“Liberal, Tory, same old story” is a familiar rhetorical refrain in Canadian politics. But we now have data to back it up.
Since 2004, the earliest date that online parliamentary records are kept, the Liberals and Conservatives voted together more than 600 times on bills, an analysis by The Breach has found.
Dozens upon dozens of those joint votes opposed progressive bills put forward by the New Democratic Party, the Greens, or the Bloc Québécois.
Across minority and majority governments, the two main Canadian political parties banded together to ensure a broad policy consensus: huge tax breaks to corporations, a punitive criminal justice system, a less generous social welfare state, a restrictive immigration system, a hugely profitable private pharmaceutical regime, pro-corporate trade deals abroad, and opposition to expanding workers’ rights.
The Breach collected and analyzed the voting records. For each government since 2004, we’ve selected examples of Liberal and Conservative collusion to block progressive policy.
2004-05: Minority Liberal government under Paul Martin
With Paul Martin’s Liberals reduced to a minority in the wake of ongoing sponsorship scandal revelations, they voted repeatedly with Conservatives to prevent progressive legislation.
Together, Liberals and Conservatives voted to block bills that would:
- Prohibit employers from hiring “scabs,” workers who replace employees who are on strike or locked out.
- Make it easier for lower- and middle-income families to save for post-secondary education.
- Allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor for immigration a relative who is not a member of the immediate family.
- Reform Employment Insurance to reduce the minimum qualifying period of hours worked, increase the benefit period and the rate of weekly benefits, and repeal the waiting period.
- Require the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to distribute any surplus from its reserve fund to the provinces for social housing.
- Force by-elections for any parliamentarians who crossed the floor to another party.
- Require the Public Service of Canada to provide a workplace free of “psychological harassment,” and impose fines and take action when an employee who has made a disclosure is subjected to retaliation.
- Reduce patent protection for medicines to make it easier to make cheap versions of much-needed drugs.
2005-08: Minority Conservative government under Stephen Harper
In 2005, Conservative leader Stephen Harper eked out a plurality of seats, and formed a minority government.
Liberals supported the Conservative’s punitive law-and-order agenda and propped up the shaky Conservative minority government in scores of confidence motions.
In 2008, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion finally joined NDP leader Jack Layton to force a non-confidence vote and form a government representing the majority of voters, but it was sunk by a shrill media response and Harper’s suspension of Parliament.
Liberals also found other opportunities to team up with Conservatives to vote down several pieces of proposed legislation. These included bills to:
- Require mandatory labelling on genetically modified food and stricter labelling of imported and prepackaged food.
- Amend the Railway Safety Act to appoint police constables to deal with railway companies and complaints about them.
- Amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to create more efficient regulation of fuels and an environmental review of biofuel production in Canada.
- Require the Minister of Defence to table a motion before the House of Commons when a foreign military mission includes or might include an “offensive” dimensions.
2008-11: Minority Conservative government under Stepher Harper
Stephen Harper’s second minority government made aggressive moves to cut research funding and undermine climate initiatives, but relied on Liberal support in many legislative areas.
The Liberal party supported a Harper budget that slashed corporate tax rates to among the world’s lowest.
Once again, Liberals and Conservatives joined forces to scupper bills to:
- Promote economic development by ensuring that the government gives preference to Canadian products in its procurement of its goods and services.
- Amend the Criminal Code to add vulnerability due to age as an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes, to encourage less harsh sentencing for younger people.
- Provide a refundable tax credit to an individual whose employer failed to make the required contributions to a registered pension plan.
- Require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed be permitted.
They also cooperated to prevent the NDP and BQ from stalling and scrapping pro-corporate trade deals signed with Colombia, Panama and European countries.
2011-15: Majority Conservative government under Stephen Harper
Harper finally gained his majority in 2011, thanks to a Liberal collapse that saw leader Michael Ignatieff lose his seat in Etobicoke. The Liberals were reduced to third party status with just 34 MPs. Harper wielded his new powers: muzzling scientists, reshaping government operations, emboldening social conservatives and cutting corporate taxes (as the Liberals had done under Chretien and Martin).
While the Liberals lost the leverage that they had during the Harper-led minorities, they found opportunities to work with the ruling Conservatives.
- They joined them in violating the postal workers right to strike, legislating them back to work.
- They voted together to move forward pro-corporate trade pacts across South American and Europe.
- They teamed up to vote for Bill C-51, draconian legislation that expanded policing and spy powers, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and had disturbing implications for free speech, privacy and civil liberties.
- They both voted to increase capital gains exemptions to $800,000 so the wealthy and corporations could pay less tax on even more money, appeasing the big business lobby.
- They both voted to pass the inflammatory “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”.
- They also voted against a bill allowing a pregnant or nursing employee to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.
2015-19: Majority Liberal government under Justin Trudeau
Thanks to Trudeau’s bold progressive promises, the Liberals shot from 36 seats to 184, taking the reigns decisively.
Liberals and Conservative banded together to push through another pro-corporate trade pact, the Transpacific Partnership, and once again legislated postal workers back to work. Justin Trudeau kept in place the corporate tax giveaways brought in by Harper, and added some new ones.
Opposition parties took what few opportunities they had to introduce progressive measures. The Liberal and Conservative benches took those same rare opportunities to vote against bills and motions to:
- Implement a national strategy to reduce poverty and appoint an independent poverty reduction commissioner.
- Amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to include the right to proper housing, at a reasonable cost and free of unreasonable barriers.
- Amend the Export and Import Permits Act and the Criminal Code to create more stringent conditions for selling weapons to countries abroad for “offensive” purposes.
- Establish a procedure for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions, which have primarily affected racialized and low-income people.
- Allow non-Canadians to bring civil claims in Federal Court over violations of international law outside of Canada.
- Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination.
- Require that fish aquaculture for commercial purposes in Canadian waters off the Pacific Coast be carried out in closed containment facilities.
2019-21: Minority Liberal government under Justin Trudeau
After systematically betraying promises to usher in bold transformational change, Trudeau was reduced to a minority.
He pushed back against the NDP (which had enough votes to pass legislation with the Liberals) and its overtures for progressive changes, voting with the Conservatives to shut down bills or motions to:
- Develop an action plan to ensure that Canada fulfills its obligations under the Paris Agreement, as well as develop a climate emergency action framework.
- Establish a Pharmacare Act for universal pharmacare program.
- Amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act to ensure that investments meet basic environmental and worker rights standards.
- Establish a federal dental care plan as soon as possible for Canadian families earning less than $90,000 per year who are not covered by a dental care plan, as a step toward the inclusion of full dental care in Canada’s healthcare system.
- Establish a wealth tax of one percent tax on wealth over $20 million, and an excess profit tax on big corporations that have been profiteering from the pandemic.
- Take measures to make Canada’s telecommunications services more affordable and accessible to Canadians.