A new dawn… same day? reflections on the election 2021 results

September 22, 2021

After 36 days of campaigning, we’ve ended up where we started: a Liberal minority government that will require support to shore up its legislative agenda through negotiation and compromise. Not a bold outcome, but not a bad one either. Particularly if you subscribe to modern monetary theory and that public health restrictions are reasonable given the pandemic circumstances. More practically, we can expect an emboldened NDP with the moral authority that comes with so many Canadians being comfortable with a Liberal/NDP, “understanding”.

Economic recovery, pandemic response, implementing a national child-care system and continuing efforts to bring Canada to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 will remain priority issues. 

Exposed by the ravages of the pandemic, our public health care system is showing its wear. Despite the provincial purview, the federal Liberals pledged to address healthcare wait times, improving access to health care professionals and creating disincentives to unchecked privatization. The NDP, the most likely allies to the Liberal agenda, share an interest in re-investing in public health care, including better preparation for future health threats, the creation of national pharmacare and dental care programs, as well as bringing other health care services and supports under the universal health coverage umbrella. Chances are good that the Liberals will have to make a genuine effort to advance some aspect of these NDP commitments and national pharmacare seems the most likely policy option, assuming the NDP get their way. The Liberals may also attempt to trade on the challenges provinces have faced during the pandemic to force changes to long-term care, paid sick leave and mental health.

Employment in Canada is undergoing tremendous upheaval, only accelerated by the pandemic. Struggles over wage levels, skill gaps, setbacks in women’s participation in the workforce, and preparing Canadians for emerging industries must all be considered within the needs of small business owners, attracting industry, and remaining globally competitive. Here again the Liberals will look to the NDP for support but will no doubt clash about how to meet these challenges. Liberals will try to temper government involvement and use incentives and disincentives. The NDP, if they follow the typical playbook, will push for more direct government investment and intervention.

Advancing the national childcare agenda and investment in green economy skills is where we may see the most movement as it ticks the boxes of gender equity, job creation, sustainability goals and economic growth — Central to both the Liberal and NDP platforms.

The automotive industry and its ancillary enterprises are well-positioned to prosper during the upcoming sessions of Parliament. The Liberals campaigned on a promise to require at least 50 percent of passenger-vehicle sales to be electric by 2030. Similarly, emerging green economy businesses are poised to benefit from new commitments to make buildings more energy-efficient, create a net-zero power grid by 2035, and subsidize renewable electricity generation and clean technologies. How these commitments will be rolled out will depend a lot on the horse-trading that resumes between the Liberals and those it can convince to work with them. One thing that is clear, Canada’s oil and gas industry is now firmly on the path of, “transition and diversification”.

Several issues emerged or dogged the campaign trail but did not necessarily change the outcome. 

Despite a deepening understanding of Truth and Reconciliation principles among Canadians in recent years, it was not enough to push issues related to Indigenous and First Nations to the forefront of the ballot question. These are the issues that will continue to see progress, but change will no doubt remain incremental.

The three leading federal Parties all agree that the country has a shortage of affordable housing. Each Party has promised to increase the supply and make it easier for young Canadians to buy a home. All differ on where the solutions reside, which could make policy alignment illusive.

The role of Canada’s Armed Forces will continue to require careful attention, both in terms of its purpose and effectiveness. Issues regarding sexual harassment and misconduct are important and I think most Canadians would agree that getting to the truth is necessary. Canadian governments tend to ask a lot of the armed forces: Whether to fill sandbags during a flood, vaccine logistics or helping Toronto shovel its way out of a snowstorm, it’s clear its purpose goes beyond armed defence. Our fighting men and women have also returned from a long deployment in Afghanistan. Canada lost 134 people over 13 years and I believe we have a shared responsibility to those who put their lives on the line and the people left behind.

None of these issues have proven to be a true tipping point with the electorate, however. Other issues like the growing national debt, taxing the rich, gun control, and vaccine mandates all played a part in differentiating the three front-running leaders, but except for a small shift on the right side of the political spectrum, very few voters were persuaded to change course.

Where does this leave us? Here are a few thoughts.

  1. We are still in the grips of a global pandemic – arguably the most disruptive crisis since WW2. Our collective survival instincts may be obscuring our appetite for bold and innovative policy. As we emerge from the pandemic – and we will emerge – we may find ourselves looking for a bigger change. This provides burgeoning entrepreneurs and Canada’s established business community with a lot of room for leadership.
  2. Minority governments are often panned as ineffectual power gridlocks, but we do have examples in our past to suggest that they do not have to be. For example, the Pearson era of the 1960s is often credited as one of the most progressive in Canada’s history, even while it is acknowledged to be one of the messiest. When power is more diffused, backbenchers have more influence, and therefore, the adage that ‘politics is local’ is never truer than it is within a minority government.
  3. The pandemic combined with the acceleration of climate change consequences and rhetoric has provided us with some of the clearest examples yet of interdependence, and at the same time, this campaign appears to have ushered in new levels of harassment and hate. Arguably, a populist agenda is growing in Canada and sage advice is that more than the Laurentian elites should be worried. Some will claim that populism undermines our values but, in the end, our collective prosperity could be on the line if we underestimate the risk and causes of the discontent.