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Federal Politics

Let’s Break Down the Liberal-NDP Deal

And dispense with hysterical claims by Conservatives and Globe editorialists.

Michael Harris 24 Mar

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly awarded journalist. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

The way interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen tells it, the deal between the Liberals and NDP to keep the federal government in place until 2025 is a socialist coup that will destroy the country.

That’s because Bergen makes the equally absurd claim that this deal hands the reins of government to the NDP — saying that Jagmeet Singh is “basically” now deputy prime minister.

Perhaps Bergen has confused a coalition with a co-operative agreement, in which no member of the NDP will have a cabinet post. Or maybe she’s engaging in just more of the poison dart politics that has led the Conservative Party of Canada to three straight electoral losses. You can only go so far in Canadian politics on spite and malice.

Willing to stand up for guns, but not the planet; ready to back an unregulated energy sector, but not national daycare; able to champion lawless truckers who brought the national capital to its knees, but not political parties out to perpetrate co-operation.

As the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson show, co-operation is something utterly missing from U.S. democracy these days, as it continues to nosedive into strongman politics.

If CPC leadership frontrunner Pierre Poilievre wins the post, the party will have chosen someone who called the Grit-NDP deal a “socialist coalition power pact.” Which will mean his party still thinks it’s running in the American Midwest, not Canada.

The use of the word “coalition” by Poilievre to describe what Trudeau and Singh have undertaken is also telling. It shows that this man who would be prime minister has the same disregard for the facts as Stephen Harper, his mentor and hero.

The Globe and Mail weighed in with an editorial that reached the astonishing conclusion that in making this arrangement with the NDP, Justin Trudeau has figured out a new way to castrate Parliament.

But wait. What is Parliament but the MPs who make it up? Between them, the Liberals and the NDP won 185 seats in the 2021 election. Between them they had 50.4 per cent of the popular vote. In the cold arithmetic of the system, that amounts to a de facto parliamentary majority, as long as the co-operation continues. So how does that “neuter” Canada’s legislative body? Since both caucuses approved the deal, how is that undemocratic?

As for the agreement itself, with the exception of an income-based national dental care program to be brought in over the next few years, the language of the deal is aspirational, not prescriptive. The deal is non-binding. Although it is slated to last until 2025, either party can opt out at will. Far from being a backroom coup cooked up by power-hungry socialists, it is a list of good intentions, not deeds. The language is pretty oceanic.

Additional “investments” in the COVID-ravaged health-care system; “continuing progress” on a universal pharmacare program; “moving forward” on tax reform; the pledge to “explore ways” to expand voting; “developing plans” to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel sector; advancing measures to achieve “significant” emissions reductions by 2030; a “significant” additional investment in Indigenous housing….

What the hell does significant mean? You get the picture.

The detail may not be there, but the timing of this agreement was astute. With two federal elections in the last three years, not many Canadians are clamouring for a chance to throw the bastards out. Especially when the CPC alternative doesn’t know whether it wants to be run by Pierre Poilievre or Jean Charest. They are as different as cat kibble and caviar.

Three years of stable government may look good to a public battered by COVID, sticker shock at the pump and the grocery store, and the prospect of World War Last brewing in Ukraine. And if the whole thing goes south, the handy benefit of democracy is that you can fire the incumbent government and hire a new one.

Of the two leaders, Justin Trudeau gained the most. Assuming that the good vibes between the Liberals and NDP continue, Trudeau gets to implement his agenda without rolling the dice on every confidence vote. That means that difficult decisions like major new spending on everything from health care to the military can be taken without having to worry about triggering yet another election.

It also casts the prime minister as a conciliator, someone who can reach across the aisle and work with MPs in another caucus. A stark contrast with potential Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who at a legislative committee meeting on Bill C-2, looked across at Liberal members and said, “Fuck you guys.” You can still catch that moment of diplomacy on Twitter.

And there is one more potentially huge advantage for the Liberals in having three years of governing at their disposal. It gives the party time to survey the political landscape, see who the next Conservative leader will be, and hold a leadership convention if Justin Trudeau decides against running for a fourth time as prime minister.

This is not as outlandish as it might seem. The longer in politics, the better the target. A change of leaders at the right moment would take the sting out of the Conservative party’s politics of personal destruction aimed at one person, Justin Trudeau. It would allow Trudeau to exit national politics with a perfect record, three for three in federal elections. And if by then, the country begins to worry about deficits, who better to deal with them than the former governor of two central banks, Mark Carney.

Jagmeet Singh has taken on the role of riverboat gambler in this one. In return for supporting the government in a minority situation, as several NDP leaders have done in the past, he gets to punch far above the weight of the 25 seats he won in 2021.

Take dental care. Trudeau took a pass on that policy in the last election, and now he has signed on to it, giving Singh a decent chance to take the political credit for it. Things could be even better for Singh if other, less specific items on the NDP wish-list are adopted by the government.

Which means that this is all a big gamble for Singh. It’s why former leader Thomas Mulcair told CTV he wouldn’t have signed the co-operation agreement with the Liberals. People may remember that Singh said in 2019 that Trudeau couldn’t be “trusted” after the report into the SNC-Lavalin scandal was released. Two years later, he said Trudeau was a failed leader. Now he has hitched his wagon to the man he once described as “bad for Canada.”

Co-operation could easily turn into co-optation for the NDP, as it so often has in federal politics. The Liberals are the masters of identity theft, usually at the NDP’s expense. If the NDP sticks with the Liberals until 2025, and doesn’t get the credit for things like a national dental program, its candidates will be left at the doorsteps of Canadians to answer a tough question.

How could the NDP run to replace the Liberals, after spending three years propping them up?  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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