OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped a series of one-on-one meetings with opposition leaders Friday, giving him just under three weeks to write his first throne speech in a minority Parliament, one which needs enough support from across the aisle to clear his first confidence vote.
Asks from the Conservative, Bloc Québécois, NDP, and Green Party parliamentary caucus leaders covered topics, from requests for Alberta energy sector support, to multiple calls for a national universal pharmacare system.
The minority position is new territory for Trudeau, who won a majority in the 2015 election. The Liberals have 157 seats, meaning 13 votes are needed from across the aisle to pass legislation.
Currently, these votes are likely to be drawn from the NDP’s 24 MPs, or the Bloc’s 32, or the three Green MPs, rather than the Conservatives’ 121 MPs. Trudeau could also reach out for re-elected Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould’s support as well.
Watch: Justin Trudeau meets with Jagmeet Singh. Story continues below.
The throne speech marks the ceremonial start to a new session of Parliament. Its purpose is to outline the government’s plans in broad strokes. The speech is followed by a motion to test the confidence of the House. If Trudeau loses this first vote, it could mean another election, which is why he met with leaders to find common ground and areas of potential compromise.
The throne speech is set for Dec. 5. Until then, here’s a summary of what each party is trying to extract from Trudeau’s minority situation:
Leader: Andrew Scheer
Number of seats: 121
In the last stretch of the election campaign, Trudeau blasted his Conservative rival for abetting one of the “dirtiest, nastiest campaigns” the country has ever seen. On Tuesday, the pair sat down for the first time since October’s election.
Before photographers and pool reporters were shooed out from the room, Scheer referenced Prairie alienation, stressing that the election results show how Canadians are more divided than ever and that quick work needs to be done to address voters’ concerns.
Trudeau’s Liberals failed to win any seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan, drawing renewed scrutiny over the party’s ability to represent national interests.
Despite the slightly awkward mood during the photo-op, Scheer emerged from his one-on-one with Trudeau with an air of slight optimism. He said one shared priority between the Liberals and Conservatives is making maternal and parental benefits tax-free. The other is supporting Toronto’s public transit needs.
Scheer told reporters that he highlighted areas of his party’s platform that Conservatives think should be implemented. The impetus is on Trudeau “to find common ground to get his throne speech passed,” he said.
Following the meeting, the party released a list of priorities for December’s throne speech including: appointing a task force to establish a national energy corridor, setting a target date to balance the budget, bringing in stronger penalties in the Conflict of Interest Act, repealing Bills C-48 and C-69, ending dumping raw sewage into waterways, funding public transit expansion in the Greater Toronto Area, and adopting a single tax return for Quebecers.
The Conservative leader called his points “reasonable” and “achievable.”
Leader: Yves-François Blanchet
Number of seats: 32
“Climate change” was Trudeau’s two-word response when asked by reporters Wednesday about what he has in common with the Bloc leader ahead of their meeting.
It’s not a surprising commonality. One of the Liberals’ marquee platform propositions was “real action” to address climate change and the separatist party has long campaigned on a pledge to end reliance on fossil fuels in favour of transitioning to a renewable energy economy.
During the pre-meeting photo-op, Trudeau said that affordability, gun control, and protecting supply management were other areas where he saw shared priorities. Blanchet specified that the cost of living for seniors was a top issue for him.
A strengthened Bloc presents a political tightrope of sorts for Trudeau. During the campaign, the two leaders sparred over Quebec’s secularism law. The prime minister has left the door open to possible federal intervention while Blanchet is staunchly against any federal leader wading into a matter that, in his opinion, is exclusive to Quebec’s jurisdiction.
WATCH: Blanchet says anyone seeking more independence for the Prairies in the hopes of promoting the oil and gas sector should not come to him for advice. Story continues below.
National unity is a major issue facing Trudeau’s minority government from the onset. But the prime minister doesn’t have to worry for now about the Bloc giving weight to fringe Alberta separatism buzz. Blanchet said he would have no advice for Prairie separatists if their goal is to establish an independent “oil state.”
