It’s been seven years since we last had a majority parliament in Canada – long enough that I have almost forgotten what government relations was like under a majority government.
A few changes will be very obvious. Legislation will move far quicker through the house and the senate now that the Tories have a majority in each. The government always has the ability to bring in a motion of closure if the opposition is effective at filibuster.
That said, the government will want to avoid any recourse to closure early on in its mandate. One indication is that they will sit longer in the summer and pass their pre-election budget.
Influence on legislation will shift from parliamentary committees to conservative caucus committees. The Conservatives will now control all the parliamentary committees with only public accounts being chaired by members of the opposition. That means the influential policy debate amongst elected officials will take place in the various regional and policy caucus committees in the Conservative Party. It also means that the threat of mischievous private members bills will largely be contained. The opposition is no longer influential over legislation, though it retains value as a way to draw attention to alternative issues and points of view.
Businesses will be pleased initially by the predictably and comparative simplicity of a majority Parliament. In addition to Conservative caucus lobbying, GR efforts will be focused on officials, ministers and ministerial aides. With the constant threat of defeat in the House of Commons gone I expect to see more authority gravitate to the ministers and a lessening of the strict agenda control from the PMO and PCO. That said, this will evolve over time as the town has been remarkably conditioned by Mr. Harper’s agenda and message discipline.
The day after the election, the Prime Minister indicated that he will be able to focus now on long term decision making. Initiatives, such as the healthcare accord, Canada EU trade agreement, and border security will inevitably increase the importance of Federal/Provincial relations. Don’t be surprised if some time over the next four years we see a resumption of First Minister conferences – because long term decision making is about jurisdictional alignment. The position of Premier Charest in particular has been enhanced because it is likely that the Feds will want to be helpful to a Federalist Premier prior to the next Provincial election.
For the lobbying industry, a majority parliament should result in less paranoia about its activities. I am hopeful that, for example, the lobbying legislation can have a meaningful review without the usual attempts by political parties to demonstrate how virtuous they are by layering on new regulations. The government should look at reducing the five year cooling off period, remove the 20% rule, and reconfirm lobbyists’ ability to play meaningful roles in election campaigns. In any case I suspect the oversight of lobbying activities to become less of an issue.
Of course the flip side of the predictability of a majority parliament is that it’s much more difficult to amend legislation once government has set a course. That’s why it is critical to be very knowledgeable about the players and policies of the governing party. That said, the days of easy access and reliance on partisan relationships is over. Even if the atmosphere around lobbying become less antagonistic, current legal and legislative requirements will still require the government relations industry to evolve its traditional methods of influencing policy by moving increasingly into the world of social media, traditional media, third party stakeholders and think tanks.
The evolution to a much more transparent industry will continue even if a majority parliament reduces the paranoia about lobbying.