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How might a minority Parliament in Canada address human rights globally?

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Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Image: Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons

The federal election in Canada on October 21 resulted in a minority government. That is to say, no political party secured a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

The Liberals won 157 seats (short of the 170 seats needed for a majority government), the Conservatives won 121 seats, the Bloc Québécois 32 seats, the New Democrats 24 seats, the Greens three seats, and one Independent was elected.

Given that the Liberals and Conservatives are traditionally the two main governing parties, the outcome of the election suggests that the Bloc Québécois, the New Democrats and the Greens will hold the "balance of power" or "balance of responsibility" in maintaining the Liberal minority government in key votes.

At this point, it is not clear when Parliament will be reconvened, but news reports suggest it could be as late as mid-January 2020.

Significantly, a minority government means that the governing party does not control the parliamentary committees as they would under a majority government.

That includes the standing committee on foreign affairs and international development which scrutinizes Global Affairs Canada, the department that manages this country's diplomatic relations, trade, international development and humanitarian assistance.

It is not clear at this time if Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland will remain as the minister of foreign affairs (she was re-elected) or who the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, NDP and Greens will appoint as their foreign affairs critics (shadow ministers).

But the outcome of the election does suggest there may be an opening in the standing committee for a greater scrutiny of Canada's foreign policy and cooperation on issues related to human rights and measures to protect human rights defenders, through the setting of the agenda, the calling of witnesses and more.

This might include a deeper look at Canadian-based extractive industries (including mining, oil and gas companies) and their business and human rights practices in Latin America and around the world.

It also suggests a possible opening with respect to securing investigative powers for the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, a further strengthening of the "voices at risk" guidelines for Canadian embassies with respect to human rights defenders, a more stringent approach to the Annual Reports on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, and perhaps even a more robust review of the licencing of the export of arms and military equipment.

In Canada, the average length of a minority government is 18 to 24 months. That means the next two years could be a dynamic time with respect to the human rights agenda within the context of Canadian foreign policy.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website here. You can follow PBI-Canada on Twitter here.

Image: Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons

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