Trudeau-Horgan two-step promises to be intriguing political dance

Father Pierre famously said the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, but son Justin knows that doesn’t mean the state can’t curry strange bedfellows. 

A minority government, after all, is less about reaching across the aisle to a chronic sworn enemy than about finding the least troublesome momentary blood brother for the battle. To switch metaphors, governing in a minority is about hitching a rainy morning ride to the nearby bus stop, not about getting a long drive into the valley.

Which is why in the weeks and months – but not many years – ahead, as he navigates life as a diminished prime minister who must act emboldened to govern, Justin Trudeau will curate impulsive buddies for the quest.

One of the most intriguing über-partners is bound to be our premier, John Horgan, who must be chop-licking his ka-ching blessings of the federal election outcome. A sweeter spot short of a majority NDP government could not have been hatched for him.

Simply put, Trudeau does not have time to await a change in provincial government. He has to live in the moment. Nationally, his minority government is an exercise in winning over about 18 ridings in about 18 months.

He does not have many progressive premiers in the first ministers club to advance his agenda, certainly not anyone of Horgan’s heft. And he can’t be ultra-choosy on who might help him, particularly in this province, where he just lost six seats and his major foe gained seven.

Of all the tests of his second term, might Trudeau’s handling of Horgan – and for that matter, Horgan’s handling of Trudeau – be the delicate dance we will most wish to watch? 

Might the prime minister choose Horgan as an odd-couple comrade-in-arms, much the way Alberta’s Rachel Notley found herself on climate change, energy development and the carbon tax – if for no other reason in her case than to pray (in vain) it would forestall the arrival of Jason Kenney?

Might his effort to work with Horgan be a Trojan Horse to stop the Conservative expansion in this province?

Might he find enough expedient common ground in Horgan’s government without undermining the BC Liberals who would wish to unseat the premier in 2021?

For those who point to the dispute on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion as the Ottawa-Victoria relationship’s bridge too far, I would say there is now ample water under it to move on. The differences in their positions are less relevant because there is little left in their hands to determine the project’s outcome.

There is no federal pipeline legislation to worry about with the federal NDP; if there were, the Conservatives wouldn’t vote against it, anyway, so the government would survive. And there are no provincial measures that can stop what is bound in the end to be directed by court rulings.

More likely, the Trudeau-Horgan bromance will compartmentalize the pipeline and foster common goals on climate change initiatives, a pharmacare scheme, a child-care plan, state-sponsored housing, transit infrastructure, anti-poverty measures, First Nations reconciliation and an opioid strategy. These are issues upon which they speak the same language, if somewhat different dialects.

Horgan’s grand opportunity here is to raid the federal piggy bank, which will be run for the next while by a party prepared to run deficits long enough for Greta Thunberg to be a pensioner. He and Trudeau will likely trip over each other with brainstorms for the public purse. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh need not even enter the conversation.

To spend in B.C. is to give Trudeau the best chance with B.C., and it is the path of least resistance to rebuilding the party’s fortunes from the west coast inland. A photo opportunity of John and Justin is more authentically cheery than the grudging gripping and grinning with Alberta’s Kenney or Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe. Besides, if Trudeau regains a majority, it will be in spite of and not because of those provinces.

So, the question of the moment: Who doesn’t like their own money, and the money of their children, spent on them? I suspect not us.

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, at Glacier Media.