Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

OTTAWA — Four days before Canadians go to the polls, the leaders of Canada’s three largest federal parties argued over how the country will be governed if there is no clear winner on election day.

Most polls continue to suggest the Liberals and Conservatives are deadlocked, raising talk about potential minority or coalition governments as support also grows for the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said if he wins the most seats in Monday’s election, that would give him a mandate to govern.

He repeated that view during a question-and-answer session with reporters in the Toronto suburb of Brampton on Thursday, dismissing reminders that as a former Speaker of the House of Commons, he has familiarity with the rules that govern Parliament and say otherwise.

“We are asking Canadians for a strong Conservative majority mandate,” Scheer said before heading to Nova Scotia for a rally in Pictou County. “It is the case that the party that wins the most seats in modern Canadian history has been the party that forms the government.”

Paul Martin did step down as prime minister after the Conservatives won more seats in 2006, allowing Stephen Harper to form his first minority government.

But Canada’s parliamentary system allows for coalition governments, which means that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau could continue on as prime minister if there is a minority government and he can secure support from enough other MPs to win key votes.

Scheer on Thursday reiterated his past warnings that a Liberal-NDP coalition would prove too expensive for Canadians. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh let the coalition genie out of the bottle on Sunday, saying he would “absolutely” consider a coalition with the Liberals to prevent Scheer from becoming prime minister.

Trudeau, meanwhile, repeatedly dismissed questions on Thursday about a potential coalition or other arrangement in the House of Commons.

“We are focused on electing a strong Liberal government that is going to be able to continue the hard work of fighting against climate change and investing in families. The choice is very, very clear for Canadians,” he said during a campaign stop in Trois-Rivieres, Que.

“We are going to elect a government with Liberal MPs from right across the country. We will continue the hard work of investing in Canadians.”

“Coalition” is not a dirty word, Singh said as he railed against Canada’s electoral system, which gives the candidate with the most votes in each riding the victory.

Singh also criticized Trudeau for breaking his 2015 campaign promise that that election would be the last under the first-past-the-post system.

Singh said the system means that fewer than half of voters can choose a certain party, “and they get all the power, and that’s wrong.” Singh said Canadians often feel their vote doesn’t matter, adding 60 per cent of Canadians “regularly” vote against the Conservatives.

“So it’s wrong for the Conservatives to think that with less than 40 per of the power — or vote — they deserve all the majority of power. That’s wrong,” Singh said in Welland, Ont., near Niagara Falls, where former NDP MP Malcolm Allen is trying to take back his old seat.

Singh said he is committed to a “mixed-member proportional representation to make sure everyone’s vote counts.”

Singh campaigned with Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and was to wrap Thursday in Toronto and Brampton, including a rally billed as an “UpriSingh.”

Green Leader Elizabeth May said it was premature to talk of coalition governments as she also laid into Trudeau for not living up to the 2015 pledge to change the Canadian voting system.

“You don’t actually start talking about coalitions until the election is over,” she said in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island, where she was trying add to her party’s two seats — and its chances of being a player in any possible post-election balance of power.

“We’re prepared to work with and find ways to make Parliament work for Canadians. And to do that, Mr. Scheer is wrong in saying that he’s got a new way in how Parliament works in a minority. Mr. Singh is wrong, saying he will only work with the Liberals.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet reiterated his party’s position that it isn’t interested in propping up any minority government, and instead would be guided by one criteria: what is good for Quebec.

A day earlier, Blanchet offered more specifics.

“There is no question of the Bloc systematically supporting a government or a coalition or a party. It will be piece by piece. If it’s good for Quebec, we’ll be there,” he said on Wednesday.

“If the Conservatives decide to support us on the single tax return, it’ll go through. If the Conservatives imagine that the Bloc Quebecois will support the abolition of the carbon tax, it won’t happen.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2019.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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