Minority governments better for Black Canadians

Robin Browne

 Federal election polls currently predict a minority Liberal or Conservative government on Sept. 20 and that’s good for Black Canadians as minority governments have a history of delivering things that have been – and in many cases still are – good for Black folks. Here are some, paraphrased from a great 2019 Policy Options article by Geoff Norquay.

The Lester B. Pearson minorities (1963-65 and 1965-68)

“Supported by the NDP, Pearson’s Liberals put in place a bounty of progressive programs and initiatives, including universal coverage of hospitalization and medicare, the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans, the Canada Assistance Plan, the Canada Student Loans program…and groundbreaking labour legislation that pioneered the 40-hour work week.” As many Black Canadians face economic challenges partly due to systemic anti-Black racism, they needed programs like Medicare and the Canada Student Loans Program more than others. As part of the economic challenge was being in low paid jobs with few protections, the 40-hour work week also benefited them more.

The Pierre Elliot Trudeau minority (1972-74)

“The Trudeau government amended the Elections Act to regulate election expenses for the first time. This was landmark legislation that established most of the principles still at the heart of Canada’s party financing regulatory regime: a tax credit system for donations, disclosure of donations over $100 and reimbursement for political parties’ election expenses. Limits were also placed on the amounts that candidates and parties were allowed to spend on campaigns.” As these changes curbed the power of big business to influence elections, it helped Black folks because big business then, as now, isn’t controlled by Black folks. The problem now, is that Big Tech businesses make money by allowing disinformation that affects elections in ways that haven’t benefited Black folks.

The Joe Clark minority (1979-80)

“Despite its short time in power, the Clark government can claim at least partial credit for one significant policy advance, Canada’s first access-to-information legislation. Clark’s Bill C-15, to create the Freedom of Information Act, established a broad right of access to government records.” Under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, the right to submit Access to Information and Privacy requests, or ATIPs, is one of the most powerful tools Black folks have to confront discrimination they face from the federal government or federally regulated workplaces. That’s because documenting discriminatory treatment is essential to ending it. Information requests only cost $5 and privacy requests (i.e. information dealing personally with you) are free. Provinces have their own versions. Black folks in Ontario can use the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to get information from the Ontario government or places it regulates. Regulated organizations include the Canadian and Ontario human rights commissions.

The Paul Martin minority (2004-06)

“Early in the Martin government, the Prime Minister reached a 10-year deal with the provinces and territories to increase federal health care funding by $41 billion, to lower their cost pressures and reduce wait times for essential services. The federal commitment included a 6-percent annual increase in federal transfers. A divisive and years-long debate was concluded with the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005.” Any improvement to healthcare disproportionately benefits Black folks because many Black folks have health issues related to the economic challenges flowing from systemic anti-Black racism. Legalizing same sex marriage directly benefited Black LQBTQ2+ folks – which was particularly important since homophobia was, and still is, an issue in Black communities as in the larger society.  

The Stephen Harper minorities (2006-08 and 2008-11)

“When the government’s 2008 fall economic update failed to announce stimulus measures in the face of the rapidly developing world credit crisis and recession, the opposition leaders threatened to topple the government. The Liberals and the NDP proposed a coalition government supported by the Bloc Québécois. After several days of crisis, Harper secured a highly controversial prorogation [pause] from the Governor General. A notable Harper accomplishment was his eventual response to the…financial crisis. Chastened by their recent near-death experience at the hands of the opposition and forced to play against their conservative fiscal instincts, Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, [included in the 2009 budget] $40 billion in stimulus and $20 billion in personal income tax cuts…taking the country sharply into deficit. The government’s aggressive response enabled the Canadian economy to recover more quickly and come out of the recession stronger than other G7 countries. 

At the 2010 G8 Summit hosted by Canada, the Conservatives launched a signature commitment to the summit’s initiative on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). Starting with a leadership pledge of $2.85 billion for 2010-15, the government followed up with an additional $3.5-billion commitment for 2015-20.” Just as with the COVID pandemic, Black folks were disproportionately negatively impacted by the global financial crisis so they would have benefited more than many from these measures to address it. Improvements to maternal health would also disproportionately help Black women since the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, in pre-pandemic times, Black women in the U.S. died of pregnancy-related causes at a rate three times higher than white women, and Black babies were twice as likely to die before reaching their first birthday than white babies, regardless of the mother’s income or education level. According to a 2020 Huffington Post article by Eternity E Martis, because Canada doesn’t collect race-based health data, we don’t have an accurate picture of Black maternal mortality in this country. The Liberal government’s 2021 budget included almost $200 million over five years for Statistics Canada to collect data on “diverse populations, and support the government’s, and society’s, efforts to address systemic racism, gender gaps.” It’s crucial that include health data.

Minority governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have delivered lots of good stuff for Black Canadians and can be expected to continue doing so. Majority government have delivered some good things too like the 1977 Canadian Human Rights Act and the 1982 Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms, both enacted by Pierre Trudeau majorities, but minority governments have delivered much more according to my (limited) research.

So Black folks need to discard the idea that voting for a candidate of a party that has little chance of gaining power is a “wasted vote” because, in a minority government, that party could end up holding the balance of power. Black folks can then push all parties to deliver the goods with a higher chance of success.

Originally published in “True North”. Robin Browne is an African-Canadian communications professional and father of two boys. He lives in Ottawa.

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