(Winnipeg, Manitoba) The 2021 federal election did not significantly change the share of seats held by different parties in Parliament. On the other hand, the impact of these elections on the evolution of the balance of power within the federation is major.
Fragile, the new Trudeau government?
First, let us come back to the direct consequences of the federal elections on the Prime Minister’s situation. Without question, as was the case in 2019, the results fell short of the expectations of liberal strategists. By his performance, Justin Trudeau pulled his advantage down. Inevitably, this contributes to undermining his leadership within his political formation: it is anything but certain that he will always be leader in the next elections, especially if he continues to accumulate missteps. However, as long as he manages to keep Chrystia Freeland, a rising figure and possible second in the Liberals by his side, it is a safe bet that his leadership will not be too publicly contested.
But these internal dynamics do not mean that Justin Trudeau’s new minority government is more fragile. For an indefinite period of time, it will not be in the interest of any opposition party to seek to bring down the government. The election funds are dry and turf wars are already brewing among the Conservatives, as the electorate could very well punish the party that will be responsible for the staggering costs associated with calling another rushed election. Therefore, for the next two years, Justin Trudeau will have free rein and will act as if he is leading a majority government, able to rely on several opposition parties to advance his projects. Moreover, the New Democrats will provide Trudeau with the majority needed to move forward with centralizing policies, such as new “national” standards in long-term care or carbon taxation.
Ottawa v. the provinces
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one could expect very difficult relations between Ottawa and the provinces: in the previous months, several provinces had elected conservative governments. However, as my colleagues Robert Schertzer and Mireille Paquet have shown, we were instead entitled to increased cooperation and collaboration between Ottawa and the provinces, when health measures had to be implemented. So much so that the Conservative Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, even referred to Liberal Chrystia Freeland as his “good friend”! In short, it was a healthy time for intergovernmental relations.
Those days are now over. If Ottawa is still Liberal Red, the provincial capitals are still as blue as in the past, with the exception of British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Certain sources of irritation in federal-provincial relations are also resurfacing: let us think in particular of the referendum in Alberta aimed at putting an end to the federal equalization program, which will be held on October 18. Let us also think about the debates in Quebec concerning Bill 96 (modernization of Bill 101) and the legal challenges to Bill 21 (on secularism).
For the moment, beyond these thorny and divisive issues, the provinces are offering a common front to face Ottawa: on September 23, the provincial premiers united their voices in a press release from the Council of the Federation. They urge the federal government “to immediately increase its share of total health spending from 22% to 35%”, in addition to demanding that these transfers are not conditional on new federal standards.
If the past guarantees the future, Ottawa should be able to easily break this common front. This is because the provinces have never learned lessons from the famous prisoner’s dilemma: while they would have every interest in working together and maintaining the grouped opposition, poor communication and the lure of short-term gain are enough. usually to convince one of the partners – often a Maritime province – to seal a piecemeal deal with Ottawa. To the federal government’s great happiness, this agreement will generally be less favorable to it than if the common front had been maintained. Consequently, the balance of power turns to the advantage of Ottawa, which, little by little, will come to an agreement with most of the provinces, on its own terms.
Upcoming provincial elections
From cooperative federalism in a pandemic context, this prospective report points to the return of a policy of confrontation between Ottawa and certain provinces: Quebec, most certainly, but also Ontario and the Prairie provinces. This is a context which has something to please François Legault.
I am not one of those who think that Mr. Legault took a wrong step in opposing Trudeau during the federal election campaign. Knowing that provincial elections are scheduled for next year, this outing was going to be profitable to him, whatever the outcome: if Erin O’Toole were to form the next federal government, Legault could have made gains for Quebec, in particular of the powers. increased immigration, without having to suffer interference from Ottawa. But while Trudeau emerges victorious, the looming Quebec / Ottawa confrontation is the best gift he could hope for. As Nietzsche wrote: “Whoever lives by fighting an enemy has every interest in leaving him alive. ”
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