Trudeau has to build a relationship with NDP if he wants a long-term minority government: Herb Dhaliwal


HERB Dhaliwal, the first-ever South Asian federal minister, told The VOICE this week that if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants a stable minority government, he’s got to choose the NDP and work with them on a day-to-day basis.

Dhlaiwal, who served in Jean Chretien’s Cabinet from 1997-2003, added: “I think that would be the best strategy to stay in power for the next two to three years.”

He warned: “If his view is that I am going to work with whichever party, I don’t think that’s going to work. I think he’s got to start establishing that we’re going to be working with the NDP, start agreeing on some things that they are going to support and that way he’ll be able to I think survive in a longer term.

“If he starts working on an issue-by-issue basis, which some are saying, I think that could be problematic because you don’t know what issues they are going to support; they can change their mind as well.”

Dhaliwal pointed out: “Joe Clark didn’t think he’d lose his government but he did, and Paul Martin didn’t think he was going to have to go into an election, but he did as well.”

Both Clark and Martin headed minority governments.

Dhaliwal pointed out: “Managing a minority government requires different skills than a majority government. Remember Joe Clark got himself into trouble because he said well, we are going to run government as if we have a majority. And of course, after nine months, he lost the vote on the budget and then he lost the government.”

(Clark’s Progressive Conservative Party came to power in the 1979 election, defeating the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau. But he only won a minority government that was defeated on a motion of non-confidence. He lost the 1980 election in which Pierre Trudeau came back into power.)

(Martin, who forced Chretien out, could only win a minority Liberal government in 2004. He lost a confidence vote and had to call the 2006 general election, which he lost.)

Herb Dhaliwal (right) with Justin Trudeau.
Photo submitted

Dhaliwal said: “So I think Justin Trudeau has to build a relationship with I think the closest ally, which is the NDP, if he wants a stable minority government, and hire people that can work with both the NDP and the Liberals to make sure that they can stay in power and if they have some good people that can … work as a bridge to keep the parties together, they could govern for two to three years. … This is his best way he can continue to govern.”

THE other challenge that Trudeau faces is how to get Saskatchewan and Alberta represented in cabinet, Dhaliwal pointed out.

He said: “He’s got no elected members in Alberta and Saskatchewan – how is he going to fill that gap? So that will be interesting – how he deals with that. … During his father’s time, we had very few people in the West.  In fact, we had no members in B.C. at one time. So what they did was they put in senators Ray Perrault and Jack Austin.”

(Perrault was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in October 1973 and a year later, he joined the cabinet as Leader of the Government in the Senate. Austin, who was appointed chief of staff to Pierre Trudeau in 1974, was appointed to the Senate in 1975.)

Dhaliwal said: “They put them in the cabinet to represent British Columbia. So what happened was when we didn’t have representatives in B.C., we obviously needed a voice around the cabinet table from all parts of the country. The senior Trudeau tapped into his Senate and got them into cabinet and that’s traditionally been done.”

However, Dhaliwal also noted: “Trudeau’s challenge now is he basically told the senators they are not part of his caucus and he doesn’t want them to be political. I think he’s sort of maybe lost that option.”

Dhaliwal said that Trudeau could choose someone from Alberta or Saskatchewan who’s not an MP or a senator to sit in cabinet, “and that is kind of tricky.”

He added: “Who do you pick and on what basis? And who do they represent because they are not a member of Parliament, they are not appointed in Senate? So that is going to be one of his biggest challenges.”

When I asked Dhaliwal if Trudeau could do that, he replied: “It’s not normally done, but in exceptional circumstances [the Prime Minister] is able to do that. He has appointed people who are not elected and then they ran and got elected like Pierre Pettigrew and Stephane Dion [when Chretien was Prime Minister]. They actually were in cabinet before they became elected MPs. But they both got elected afterwards.”

(Following the 1995 Quebec referendum, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien wanted star candidates from Quebec for his cabinet. So he appointed Pettigrew and Dion to cabinet, even before they were in the House.) 

Herb Dhaliwal with Jean Chretien during one of his more recent visits to Vancouver.
Photo submitted

DHALIWAL reiterated what he told me last March in an interview that Trudeau should appoint regional ministers as was the practice in the past. 

Dhaliwal said: “He needs to do that as well because one person should be … making sure that the voice of that region is well reflected and actions are taken, and this is one of the big mistakes they made [not appointing regional ministers]. They should go back to putting a regional minister in each region of the country.”

Trudeau also faces the challenge of replacing some ministers who lost including Ralph Goodale from Saskatchewan.

Dhaliwal noted: “He needs some experienced people, because he doesn’t have a lot of experienced ministers.”