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Lobbyists Welcome The Prospect Of A Minority Government

Globe and Mail
June 19, 2004

The likely prospect of a minority government after the June 28 federal election has lobbyists across Ottawa pouring over the 169-page Bloc Québécois platform with intense interest.

It also has them rubbing their hands in glee.

Since a formal coalition is almost out of the question, a minority government -- whether it be led by the Conservatives or the Liberals -- would thrive on the basis of informal cross-party alliances formed around specific issues, analysts say.

"Our tradition is minority governments that move with winks and nods, and move from crisis to crisis," political scientist Nelson Wiseman of the University of Toronto said.

That means backbench MPs, opposition MPs, senators, senior bureaucrats and ridings will have more power to advocate their positions. And that opens the door to endless possibilities to influence decisions, the lobbyists say.

"It allows each and every one of us to express a point of view that can find a home -- and a home with an MP or a senator who actually has power," said Michael Teeter, a principal at Hillwatch Inc., an Ottawa-based lobbying firm.

"I think it should be great; great for everybody."

Such a minority government would also mean unprecedented power for the Bloc. And the victorious party, as well as anyone hoping to be active in influencing Ottawa, would have to pay new attention to its demands.

An Ipsos-Reid poll for The Globe and Mail and CTV released today forecasts a minority government controlled by the Conservatives, with a possible 125 to 129 seats. The Liberals would have about 92 to 96 seats, while the New Democratic Party would win up to 24. The poll projects between 63 to 67 seats for the Bloc, although most analysts say that number is unrealistically high.

But while many analysts say a scenario like that -- a Conservative government dependent on the Bloc or a compilation of support from opposition parties -- would give interest groups and constituents a larger say in policy-making, they also say it would mean extra-cautious legislation.

"The legislation we'll get is stasis; it's really nothing," Prof. Wiseman said.

That is because a governing party would not want to risk losing support in the House of Commons and having to call an election before it could be assured of winning a majority.

The televised leaders debates this week exposed a few details about possible informal alliances.

Liberal Leader Paul Martin reached out -- literally and rhetorically -- to the NDP in one exchange. Conservative Conservative Leader Stephen Harper began most of his one-on-one debates with the Bloc and the NDP with a preamble that stressed how much they all have in common.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe told the NDP the two parties could work together on matters not involving Quebec. He also laid out, in clear terms, the issues on which he would not compromise.

"It is out of the question for the Bloc Québécois to form a coalition with the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party. We will determine our position based on Quebec's interests," he said.

The Bloc, he added, would not back down on its pacifist position in military matters, nor would it reverse its strong support for the Kyoto environmental accord.

But analysts say the Bloc and the Conservatives could find common ground on giving more money and power to the provinces, on closer integration with the United States, and perhaps on a looser interpretation of the Canada Health Act.

The Conservatives, if they win a minority, also will probably try to woo a few Bloc MPs, partly because the Tories are unlikely to win any seats in Quebec and need Quebeckers for their cabinet, and partly to boost their minority.
 © 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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