Canada

   
 

Key Challenges

Polarization increasing
at federal level
In October 2019, Canadian voters cast their ballots after what was arguably one of the most polarized federal election campaigns in memory. The reelected Liberal government now faces a divided parliament, and cannot govern without the support of at least some of its rivals. But a minority government does not need to be paralyzed. Indeed, many observers see the new reality as a real opportunity for legislative change; after all, it was minority governments that introduced universal healthcare and the Canada Pension Plan.
Strong economic position despite uncertainty
The economic environment in which the government is set to operate is uncertain, but at least for now appears reasonably strong. The forecast for Canada remains moderate but steady, despite its dependence on natural resources and its close links to the United States. The country’s ability to absorb people from diverse cultures will help bridge the gap in the prime working-age population. Canada’s relationship with the United States has stabilized after the renegotiation of NAFTA and the abolition of tariffs.
Complications in
dealings with China
Canada’s dealings with China as a global power are poised to become a growing challenge in the coming years. Relations have soured following the arrest of a top Chinese executive under a U.S. warrant for breaking sanctions with Iran on Canadian soil. In return, Chinese authorities formally arrested two Canadians for crimes related to national security, and banned canola and other agricultural products, citing health concerns. Like others, the Canadian government must develop a strategy for continued economic exchange, working with China to address global issues while also seeking to advance human rights within the country.
Multiple sources of
friction with provinces
Ottawa is currently facing two threats to national unity in its relationship with the provinces. A stagnating energy industry paired with a lack of pipeline capacity and the passage of new environmental legislation has fueled feelings of alienation in oil-producing provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan. Mending the relationship with the West, including a possible reform of the interprovincial equalization payments, should be done swiftly, before the “Wexit” movement gains momentum. In doing so, the Trudeau administration must find a way to meet commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions while also providing a transition path for the oil-dependent economies of the West. In the East, the Bloc Québecois’ resurgence is likely to create further friction. While a sovereign Quebec may not be on the immediate agenda, the highly contentious Bill 21, which bars public employees from wearing religious symbols (e.g., hijabs, niqabs, crucifixes) could spell trouble for the government and reignite separatist enthusiasm. The majority of Quebecers are in favor of the bill, which according to several high-ranking UN rapporteurs is a clear violation of human-rights accords, and which the federal government will have to challenge in court if it wants to uphold its avowed values of equality, diversity and inclusion.
Climate-change policy
a contentious issue
As elsewhere, the importance of climate change as a major policy issue continues to grow. Unlike other countries, Canada faces additional hurdles, as most approaches to reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions are likely to raise tensions between Ottawa and the West, and between Liberals and Conservatives in the House of Commons, where Trudeau needs to maintain support for his government. However, action is needed; although Canada’s environmental commitments have clearly improved under Trudeau, they remain insufficient. While his government was successful in implementing a national carbon-tax requirement, revamping the environmental-assessment act and banning oil tankers on the northern coast of British Columbia, it still is far from meeting its Paris climate-accord agreements, and even further from the path needed to reach its commitment of zero emissions by 2050. Progress in this area may prove even more elusive in the face of quibbles over jurisdiction and provincial opposition.
Unresolved promises to First Nations groups
Improving relations with First Nations and other Indigenous groups in Canada once again constitutes a fundamental and unresolved challenge for the government. Relations have soured, with many of the government’s promises remaining unfulfilled. Overall, the government has not followed up on its pledge to recast its dealings with the Indigenous population as a nation-to-nation relationship; this would require substantial restructuring of departmental mandates to ensure that Indigenous rights and titles are being honored.
Considerable risks
ahead
In summary, the look ahead through Trudeau’s second term contains considerable risk. The government must deal with the frayed relationship with the Western provinces, the resurgence of the separatist bloc and the precarious situation with China while maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. Overall, the Liberal government’s first term in office has moved Canada toward sustainable governance in many areas, but there are still large gaps that need to be filled in order to achieve long-term sustainability. The Liberals under Trudeau will have to rise above partisanship and show that they can work with other parties in order to pass enduring reforms yielding long-term benefits.
 

Party Polarization

First-past-post system, strong party discipline
Canada is a parliamentary democracy, and its first-past-the-post electoral system generally produces absolute parliamentary majorities for the winning political party, which are further strengthened by strict party discipline. As a result, the Canadian government can implement its policies irrespective of how polarized or hostile opposition parties may be.
Largest parties pull
toward political center
Still, all large federal parties have historically pulled toward the center. This is especially true for the governing Liberal Party, which has always emphasized “big tent” politics, and garnered support in the last election by promoting middle-of-the-road policies and compromises. However, in past years, other political parties have been moving further toward their respective ends of the left-right political spectrum, with the left-leaning New Democratic Party taking a more socialist stance, and the recent schism in the right-leaning Conservative Party that led to the formation of the populist People’s Party of Canada. Overall, therefore, parties are today arguably more likely to be defined by their ideological stance than previously. However, it is important to note that relatively speaking, the main parties of government (i.e., the Liberal Party and Conservative Party) are close enough to find common ground on broad topics (e.g., free trade) regardless of recent shifts.
Cross-party cooperation difficult
At the same time, cross-party cooperation is hindered by what is allegedly the strictest form of party discipline in the world. Members of parliament rarely vote against party lines, and party leaderships maintain strict control over speech content and committee work. In a report by advocacy group Samara Canada, members of parliament stated that party lines were rigid and it was difficult to work as an individual. Multipartisan deals are largely only possible when the party leadership is negotiating – it is difficult to deal with members of parliament themselves. (Score: 9)
Citations:
Johnston, Richard (2015). “Canada is polarizing–and it’s because of the parties,” in Political Polarization in American Politics, eds. Daniel J. Hopkins and John Sides. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015, pp. 120-125.

Samara Canada (2017), “Flip the Script,” available at https://www.samaracanada.com/docs/default-source/reports/flip-the-script—by-the-samara-centre-for-democracy.pdf?sfvrsn=2d09002f_2
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