Sometimes, politicians actually have better foresight than voters. Let’s not make a rule of that just yet, but the agreement between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff not to let a non-confidence vote end the current minority government this summer isn’t just about giving Canadians a summer away from politics.
When you get down to it, most Canadians don’t want to endure an election this summer simply because they have about 10,000 better things to do with our notoriously short warm season than follow anyone’s election campaign.
Politicians understand that, and they also understand that there would be no predicting the outcome of an election right now, either. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals have any reason to feel confident they could win. Therefore, they have no incentive to let an election happen this far ahead of the regular schedule.
But sometimes, hope can shine through the cynicism.
The two parties have agreed to a spate of co-operation this summer. And the level of vitriol flung by both the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois at the notion of a co-operative minority government indicates how much the marginal parties fear the very idea.
A six-member panel of Liberals and Tories is going to discuss changes to the national employment insurance program, and both sides in the panel have publicly agreed there’s room for improvement in EI.
There is public agreement that people who pay big money into the program every year (and that includes people who are self-employed) should be allowed to rely on assistance from the program when they need it, regardless of where they live in the country.
The prime minister also agrees that Canada’s labour market does not need to be carved into 58 zones, for the purposes of calculating EI eligibility, as is the case now.
So let’s work with that. The group has until September to come up with something significant or the uncertainty hanging over the next election deadline (assumed to be late October or November) will be the same as it is today. Neither Liberals nor Conservatives want that, so there is some pressure on them to perform.
Canada’s universal health-care plan was the result of a minority government under Lester Pearson which was forced to act nice and co-operate with a party they loathed, under John Diefenbaker. Our national student loans program also came from that era.
You can say both initiatives ended up costing a lot of money, but both are also now part of the Canadian fabric of civil society.
What’s to say that a fair and understandable program for employment insurance couldn’t be the result of this minority government?
By the way, the minority governments of Pearson that gave us medicare and student loans also gave way to another minority Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau, Of the nine elections that saw the succession of prime ministers from Diefenbaker to Pearson to Trudeau, six ended in minorities.
For better or worse, Canada got a lot of work done in that period between 1957 and 1974.
Sure, everyone is glad there won’t be an election this summer. But let’s not make the reason for that be simply because it’s summer.
Maybe, just maybe, some people in Ottawa who may not especially like each other are at least agreeing to work together for the good of the country. We can start with EI reform.
Have a happy summer, Canada.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.