Liberal-NDP deal paves way for Justin Trudeau to stay in power until 2025, at least
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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have transformed the federal political landscape with a deal that promises to give life to key NDP policies — including a national dental care program — in return for propping up Trudeau’s minority Liberal government for the next three years.
Other opposition parties condemned the co-operation pact as a reckless and undemocratic “coalition,” while the Liberals and NDP said their deal — which could stand until June 2025 — would allow them to act on shared priorities and provide stability in a period of domestic political tension and global instability.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“It was not an easy decision. With so much instability around us, Canadians need stability. We’re different political parties, we stand for different things, but where we have common goals, we cannot let our differences stand in the way of delivering what Canadians deserve.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh compared the deal to a marriage that he’s hoping works out as he enters it.
That marriage comes after last summer’s election campaign, in which the New Democrats attacked Trudeau’s credibility and claimed the Liberals could not be trusted to keep their socially progressive promises because they are beholden to a corporate élite.
Singh said Tuesday that his confidence in the deal springs from its text, which is public and includes mechanisms of accountability, such as obligations for the government to consult on policies and relevant budget decisions with the NDP, as well as a special oversight committee to ensure the accord is followed.
And if it isn’t followed, Singh said, the NDP can always walk away.
“We’re going into this eyes wide open,” he said. “If they fall short on what we’ve agreed to, then the deal doesn’t continue.”
Under the so-called “confidence and supply agreement,” the NDP has promised not to move a vote of non-confidence in the Liberal minority government, or to vote for a non-confidence motion, in exchange for action on certain policy issues.
It differs from a coalition, which would see the Liberals and NDP form a government together. Coalition governments typically include members of each party in the federal cabinet.
The implementation of a national dental care program is a key condition of the deal, and a long sought proposal from the NDP to support low-income Canadians. Working towards a national pharmacare program, another longtime NDP policy promise, is also on the table, with plans to pass legislation by the end of 2023.
Advancing reconciliation, tackling climate change, addressing housing and child care, delivering supports for workers, improving fairness in the tax system and removing barriers to voting and participation in elections are among other policy objectives woven into the agreement.
The deal also includes a pledge to pass an “anti-scab” law that would ban companies in federal jurisdictions from replacing locked-out or striking workers, and to pass a law on national long-term care.
According to two senior NDP sources, who agreed to speak about the negotiations on condition they aren’t named, discussions about co-operating with the Liberals foundered last fall amid intense media scrutiny and Conservative warnings of a Liberal-NDP coalition. Singh and Trudeau each said Tuesday that they never discussed a coalition government, and were never interested in sharing power.
In January, the possibility of co-operation arose again when Trudeau called Singh to congratulate the NDP leader on the birth of his daughter, the sources said. But progress didn’t start to accelerate until February, as talks between the NDP leader and prime minister played out against the backdrop of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests, concerns about misinformation-fuelled populism and anti-government discontent, rising inflation and — finally — the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the NDP sources and one senior Liberal, who agreed to speak about the negotiations on condition they aren’t named.
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen seized on that timeline Tuesday.
“No one knew they were doing this … we’ve got a war going on in Ukraine, we had the Emergencies Measures Act that was declared (and) backed by the NDP. One has to wonder when did these talks start? What kind of agreements were made? What was the quid pro quo that was given?” Bergen said.
“These are important questions that go to the very heart of our democracy. Democracy and openness has been replaced by backroom deals.”
But for Anne McGrath, the NDP’s national director, this “confluence of horribleness” was a major reason the parties clinched the deal.
“That really kind of destabilizes people’s sense of safety and security,” McGrath said. “In a period like this, you’re not going to vote to bring the government down on a budget.”
McGrath said the NDP wanted to get more, but that the Liberals would not agree to all of its priorities. For example, McGrath and a second NDP source said the Liberals rejected including commitments to changing the electoral system and creating a guaranteed minimum income.
“It is not an NDP platform document,” she said of the deal. “This is what we could get — and, you know, we worked hard to get it, and we’re quite proud of it. But we’ve got a lot more to do.”
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the deal amounted to a “false majority” government and that his party would continue fighting for Quebec’s interests in Parliament.
Charlie Angus, a veteran New Democrat MP from northern Ontario, also praised the deal — which he said he learned about for the first time when it was shown to the NDP caucus Monday night — as an example of how minority parliaments should function.
In the last election, “I went door to door saying, ‘Get a minority government, and we’re going to push for dental care, pharmacare and protection for seniors in long-term care,’” he said. “We got that. That’s really to me what minority governments should be about.”
Despite the Liberals and NDP painting the agreement as a move that offers cohesion in a climate fraught with political tension, the reaction to the deal was not uniformly positive.
One Liberal MP, speaking on background to the Star, said the arrangement was like a contract for “a marriage of convenience — a marriage without the priest, without the party and without the sex.” The source said that while the agreement is for three years of stability, they “give it two.”
NDP caucus chair Jenny Kwan said some of her party’s MPs were “very excited” about the deal, some expressed a lack of trust in the Liberals, and others felt the agreement didn’t go far enough in securing NDP priorities.
“All of us have some level of reservation about this, myself included,” Kwan said. “At the same time, I’m super excited about this.”
Karl Bélanger, president of Traxxion Strategies and the NDP’s former national director, said that while the deal appears to be “good news” for both parties, it will be up to voters to reveal its full impact.
“We won’t know until the election if this works out for the NDP or not,” Bélanger told the Star.
“The political battle that will unfold between the Liberals and the NDP from now on will be about getting credit from voters on these key initiatives that will be brought forward in the coming years. Who takes credit … will receive the votes at the end of this process.”
With files from Tonda MacCharles and Susan Delacourt
Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga