The most productive Canadian government in history is arguably that of Lester Pearson’s Liberal regime of 1963-68. Two consecutive minority governments, all that it accomplished depended on the co-operation of other parties.

And it accomplished a very great deal. That included the Medical Care Act, establishing universal health care; the Canada Pension Plan; and of course the creation of our very own flag, the Maple Leaf.

Also seeing the light of day were the Canada Student Loan Program; the Order of Canada, allowing us to duly honour our meritorious fellow Canadians; and a points-based immigration system, the first in the world. And, of no small importance, Pearson’s government kept us out of the Vietnam War, not surprising for a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Liberals dependence on other parties, particularly the NDP, resulted in what might be termed a coalition government. Today we have a similar situation, a minority Liberal government dependent on the NDP to retain power and pursue its agenda. This time, the arrangement has been formalized with what has been called the Supply and Confidence Agreement.

The Prime Minister’s office made the following statement: ”The Liberal Party of Canada and Canada’s New Democratic Party have agreed to improve the way we approach politics over the next three years for the benefit of Canadians. … We have agreed to work together during the course of this Parliament to put the needs of Canadians first.” Parties working together is something I would like to see much more of.

Some of the policy areas identified included improving the healthcare system with dental care for low-income Canadians and progress toward a universal pharmacare program; making life more affordable with a Rapid Housing Initiative and a Housing Accelerator Fund, and an Early Learning and Child Care Act to ensure that childcare agreements have long-term protected funding; tackling the climate crisis with measures to significantly reduce emissions balanced with a Clean Jobs Training Centre and Just Transition legislation to support workers during the transition to a renewables future, along with phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies; a better deal for workers by ensuring 10 days of sick leave for federally regulated workers and legislation to prohibit “scabs;” implementation of a publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry to reduce tax evasion and money laundering; and a series of reforms to improve the working of democracy.

The ambitious program included the keeping of some Liberal promises and fulfilling some NDP hopes. Much of the program has already been achieved, notably the introduction of dental care for lower income people, a solid start to comprehensive pharmacare, and the introduction of anti-scab legislation. There’s lots more to do, but the agreement runs to June 2025 so there’s still ample time to do it if the two parties can hold the agreement together. The current position of the Conservatives in the polls should inspire them to do just that.

This government won’t achieve what Pearson’s did—there were more big things to do then—but it’s looking mighty productive nonetheless. Coalitions, political parties actually working together, seem to produce the goods. Is this yet another example of why moving our electoral system to proportional representation would be a good thing? I suppose one might argue that we’re managing to create successful coalitions without PR, but that’s only when progressives win. If the Conservatives win the next election, there will be damned little co-operation.

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