The idea a federal election is in the offing falls somewhere between wishful thinking and a fever dream, but that hasn’t stopped Canada’s conservatives from talking about it.
Never mind that they complained bitterly about the decision by Trudeau’s Liberals to call an election just last September, or that calling another one now would make no sense for either the governing Liberals or their NDP partners. As Corus radio host Roy Green said, “Stand by for the Trudeau/Singh deal to be consigned to the shredder.”
Folks like Green are going to be standing by for a long time here. A pair of recent polls from Ipsos and Angus Reid suggest Pierre Poilievre is in the midst of a political honeymoon, one that has him well ahead of both the Liberals and the NDP. And while the NDP could theoretically pull the pin on this Parliament in the hope that they could overtake the Liberals, as they did in 2011, that would be the political equivalent of a suicide mission.
Angus Reid’s poll showed that NDP voters are even more negatively inclined towards Poilievre than Liberals, with 79 per cent saying they had an “unfavourable” or “very unfavourable” impression of him. On the other hand, more than 50 per cent had a “favourable” or “very favourable” impression of Trudeau, which makes the prospect of them coalescing behind a Liberal “anything-but-Pierre” push practically inevitable.
There’s also the memory of 2006 when Jack Layton’s NDP supported a Conservative vote of non-confidence in Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government. Stephen Harper ended up winning his own minority in the election that followed, and he quickly put an end to the massive child-care deal being negotiated at the time along with the so-called “Kelowna Accord” between the federal government and Indigenous leaders. That wasn’t Layton or the NDP’s fault, as the Liberals often like to suggest. But it serves as a reminder that elections can come with a cost, and they are often paid by the people least able to afford them.
Instead of rolling a set of loaded dice, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP should spend the next three years trying to improve the odds a bit in his party’s favour. He should start by making electoral reform a condition of the NDP’s participation in the supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals beyond a certain date — say, September 2023. Putting an end to the scourge of strategic voting, that Liberal campaigns have used to great effect, would permanently shift the balance in Canadian politics. It would also make our democracy fairer, more empowering, and more just, which could help stem the recent decline in voter participation and engagement.
Singh shouldn’t stop there. By proposing a broader package of democratic reforms, anchored by electoral reform and including lowering the voting age to 16 and making every federal election a statutory holiday, he can help renew the push for a more proportional system and expand its appeal. If it passed, it could both invigorate our politics and help protect it from the increasingly prevalent populist nihilism. The recent news that Jenni Byrne, an operative who fellow conservatives describe as a “scorched-earth tactician,” will run Poilievre’s campaign in the next election should add even more urgency there.
The real question here is whether the Trudeau Liberals would be willing to go along with this sort of proposal. Their party, after all, has been the biggest beneficiary of Canada’s first-past-the-post system, with virtually all of their majority governments supported by a minority of the population. In the most recent election, they won 47.3 per cent of the available seats with just 32.6 per cent of the votes. Giving up on the current system would mean relinquishing a certain degree of power, and the prospect of being able to wield it in the future.
That choice between party and country may well be the most important moral litmus test for Trudeau’s time in office. Will he support the implementation of democratic reforms that would meaningfully improve the quality of our political interactions but permanently impair Liberal fortunes? Or will he be willing to risk the possibility of a Prime Minister Poilievre if it means future majority governments for other Liberal leaders?
For someone who rode into office on the promise of being a transformational political figure, those should be easy questions to answer. Perpetuating the status quo isn’t exactly a feather in his cap, especially if it puts his government’s signature policies — a national climate plan and a national child-care system — in jeopardy. But a decade in politics, especially when you’re in power, can do strange things to people.
Opinion: #NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh should make electoral reform a condition of his party's participation in the supply and confidence agreement with #Trudeau @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver.
For the sake of everyone else in Canada, we ought to hope that Trudeau still has a bit of transformation left in him.