Technically, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is constrained by its minority status. It will not be able to get bills through the Commons without the agreement of at least one of the three major opposition parties. This is an arithmetical fact.

But in a strange way, the makeup of the Commons in this hung Parliament also gives the Liberals both an incentive and an opportunity to be unusually bold.

If Trudeau is able to seize the moment, as the leaders of previous Liberal minority governments have done, he can increase his chance of winning a majority of Commons seats the next time Canadians go to the polls. That is the incentive.

And if he can skilfully manage his relations with the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois, he will be able to stickhandle a bold left-of-centre agenda through the Commons that includes universal pharmacare and meaningful moves to combat climate change. That is the opportunity.

There is precedent. In 1972, Pierre Trudeau’s cumbersome and overly bureaucratic Liberal government was reduced to minority status. But the elder Trudeau used this setback as an opportunity to recalibrate his government and seize the issue of the day, economic nationalism.

With the backing of the NDP and in an effort to reduce U.S. control over the Canadian economy, he established the Foreign Investment Review Agency. Under NDP pressure, he also set up a national oil company, Petro-Canada, to confront the major, foreign-owned energy giants.

Both moves were overwhelmingly popular and helped the Liberals win back a majority in the 1974 election.

In the mid-1960s, a minority Liberal government under Lester Pearson and backed by the NDP seized the moment to create the architecture of the modern Canadian welfare state, including medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and federal funding for social assistance.

Pearson didn’t reap the political benefits of these moves, but his successor, Pierre Trudeau did.

A third minority Liberal government, this one under Paul Martin, made a similar effort to seize the moment after the 2004 election. It negotiated a national child care program with the provinces.

But before that program could be implemented, Martin lost the support of the NDP. In the ensuing 2006 election, his Liberals were replaced by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The national child care program died.

This history provides two lessons for Justin Trudeau. First, boldness works. Trudeau may not be able to get all provinces to agree to, say, a universal pharmacare program. But that doesn’t preclude him from establishing the legislative framework for one.

When the federal law governing medicare came into effect in 1968, only two provinces — Saskatchewan and British Columbia — signed on. The rest joined later. New Brunswick, the last to adopt medicare, didn’t do so until 1971.

Second, it’s best to act quickly. Smaller parties like the NDP and Bloc will be reluctant to force an immediate election. Elections are just too expensive. But as time goes on, that reluctance will fade.

The NDP in particular is of two minds about encouraging the Liberals to adopt its centre-left positions. On the one hand, it can take credit. But on the other, it risks losing its reason for being.

Much is made of the difficulties facing Trudeau in this minority Parliament and particularly of the Liberals’ failure to have any MPs elected in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But too often forgotten is the fact that voters in the other eight provinces elected plenty of Liberals. These voters didn’t elect Liberals just so they could sit on their hands and apologize for not being from Alberta. They elected them to do something.

ThomasWalkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics. Follow him on Twitter:@tomwalkom