Fewer than nine months have passed since the last federal election and yet every bone in my political body says we may well be having another one in the very near future. There is really no need for it, but every sign points to it.
Certainly, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party are riding high in the polls right now. Daily and friendly media exposure of the prime minister during the COVID-19 crisis has clearly helped. A lack of effective political opposition has helped too.
As well, most people in Canada believe Trudeau has done a reasonable job in managing the pandemic. Compared to the out-of-control management of this virus in the United States, this is certainly true. But measured against many other countries in the world, our performance is more or less average.
Nevertheless, Justin Trudeau and the formidable Liberal political machine behind him are clearly setting the stage for an early election, to ride on the coattails of the COVID-19 pandemic and capture four years of majority government. I can understand why that might be tempting but, in my view, it is not in the best interest of Canadians.
Less than a year ago, voters denied a majority government to Justin Trudeau, making it clear that they wanted him to work with and be fully accountable to Parliament. Thanks to the coronavirus, Trudeau was able to duck that, effectively closing Parliament down. A hard look at what has happened since the October 2019 election produces very little evidence that he should now be trusted with a majority government that could continue to ignore Parliament.
Clearly, the pandemic has necessitated strong measures from both the federal and provincial governments, to manage its curve in a manner that does not overwhelm our healthcare system and to financially assist individuals and businesses whose ability to survive the crisis we are currently enduring is in jeopardy.
But there have been excesses, especially at the federal level at a time when our financial cupboard was already bare, some of which looks, smells, and feels more like political pandering and feathering the Liberal nest than it does necessary spending during a time of crisis.
The gift of between $300 and $500 to all Canadians over the age of 65 is one example. Most will appreciate it. Who doesn’t like “free” money? But many do not need this government benevolence and this “gift” will add a staggering amount to the already ballooning federal debt. The timing is also suspect. The money is supposed to flow this coming week, almost two months since the announcement and not that far away from an election the Liberals would like to see this fall or sooner.
The extension of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) also raises some questions. Its original intent was a good one: to help individuals affected by pandemic restrictions during a time they could not work or had their hours severely reduced and could not access unemployment insurance. But it has not been well monitored or controlled and there is evidence that many who have received it did not qualify. And now, as the economy begins to reopen, the program has been extended for another eight weeks providing $500 a week for a total of 24 weeks, bringing the program much closer to a possible election.
There are two problems here. First, it adds billions to our national debt. Second, it is hurting and not helping our economy now that it is able to start opening up. I have spoken to three business operators in Huntsville during the last week who have jobs available, who need staff and cannot get them because former employees or students are staying home to collect the CERB benefits. I am also told that the YMCA jobs board is overflowing with available employment in Muskoka that is not being taken up.
And then there is the whole issue of the WE Charity, where the Trudeau Government awarded the management of a $900-million program to promote volunteer activities for students, proposing to pay the charity $19.5 million to do so. This was sole sourced, without tender or competition, to a charity in which the prime minister and his family are closely involved and one which could easily have been managed by the civil service in the same manner as they manage other benefit programs without additional costs to taxpayers.
This has now blown up, and WE Charity is no longer involved. But Justin Trudeau is once again, for the third time during his tenure, in front of the integrity commissioner and may well be, as he was on the previous two occasions, found to have stepped over the line and ignored the rules that are designed to protect all Canadians from abuse of power.
All of this says to me that this is no time to reward Justin Trudeau with a majority government. He has not changed. He does not like to be held to account, he will get away with abuse of power if he can, and he will continue to spend taxpayers’ money like water, regardless of the harm he is doing to future generations.
My preference, in terms of governance, would be to leave things as they are for at least another two years. Canadians elected a minority government. Give it a chance to work and allow Parliament to do its job of holding the Trudeau Government in check.
If the signs are correct, however, if the Liberals are ramping up for a quick election, I have another idea.
Let’s take a page out of former federal Liberal leader and former Ontario Premier Bob Rae’s book. Remember the compact forged between the NDP and Liberals in Ontario in 1985 that forced the Conservative Government of Frank Miller out of power, even though he won the most seats?
My knowledge of our Constitution may be a bit rusty, but I believe that Prime Minister Trudeau, by himself, cannot force an election. His Government can resign, and he can ask Governor General Julie Payette to issue a Writ of Election, but she does not have to take his advice. Especially, so shortly after a federal election, the governor general has the right, if not the responsibility, to enquire if another elected political party can form a stable government.
If the current polls remain accurate, both the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party would lose many more seats to the Liberals than the Conservatives, in spite of their current leadership issues. Neither the Bloc nor the NDP will want a snap election if it can be avoided.
They would have, therefore, a strong incentive to negotiate a compact with the Conservatives based on agreed-upon legislative initiatives and a commitment not to defeat the government on a vote of confidence for at least two years. This would require the Conservative Party to agree on some progressive policies in order to have the support of the other two parties. It would then give the leader of the Conservative Party an ability to tell the governor general that he or she is able to form a stable government for at least two years, thus avoiding an early and unnecessary election.
As I have said, this is not my first preference. In my view, the people have spoken and this Parliament should be made to work as it is presently constituted for at least three years. But if that is not going to happen because the prime minister wants more control and less accountability based on his assessment of pandemic polling, then he should not get a free ride.
Under those circumstances, a compact between the three opposition parties to provide stable government for the next two or three years should be seriously explored.
It was good enough for Bob Rae and it should be good enough for the people of Canada.
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