Learning What Levers to Pull in a Minority Government

We’ve already looked at the mechanics of how a minority government could operate. We also know the players and can guess at the expected length of a Liberal government supported by the NDP, perhaps occasionally others. But how do stakeholders newly interact with government now? What levers can be pulled? And how do stakeholders get heard?

Minority governments tend to get a bad rap and are viewed as inherently fractious, but in reality, using the right levers, minority governments force parties to work together. That can be advantageous for stakeholders depending on the issue. Here are a few levers for stakeholders to consider as they plan their government outreach to Canada’s new government:

1. Opposition MPs Matter – It goes without saying that your public affairs activities need to keep Liberal MPs front and centre, but with the Bloc and NDP each carrying enough weight to act as the balance of power, you need to make sure that you have some agreement on both sides of the aisles. Although the Conservatives and Liberals often have an us vs. them mentality, the Conservatives can’t simply vote against everything in a minority government. Simply, relationships matter. Today’s backbencher is tomorrow’s Cabinet Minister. Get to know the critics from all parties and read all the party platforms and look for points of intersection to move your agenda forward.

2. Committees as Masters of their own Domain – At the dissolution of the last Parliament, there were 30 parliamentary committees. All had Liberal majorities, which effectively meant that committees were controlled by one party’s MPs. Committees reflect the same makeup as Parliament, which means for this upcoming government, the party with the most seats, the Liberals, will no longer carry the majority on committees. This means that committees can truly be the ‘masters of their own domains’ and set their own agendas. It leaves rooms for stakeholders to directly engage with committee’s MPs from all sides, whether that be requesting specific studies, appearing as a witness or just educating MPs. Most importantly though, all government legislation goes through a committee process, which means that changes are more likely to be made at the committee level.

3. Speech from the Throne – Any new government kicks off the
beginning of the parliamentary session with a Speech from the Throne. It’s a speech delivered by the Governor General that outlines the priorities of the government. The Liberals will be focusing their first speech on their campaign commitments, but they also need to be cognizant, as this is a confidence measure, they will need the support of other parties, which means the speech will have to be designed to appeal to at minimum the NDP or Bloc. Stakeholders should be reviewing the party platforms for items they can immediately support to show that they can be seen as trusted partners. Generating goodwill now will help you achieve your goals
later.

4. Stakeholder Relations – Every Minister, and every party in
Parliament for that matter, will have a team of people dedicated to
stakeholder relations. These are the staffers that you need to get to
know. Meeting with Members of Parliament directly is key, however, so is meeting with the staff who can often arrange meetings with MPs, provide helpful advice, and work to champion your asks.

5. Private Members’ Bills – In a majority government it is
exceedingly rare for a Private Members’ Bills to pass that are not
sponsored by an MP from the governing party. This no longer holds
true in a minority government. Backbenchers, those MPs not in cabinet or Parliamentary Secretaries, will have more freedom to introduce legislation. At the beginning of Parliament, a lottery will be held to hand out spots to MPs to introduce legislation (simply so you don’t have 300 MPs introducing bills all at once!). Stakeholders should work to identify supportive MPs that could sponsor a bill that achieves your goals. Note that Private Members’ Bill can’t spend money but can still serve to move your issues forward.

6. Engaging with the Executive – Despite being a minority
government, Canada’s executive level of government, the Prime
Minister and Cabinet, remains controlled by the Liberals. Now that the Prime Minister has discounted the notion of a formal coalition
government, all Cabinet Ministers will in fact be liberal. Liberal Cabinet Ministers and the full Cabinet itself, will still have their full constitutional powers to make administrative decisions and regulate. Cabinet Ministers will obviously need to make sure that any legislation they sponsor for their departments will garner support from other parties, but that’s a political calculation and one that will be borne out at the legislative level. Stakeholders will still want to meet with Cabinet Minister directly to champion their goals. And as was done in the past, we expect the Prime Minister to release the mandate letters for each Minister, which outline the objectives they need to achieve. These are helpful documents for stakeholders to review as it spells where the government is headed and where you can align your goals.