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Kelly McParland: Trudeau wanted to give Canadians coalitions — he may yet do so!

Kelly McParland: Trudeau wanted to give Canadians coalitions — he may yet do so!
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One of the bigger promises Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau broke after winning the 2015 election was his pledge to introduce electoral reform. Out would go first-past-the-post, in would come something else. No one was entirely sure what that “something else” would entail, but the goal was for a government that more closely reflected the eventual vote count. Some sort of coalition, the character of which could never be predicted until all the percentages were clear, the tradeoffs made and the deals finalized.

In the event, too few Canadians showed any enthusiasm for the options (especially not the one favoured by Trudeau) to give the plan any traction. So the Liberals abandoned it.

So what do we get instead? If the polls running into the final heated days before next Monday are remotely accurate, the answer is a great deal of uncertainty. And perhaps — hold your guffaws — a coalition government.

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh let it be known on the weekend that he was all in favour of such a thing. And why wouldn’t he be? The NDP has spent much of the past year just trying to avoid being erased from the national memory bank. Singh’s leadership was widely considered a disappointment. The party could find itself wiped out in Quebec, the Orange Wave little more than a blip in time, Canada’s traditional third-place party possibly pushed into fourth place. Then came a surge by the Bloc Québécois, throwing off Liberal calculations and making a minority appear likely.

Suddenly Singh sees his prospects improving. The party could be relevant again. “Oh, absolutely,” he said when asked if he’d join forces with other parties, except the Conservatives.

“For me, I feel like there’s this false choice being presented that if you only have to choose in an election between bad and worse, it’s not really much of a choice.”

Rather than bad (Liberals) or worse (Tories), evidently, is “totally unpredictable.” Singh may assume he’d be an important part of a coalition, yet that’s far from certain. NDP prospects have risen since he performed well in the English-language debate, but Bloc fortunes have surged as well. Seat projections on the polling analysis website 338.com on Monday had the Bloc and NDP battling for third, though a tie would likely favour the Bloc, given its concentration of seats in Quebec.

So, great news, eh Canadians? Politics would once again be all about appeasing Quebec. A resurgent separatist party would find itself with leverage it couldn’t have imagined. The dreaded troll of national discourse, happily believed on its deathbed, could return to the stage revivified. Doesn’t that make you happy? Aren’t you pleased?

Perhaps Singh doesn’t anticipate the Bloc being included in his coalition (though “we’re ready to do whatever it takes,” sounds pretty definitive). In which case Canadians might face a Liberal-NDP-Green grouping, up against a strong block of Conservatives, with the Bloc on the outside picking and choosing its battles based entirely on what’s good for the Bloc. Is that supposed to be better?

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh shake hands following the federal leaders French language debate at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Oct. 10, 2019. ADRIAN WYLD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

This is all entirely speculative, and no one can be sure how the dice might turn up once rolled. Which is entirely the point: coalition governments are a study in unpredictability. It depends on which backroom arrangements can be made, which party is prepared to abandon which principles, how many promises need be sacrificed to ensure a seat at the big table. The Liberals are committed to ensuring a pipeline is built so Canada’s energy industry can continue to act as a backbone of the economy until an alternative to fossil fuels becomes viable. The other three potential coalitionists are dead-set against it, willing to risk whatever economic turmoil should result from their devotion to anti-oil absolutism.

Would the Liberals sign on to such a thing? Who knows? We may find we have yet another thing or two to learn about Justin Trudeau and how much he likes power.

The late-innings shift in direction does underline an issue that has largely escaped serious attention during this campaign: the resurgence under the Trudeau government of national unity as a concern. Western provinces were not always wholly enthralled with Stephen Harper, but at least during his decade in power they had a sense their voices were heard in Ottawa. The past four years have seen a return of the regional anger and resentment, and fuelled the election of provincial governments that once again see Ottawa as a rival rather than an ally. Couple the nationalist duo of Premier François Legault and Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet in Quebec, with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and you have a country once again acting more like a collection of competing interests than a community of shared vision and goals.

For me, I feel like there s this false choice being presented that if you only have to choose in an election between bad and worse, it s not really much of a choice

Could anyone blame Kenney if he were to put as firm a focus on Alberta’s agenda as Quebec does on its own? It seems to work, after all. Alberta has become the target of every self-styled climate guru overloaded with opinions and under-supplied with knowledge. The war on its economy is very much an existential issue. If it is to continue to grow and prosper it needs a long-term strategy for shepherding its resources and using them in ways that most benefit its needs. If that means causing the sort of disruption outside its borders as is so deftly deployed elsewhere, they wouldn’t be the first to do so.

It’s taken just four short years of Liberal government to put us in this position. Trudeau has spent most of the campaign railing against Stephen Harper and Doug Ford. But they didn’t create this mess. He did.

Twitter: kellymcparland

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