The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trudeau’s lost majority will mean a sharp left turn for Canada

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, Ontario, on Wednesday. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

When did Canada formally become the left-wing country of popular stereotype? The long reign of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who governed from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, is usually considered the critical period, but we can be more specific.

In 1972, Trudeau won the narrowest second term in Canadian history, winning only 109 seats in Parliament to the Conservative Party’s 107. This necessitated an alliance with the further-left New Democrats for a workable legislative majority.

Accordingly, from 1972 to 1974, notes David Good in Parliamentary Review, “every policy proposal and all legislation was discussed between the two parties, and only when agreement was reached did the Liberal government introduce the bill confident that with NDP support it would pass.” Government spending spiked more than 27 percent (still one of the steepest increases ever), protectionism was institutionalized through the Foreign Investment Review Agency, a state-run oil company was founded and the Office of Native Claims saw Ottawa adopt a freshly accommodating posture towards aboriginal assertions of sovereignty over land and resources.

Though Trudeau regained his governing majority in 1974, lines had been crossed, and many bells of activist government could not be un-rung.

With uncanny similarity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now replicated his father’s fate with an electoral outcome equally destined to push Canada sharply leftward.

Awarded a second term but robbed of his parliamentary majority, a Trudeau must once again rely on the support of smaller left-wing parties to govern, in this case both the New Democrats and the unexpectedly resurgent Bloc Quebecois.

Tough action on climate change at the expense of Canada’s Alberta-based fossil fuel industry will likely top their list of priorities. Trudeau has mused about “phasing out” Albertan oil in the past; Parliament’s new power-brokers are considerably less patient.

During the campaign, Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet proposed a radical redistributionist scheme wherein vindictive emissions taxes would be levied on Albertan oil to subsidize new spending in Quebec. The New Democrats, meanwhile, have been steadfast in their opposition to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline linking Alberta to the Pacific coast — one of the few energy projects Trudeau has endorsed. These are the baselines from which future negotiations must start.

Dramatic hikes in domestic spending will be similarly on the table. “A lot of times when people hear balanced budgets, they hear austerity and they hear cutting their services — and I don’t believe in that,” said New Democrat head Jagmeet Singh as he unveiled his party platform, which promised a CA $32.7 billion deficit. The prime minister agrees, having run a campaign heavy on demagoguery against “Conservative cuts,” after brazenly abandoning a 2015 election promise to have the budget balanced by now.

Presumably, these two spend-happy leaders will find common cause pursuing national Pharmacare, which both have endorsed. With a price tag estimated for at least CA $15 billion annually, it would represent the most costly, redundant and ideological expansion of public healthcare in decades, as Ottawa seeks to provide a service most Canadians feel is adequately handled by private insurance.

A left-wing parliamentary alliance will beget cultural consequences too, including further consolidation of the protected status of French Canadians as the “first among equals” in Canada’s hierarchy of minorities.

The Bloc campaign was aggressive in its defense of the so-called secularism law passed by Quebec’s chauvinistic premier, which denies government jobs to anyone dressed in overtly religious fashion, including turbaned men and hijab-clad women. The Bloc’s strong parliamentary presence will likely intimidate Trudeau even further away from contesting this than he already is, thereby strengthening Quebec’s right to practice a bossy and assimilationist flavor of multiculturalism other provinces cannot.

Official bilingualism — which is to say, mandatory requirements for French fluency for Canadian public servants — was already on course to be expanded by the Trudeau government. With the need to deflate separatist sails an always front-of-mind concern for this uniquely Quebec-obsessed prime minister, expect future language legislation to be preposterously strict, knowing it will be under the Bloc’s critical eye.

Along with protections for Quebec particularism, a second Trudeau term will presumably also further institutionalize “reconciliation” with Canada’s indigenous peoples as a purported core of the national identity. This will likely mean an end to even nominal federal resistance to even the most audacious aboriginal assertions of territorial jurisdiction or demands for financial compensation. Adopting such a preemptively conciliatory posture will be deeply consequential both economically and legally, but also visibly, as the NDP-backed Liberal administration uses Ottawa’s powers of symbolism and ceremony to entrench restitution for an ongoing “genocide” as the country’s defining theme.

The one party that will play no role in any of this is Elizabeth May’s Green Party. Winning only three seats on Monday, it will be mathematically impossible for Green votes to be relevant in any legislative scenario.

Though three parliamentary seats is the most significant accomplishment of the Green Party’s nearly four-decade existence, there are signs May’s grating pride in her party’s chronically meager achievements have finally exhausted the press. Now undeniably stale after running four elections as party boss, her tired rerun of a campaign was widely panned, and her inability to “really, finally, truly” make a breakthrough this time was not sympathetically received. Retirement pressure is now open.

Perhaps a small cause for smiles in a night that otherwise offered Conservatives few.

Read more:

David Moscrop: Canada has gone from Trudeaumania to Trudeau-meh-nia

Henry Olsen: The urban-rural divide is defining politics worldwide. Canada’s election is proof.

The Post’s View: Canada’s election results are a victory for the planet

Alicia Elliott: Canada doesn’t care about indigenous children

Rick Mercer: Welcome to Canada’s underwhelming election