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Liberal MP Mark Holland optimistic minority government can work with opposition


Government House leader Mark Holland speaks during a news conference after the federal cabinet was sworn in, in Ottawa on Oct. 26, 2021.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

How long Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s second minority government lasts and how much it manages to get done depends to a large degree on Mark Holland.

It’s a huge responsibility for the veteran Liberal MP who was promoted to cabinet last week as the new government House leader.

“It’s a lot on my shoulders. I felt the weight of it immediately,” Holland said in an interview.

If the last session of Parliament is any indication of what’s in store – hyper-partisanship, filibusters, time-wasting procedural machinations to stall progress on all manner of legislation, non-stop negotiations to ensure the minority Liberals have at least one opposition dance partner to pass bills and avoid defeat on confidence votes – Holland could be walking into a nightmare scenario.

But that’s not the way he sees it.

“I love the House, I love how it works, I love procedure … For me, it’s a dream position,” he said.

As the chief government whip for the past three years, Holland has been involved before in negotiations with opposition parties and feels he’s developed “a good working relationship with folks.”

“I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful that there’s going to be a good window of time here to get a lot done and to work collaboratively,” he said.

Right off the bat, Holland has to stickhandle the resumption of Parliament on Nov. 22, grappling with Conservatives who oppose continuation of hybrid sittings of the House of Commons – where MPs are able to participate virtually in proceedings – even as they challenge a ruling by the House’s governing body requiring MPs to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to set foot in the chamber.

Holland said discussions about that are already underway.

“It takes a little bit to get there sometimes but, at the end of the day, what is logical and what is reasonable usually prevails and I’m hopeful that it’s going to prevail here too,” he said.

The Liberals and other opposition parties are adamant that double vaccination of MPs in the Commons should be mandatory. The Liberals and NDP favour a resumption of the hybrid format, while the Bloc Quebecois and Conservatives want a return to in-person proceedings.

In the last Parliament, opposition parties did collaborate to swiftly pass emergency benefits to help Canadians stay afloat during the pandemic. But on plenty of other legislation, the Conservatives routinely dragged out debate with the tacit support of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.

Only towards the end of last spring’s sitting did the NDP and Bloc support the Liberals in imposing closure to cut off debate and force votes on a couple of priority bills to ban conversion therapy and regulate web giants. But that came too late to get the bills through the Senate before the summer break, and both died once Trudeau called an election in August.

But Holland argues that behaviour occurred before the Sept. 20 election, which produced a second Liberal minority, with almost identical seat counts for all the parties.

“That was then and this is now,” he said.

“There was a very clear message sent to all parties that there’s an expectation that we work together, and I’m operating on the presumption that we will have all heard that message and that we all come ready to work and to collaborate in a constructive and positive way.”

Holland said he welcomes criticism and debate, but “it has to be constructive and efficacious” and not just “a deliberate effort to frustrate the efforts of the government to get things done.”

He promises to be “irrationally reasonable and logical” in his approach to opposition parties. But he noted it’s not entirely up to him how long this minority government lasts or how much it gets done.

“My job is to find areas of common ground and to build bridges,” he said. “It’s up to all of us to walk across them. There’s a collective responsibility for this Parliament and I think everybody will be held to account for that.”

That’s particularly important, Holland said, in the wake of an election that saw an unprecedented level of anger directed at politicians on all sides, including profanity-spewing protesters, defaced campaign signs and even gravel being thrown at Trudeau and his entourage at one point.

Political discourse has become “incredibly aggressive and toxic and it’s turning off reasonable, moderate people,” he said.

“The points that we think we score as we whip up the more militant elements of our parties ultimately I don’t think advance the cause of democracy and I think they turn people off the electoral process and I really don’t think they actually help anybody win,” he said.

“But they have real implications for undermining democracy and endangering our democracy going forward.”

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