau “two-faced” after allied leaders were caught on video at a Buckingham Palace reception mocking the American president’s rambling press appearances.

The Canadian leader insisted it won’t complicate relations, including ratification of a continental trade deal with the United States and Mexico.

But opposition parties tarred Trudeau for “weakening” Canada abroad.

A feud with China is also weighing on him.

Ottawa must make a decision on allowing Chinese tech giant Huawei to supply its 5G networks.

At the same time, Trudeau is pushing for the release of two Canadian nationals detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou during a flight stopover in Vancouver on a US warrant.


Keep opponents close 


Since returning to Ottawa after a poor campaign performance Trudeau has kept a low profile, meeting privately with opposition leaders and stakeholders to try to find common ground.

It’s a change from his first term when the debonair statesman exploded onto the world stage in 2015 with a strong majority and a firm liberal voice as a counterbalance to the rising political right, declaring: “Canada is back!”

The laundry list of looming issues is also longer and more complex than four years ago — including a slowing economy and geographic political divisions.

There have been only 14 minority governments in Canadian history. The last one was in 2009.

Few have lasted more than two years, but they proved they can be productive, resulting in universal healthcare, a national pension plan, and the maple leaf flag.

Payette’s 30-minute address, according to a government source, will tout proposed middle-class tax cuts, climate actions, continuing reconciliation with indigenous peoples, gun control and a national prescription drug plan.

After a debate over the coming weeks, lawmakers will vote on whether to accept the government’s plans, or not, and trigger snap elections.

Most observers agree the government won’t fall in the near term, largely because the opposition is in turmoil.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is facing pressure to resign and the New Democratic Party (NDP) has no money to fight another election right now.

The Liberals must also regroup and rebuild after losing 20 seats.

And, according to Williams, “Canadians have no interest in going back to the polls anytime soon.”

Over this stretch, support for the Liberals is most likely to come from the left-leaning NDP as the two parties are broadly aligned on policies.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Wednesday that the Liberals can find backing from the Tories or Bloc Quebecois.

“But if he wants to really make a difference in peoples’ lives... then he can rely on us for support,” he said.

Where Trudeau might find it hardest is parliamentary committees where the Liberals have also lost their majorities.

Scheer has said he will use them to reopen investigations into accusations that Trudeau’s inner circle meddled in the bribery prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin — reestablishing a spotlight on ethics lapses that precipitated Trudeau’s slump.

“My message to Justin Trudeau is this: Vacation time is over, no more free rides,” said Scheer.

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