Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a legislative agenda on Thursday that touts tax cuts and tougher climate actions in the first test of his minority government.
After a nasty election fight and with Trudeau rejecting a formal coalition, he must rely on the backing of opposition parties on a case-by-case basis to stay in power.
That starts with garnering support for his agenda, which was outlined in a throne speech by Governor General Julie Payette to parliament, convened for the first time since the October ballot.
In the address Payette sketched out plans for tax cuts, net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a ban on assault rifles, and a national prescription drug plan.
“We know that we are inextricably bound to the same space-time continuum and on board the same planetary spaceship,” said the former astronaut.
“I am certain that by working together, no challenges are too big.”
Trudeau just returned from NATO talks where a hot mic gaffe revived his feud with US President Donald Trump.
Trump branded Trudeau “two-faced” after allied leaders were caught on video at a Buckingham Palace reception mocking the American president’s rambling press appearances.
The Canadian leader insisted it won’t complicate relations, including ratification of a continental trade deal with the United States and Mexico.
But opposition parties tarred Trudeau for “weakening” Canada abroad with such “high school gossip.”
Keep opponents close
After a poor campaign performance that dredged up an ethics scandal and multiple embarrassing photos of a young Trudeau in blackface, the Canadian leader has kept a low profile, meeting privately with opposition leaders and stakeholders to try to find common ground.
It’s a change from his first term when the debonair politician exploded onto the world stage as a strong liberal voice and a counterbalance to the rising political right, declaring: “Canada is back!”
The laundry list of looming issues is also longer and more complex than four years ago — including a slowing economy and geographic political divisions.
Canadians “sent us here with clear instructions to work together to make life better for them,” Trudeau told lawmakers earlier as they undertook their first order of business — choosing a speaker, a job that went for the first time to a Canadian of Italian descent, Anthony Rota.
“Common ground does exist in this parliament and I know we can build on it,” he said.
There have been only 14 minority governments in Canadian history, the last in 2009.
Few have lasted more than two years, but they can be productive, resulting in universal healthcare, a national pension plan and the maple leaf flag.
Canada’s 43rd parliament will be “a real test” of Trudeau’s leadership, Lori Williams, a politics professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told AFP.
“He’ll need to be willing to make compromises.”
After a debate over the coming weeks, lawmakers will vote on whether to accept the government’s plans, or not, and trigger snap elections.
Most observers agree the government won’t fall in the near term because the opposition is in turmoil.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is facing pressure to resign and the New Democratic Party (NDP) has no money to fight another election right now.
The Liberals must also regroup and rebuild after losing 20 seats.
And, according to Williams, “Canadians have no interest in going back to the polls anytime soon.”
Over this stretch, support for the Liberals is most likely to come from the left-leaning NDP as the two parties are broadly aligned on policies.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Wednesday that the Liberals can find backing from the Tories or Bloc Quebecois.
“But if he wants to really make a difference in peoples’ lives... then he can rely on us for support,” he said.