Imagining a government that works for Canadians

Singh urges anti-Scheer coalition, but Trudeau won’t commit to join

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau today is refusing to commit to an offer from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to form a coalition to keep Conservative Andrew Scheer away from power.

In Windsor this morning, the Liberal leader was asked at least a dozen times if he would join a coalition with Singh, but wouldn’t directly answer reporters’ questions.

On Sunday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters he would try to form a coalition government with other parties even if the Conservatives hold the most seats in Monday’s vote.

Polls are showing surging support for Singh’s NDP at the expense of both Liberals and Conservatives. Several polls show the Liberals have dropped under 30 per cent support, with the Conservative also sharply down from a peak in the upper 30s earlier in this campaign.

With Singh’s surge already pushing his NDP past 20 per cent support, a minority parliament with no party winning the 170 seats required to govern alone looks to be the most likely outcome in Monday’s vote.

A pre-election commitment from Trudeau’s to stop Scheer is critical because, as the incumbent Prime Minister, Trudeau can either continue to govern and test government confidence in the Commons or resign his government. If Trudeau resigns his government the Governor-General will talk with the leader of the largest party, quite possibly Scheer, about forming a government and testing Commons confidence in a Throne Speech.

There are many occasions when the party that didn’t win the most seats formed government.

In their 2017 provincial election, British Columbians elected 42 Liberals, 41 New Democrats and three Greens. The NDP governs with Green support. The 1985 Ontario election resulted in 52 Conservative MPPs, 48 Liberals and 25 New Democrats. The Liberals governed with NDP support.

In those cases, the new government took power after defeating the incumbent government in a confidence vote shortly after the election.

But after the 1925 federal election the incumbent party elected the second largest group of MPs and never resigned, continuing with third party support. Prime Minister King’s 103 Liberals governed with the support of 28 Progressive MPs, keeping the 116 Conservatives in opposition.

If the NDP can continue to rise at the expense of both the Liberals and Conservatives, a Liberal-NDP coalition could govern without support from any other party. Support for the separatist Bloc Quebecois has been moving up in Quebec and now looks likely to take at least 30 seats.

The shortest path to an anti-Scheer coalition is for Trudeau to not resign his government on Monday night, even if electors don’t give his Liberals the most seats, then negotiate a coalition with Singh’s NDP to keep Scheer away from power.

The Liberal Party, however, has a bad history of parliamentary non-cooperation.

After the 2008 federal election, in which the incumbent Conservatives won the most seats in a minority parliament, the Liberals and NDP signed a coalition deal to oust Harper — but th the Liberals backed out on the NDP and backed up the Conservatives in over 150 confidence votes, keeping Prime Minister Harper in power for two years.

In the last provincial election, former Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne was widely condemned for focusing her attacks on NDP leader Andrea Horwath by echoing Conservative Doug Ford, who won the election and launched harsh cuts.

And, of course, the Liberals backtracked on their 2015 electoral reform promise. Proportional representation would require more coalition-building, moving power from the PMO to the Commons — and also likely locking out the Conservatives from power, since they have few if any coalition partners.

And now Trudeau won’t commit to an anti-Scheer coalition. There are many reasons to worry that, again, Liberals will prefer to lose to the Conservatives rather than govern with the NDP.

After both the 2006 and 2008 elections resulted in minority parliaments, Liberal MPs supported the Conservatives’ Throne Speech arguing that, because they were the largest party, the Conservatives were entitled to have a chance to govern. Of course that’s not Parliamentary democracy works.

So there’s good reason to worry the Trudeau’s vague response to Singh’s coalition offer is a strategy to keep open a door to resigning as government and once again giving tacit support to a Conservative minority government.

With only one week left in the campaign, and Liberals falling, expect questions about Trudeau’s willingness to join Singh’s anti-Scheer coalition to become sharper.