The NDP now holds the balance of power in Parliament. Thanks to the defection of a Liberal MP to the Conservatives, the 29 NDP votes added to the now 125 Conservative votes equals the magic number of one-half of the parliamentary total of 308 seats.

In this minority Parliament, with the speaker, Peter Milliken, being a Liberal and not voting, the 154 combined NDP/Conservative votes, out of the 307 voting members, represent a majority of one vote.

Holding the balance of power makes the NDP more of a player in the eyes of the other parties, the media and the public. The additional attention is an asset for the NDP, which as fourth in party standings in the House of Commons, has to fight for every inch of public space, and media coverage.

The NDP can use the balance of power to keep the Conservative government in office. In that respect it now has the same stature as the two other opposition parties. As well, it faces the same dangers with its potential supporters, if it props up the government.

The NDP has voted against the Conservatives on major issues: the budget, softwood lumber, and the extension of the Afghanistan military operation. Now, assuming the NDP decides to vote against a motion of non-confidence in the government put forward by the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals, the motion fails, and the government survives. There are many who want the Conservatives to fail, and would hold it against the NDP for keeping them in power.

But, there is another way of looking at the new situation in Parliament. The NDP has taken the lead in calling upon the other parties to replace the rejected Clean Air Act (unveiled in Vancouver last year by Stephen Harper, with his then-environment minister Rona Ambrose, as mere backdrop for the photo-op) with tough legislation aimed at capping greenhouse gas emissions.

The NDP succeeded in having a special legislative committee of the House of Commons set up to seek a new bill with teeth, and all-party support.

Environmental legislation regulating the oil sands, livestock producers, transportation industries, and virtually all aspects of how we produce goods and services and exploit natural resources is going to come because the public is worried about climate change. This represents an opportunity for Parliament to bring credit to itself, and for the NDP to be recognized as a valued player in a renewal of parliamentary democracy.

The Conservatives have a new minister, John Baird, who has the mandate of achieving parliamentary support for an environmental accord. He is already blaming past Liberal inaction for the hefty increase in greenhouse gas emissions that has taken place since the Kyoto accord was signed. “Ask Stéphane Dion,” Baird says, when challenged about why Canada has been steadily falling behind in its Kyoto commitments.

Yes, the Liberals were in power, and Dion was Minister of the Environment when greenhouse gas emissions went up. That alone is reason for pause for thought as the Liberals plan to run against the Conservatives on the environment. It is one thing to run against other Liberals as a green, quite another thing to have to defend a bad environmental record in government.

Initially, it looked as though Liberals favoured subverting a non-partisan agreement on the environment, preferring to claim, correctly, that the Conservative Clean Air Act had failed to meet the expectations of Canadians. But, as they think about it some more, Liberals may figure out that an all-party deal has real advantages for any party expecting to form a government: they do not have to face the kind of opposition from industry that they would face by acting alone.

The Conservatives who represent the West where the greenhouse gas emissions are concentrated should be able to make the same calculation.

Neither the Liberals nor the Bloc would be likely to stand alone against an environmental accord with teeth.

The door is open for the NDP to achieve a parliamentary accord on the environment, and solidify its positive role in minority Parliaments to come.

The one thing NDP supporters fear is a majority government. They should remember the risk is as bad when it is formed by either of the old parties. However, so long as the Bloc wins 35 seats or more, it will be difficult for either the Conservatives or the Liberals to form a majority government.

With enhanced power to push the Conservatives on the environment, the NDP will look to set the tone in Parliament when it reconvenes at the end of the month.

The NDP has judged the public mood: Canadians want good environmental legislation. There is no groundswell of opinion calling for an early election, and a party that precipitates it better be ready to give good reasons for doing so.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...