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Trudeau pushes tax cuts, climate in test for minority government

06 December 2019   |   12:49 pm
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a legislative agenda on Thursday that touts tax cuts and tougher climate actions in the first test of his new minority government.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau / AFP PHOTO / Lars Hagberg

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a legislative agenda on Thursday that touts tax cuts and tougher climate actions in the first test of his new minority government.

After a nasty election fight and his rejection of a formal coalition, Trudeau must rely on the backing of opposition parties on a case-by-case basis to stay in power.

That starts with garnering support for his agenda, which was outlined in a throne speech by Governor General Julie Payette to parliament, convened for the first time since the October ballot.

In the 30-minute address, Payette sketched out plans for tax cuts, net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a ban on assault rifles, and a national prescription drug plan.

“We know that we are inextricably bound to the same space-time continuum and onboard the same planetary spaceship,” said the former astronaut.

“I am certain that by working together, no challenges are too big.”

One key opposition leader, however, said the priorities laid out by the government did not go far enough.

Trudeau has just returned from NATO talks where a hot mic gaffe revived his feud with US President Donald Trump.

Trump-branded him “two-faced” after allied leaders were caught on video at a Buckingham Palace reception mocking the American president’s rambling press appearances.

The Canadian leader insisted it won’t complicate relations, including ratification of a continental trade deal with the United States and Mexico.

But opposition parties tarred Trudeau for “weakening” Canada abroad with such “high school gossip.”

Keep opponents close
After a poor performance during the campaign that dredged up an ethics scandal and embarrassing photos of a young Trudeau in blackface, the Canadian leader has kept a low profile, meeting privately with opposition leaders and stakeholders to try to find common ground.

It’s a change from his first term when the debonair politician exploded onto the world stage as a strong liberal voice and a counterbalance to the rising political right, declaring: “Canada is back!”

The laundry list of looming issues is also longer and more complex than four years ago — including a slowing economy and geographic political divisions.

Canadians “sent us here with clear instructions to work together to make life better for them,” Trudeau told lawmakers earlier.

“Common ground does exist in this parliament and I know we can build on it,” he said.

There have been only 14 minority governments in Canadian history, the last in 2009.

Few have lasted more than two years, but they can be productive, having resulted in universal healthcare, a national pension plan and the maple leaf flag.

Canada’s 43rd parliament will be “a real test” of Trudeau’s leadership, Lori Williams, a politics professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told AFP.

“He’ll need to be willing to make compromises.”

After a debate over the coming days or weeks, lawmakers will vote on whether to accept the government’s plans, or not, and trigger snaps elections.

Most observers agree the government won’t fall in the near term because the opposition is in turmoil.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is facing pressure to resign and the New Democratic Party (NDP) has no money to fight another election right now.

The Liberals must also regroup and rebuild after losing 20 seats.

And, according to Williams, “Canadians have no interest in going back to the polls anytime soon.”

Over this stretch, support for the Liberals is most likely to come from the left-leaning NDP as the two parties are broadly aligned on policies.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, however, after demanding bold measures “to really make a difference in peoples’ lives,” said he was disappointed by what he heard in the throne speech.

“We want to work together, but what they’ve offered so far is not sufficient,” he said.

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