The success of the new German coalition government offers lessons for Canadian politicians

The Trudeau government has always ignored Parliament, perhaps even a little afraid of it. This was true even when they were in the majority and became more visible in their first minority. They cut the number of sitting days to a ridiculous level this year – before this week, the House had not sat since June.

This is partly why they have such a slim legislative legacy after six years in power, and why they consistently struggle to try to sidestep parliamentary oversight. The never-ending battle for access to documents surrounding the dismissal of two Chinese scientists from a Canadian government lab is just the latest in a long line of similar time-wasting follies.

Trudeau is a weak interpreter in the House, too often exaggerating with too little frankness on even the most trivial of matters. The management of the house oscillated between surly and stubborn. The government could now be well served by Mark Holland – its first House leader to have the skills and the respect of all parties to find the necessary compromises – if it let it.

All of these weaknesses were highlighted in one of the most empty throne speeches in recent memory. A cut-and-paste of old campaign literature and previous speeches, it was barely glued together by the usual hyperbolic rhetoric typical of this government – one that is obsessed with presentation, and much less with political and legislative performance. There were some signs of change and substance. Perhaps most surprising was the allusion to a new Chinese policy, teased in the use of the American framework, “an Indo-Pacific strategy”, their euphemism for an anti-China alliance.

Four bills are due to be resurrected in the remaining 15 sitting days in 2021. Given their record, it seems highly unlikely that they will be passed in the next three weeks. When the house finally returns – the last day of January! – it will take more precious time for the House to carry out even this small agenda. This delaying approach to governing through legislation, adopted by a legislature, is a legacy of the Harper years – a legacy the Liberals, perhaps unsurprisingly, found irresistibly tempting. One of its products, however, are insanely contentious committees where partisan comma battles are not uncommon; good deals between parties are scarce and procedural disputes at the secondary level are routine.

Germany, another large, controversial federal democracy, had its last election a week after ours. This week, their new one released a 177-page set of specific policy commitments, with detailed agendas and deadlines. It included some eyebrow-raising commitments, such as increasing the minimum wage to the equivalent of $ 17.00; a cap on annual rent increases of 3.65 percent; and a costed plan for the construction of 400,000 new homes and apartments, 25 percent of which will be publicly funded.

The new German coalition used the time between election day and this week to forge a strong, united government, made up of both left and right. The political union demonstrated ambition, coherence and political competence when it was launched, and has since unveiled an impressive global climate and political framework. The new government took office during one of the worst crises Germany has faced since the war: an almost uncontrollable pandemic, with the country reeling from the highest number of cases in Western Europe today ‘hui.

What did our only ruling party do in those same weeks? They clearly weren’t drafting legislation, nor were they preparing the details of a three-year deadline on COVID, climate or housing. They played a few flirtatious games with their potential political partners, but never with much seriousness or determination, apparently.

Another distinction in Germany’s approach to parliamentary democracy is, however, very anti-Canadian: this 177-page government platform is now handed out to members of each party for a vote. This government would vanish in the face of such revolutionary absurdity.

Robin V. Sears was an NDP strategist for 20 years and then served as a communications advisor to businesses and governments on three continents. He is a freelance columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robinvsears

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