“If they were attempting to create a green state in Western Canada, I might be tempted to help them,″ he said.
Blanchet’s comments immediately earned the ire of Scheer and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
The separatist leader was clear in saying national unity is an issue for other parties to address. “I still believe that Quebec will do better when it is a country, so I am not the one who will fight to have a nice, beautiful and united Canada,” he said.
Leader: Jagmeet Singh
Number of seats: 24
Despite losing 15 seats in the House, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is seemingly convinced his party holds leverage with Trudeau’s incoming minority government.
Singh said he put out three “clear things” for Trudeau to consider as “starting points” to win the NDP’s support. Each of the three topics contains major subsets. For example, health care was one category Singh said he mentioned to the prime minister, which includes universal pharmacare and a national dental care program.
The second topic Singh said he brought up was “concrete action” on climate change. “But also making sure we create jobs while we’re fighting the climate crisis so people don’t feel left behind,” he added.
Indigenous justice was the third topic the NDP leader said he raised with the prime minister. Singh mentioned a need to establish clean drinking water and a call for the government to drop its appeal of a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling.
That ruling ordered Indigenous children, taken away under the on-reserve child welfare system, to be compensated $40,000 by Ottawa. Payments were also awarded to some parents and grandparents of the children.
Trudeau “didn’t close the door,” which he’s interpreting as a “sign of openness” to dropping the appeal, Singh said.
The NDP leader got into some testy exchanges with reporters, grilled over his confidence that the prime minister won’t seek support from the Bloc, more than from his party’s members.
“Mr. Blanchet has made it really clear he’s not interested in working on national programs that benefit all Canadians,” Singh said. He added that if the Liberals want to pass legislation to make a national impact, then Trudeau has two choices: “He can work with us or the Conservatives.”
Interim leader: Jo-Ann Roberts
Parliamentary caucus leader: Elizabeth May
Number of seats: 3
The Greens tripled their seat-count this election, compared to what they had at the start of the last parliament. But the math in a three-member caucus means Greens don’t have strong leverage with Trudeau. Parliamentary caucus leader Elizabeth May is aware of this.
May told reporters after her meeting with Trudeau Friday that her party’s influence is drawn from being aligned with millions around the world demanding more drastic actions to address climate change. Interim party leader Jo-Ann Roberts also attended the meeting.
“I think our power as three Green MPs will come from our position of honesty and integrity being really grounded in the science and in alliance with the social movements, in alliance with the one million Canadians who marched on Sept. 27, don’t stop marching,” she said in reference to the 278 climate strike demonstrations that took place across Canada.
The Greens will press the federal government to hold to Paris Accord targets, or propose more aggressive ones, and respect the advice laid out in a dire United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last year.
May has been vocal about her disappointment with the Trudeau government’s unambitious climate targets and its decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline. On the throne speech, she said her party could not vote in confidence for a government that builds pipelines and increases greenhouse gases. That’s a plan for “disaster,” the former Green leader explained.
“I do not believe it is possible to build any new pipelines and hold any position of responsibility that you’ve done what’s required to ensure human civilization will survive through the lifetime of our children.”
The re-elected Saanich–Gulf Islands MP announced last week that she would be stepping down as leader of the federal Greens effective immediately.
Though the bulk of May’s comments to reporters was about climate change, she said other subjects also came up during the party’s private meeting with the prime minister.
She said she was “very pleased” to learn the Liberals intend to reintroduce former NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private members’ bill that proposed Canada align its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This promise was previously mentioned in the Liberals’ election platform.
Greens and Liberals also share “substantial” common ground on pharmacare, May explained, as well as an interest in introducing “truth in advertising” legislation. It’s an ask that Green candidates campaigned on during the election.
“We saw a very dirty election campaign. And our Elections Act could be reformed to include truth in advertising,” she said.
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