Supposing that the Liberal government makes good on its end of the agreement, the NDP’s 25 Parliament seats and votes will allow bills to pass unencumbered through the House with the alacrity of a majority government.
What does the newest deal between the NDP and Liberal parties mean and is it outlandish?
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
Though voters and the parties they support may not always agree with what the opposition claims are imperative, it is generally accepted that the electorate wants their representatives to function and work to their benefit. With this belief in mind, on March 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP opposition leader Jagmeet Singh announced an agreement called “Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement.” The agreement which was posted on the NDP’s website as well as the Prime Minister’s Government of Canada webpage outlined shared goals that the two parties would pursue which they believed would be beneficial to the people of Canada. According to Elections Canada, the two parties received roughly 50 percent of the votes in the 2021 election, making their agreement a likely representation of the will of voters.
However, just because the numbers lean towards representation, it doesn’t mean that everyone will be happy. Chief amongst the naysayers is interim Conservative party leader Candice Bergen; in a heated and forceful media appearance posted by Global News, Bergen stated that “Canadians woke up this morning to the fact that they have been hoodwinked and they’ve been deceived by their Prime Minister.” In her attacks, she also described the agreement as a “Justin Trudeau power grab” that would “prop up Putin and Russia” and that Jagmeet Singh is “basically going to be the Deputy Prime Minister.” But is her fear-mongering and description true? And what does the agreement mean for Canadians in the near future?
Of primary importance is understanding the difference between a coalition government and a confidence and supply agreement. As described by CTV News: “A coalition government is when parties formally join forces to hold a larger share of seats than any other party and, typically, share governing duties.” As a result of this formal move to share duties of government, members of all involved parties hold seats in the federal cabinet. However, neither Jagmeet Singh nor any members of the NDP caucus hold seats in the current cabinet. In fact, Singh put it bluntly when he stated “This is not a coalition…Frankly, it wasn’t offered, nor would I have accepted it.”
Yet the agreement still exists and it does set forth goals and obligations for both parties. As CTV News reports, the agreement centres around the NDP backing the Liberals on budgets and through any votes of confidence until June 2025 in exchange for movement on issues the NDP has long held as priorities. These priorities—as written in the joint statement issued by both parties—include healthcare improvements; increasing housing and childcare affordability; climate change; worker sick leave and strike protection; reconciliation with Indigenous and Metis people; increasing taxes on wealthy corporations; and improving voting access.
Supposing that the Liberal government makes good on its end of the agreement, the NDP’s 25 Parliament seats and votes will allow bills to pass unencumbered through the House with the alacrity of a majority government. This will also stymy any federal elections due to a vote of non-confidence before the next planned election in October 2025.
But the accusation levelled by Bergen that “82 percent of voters did not vote for a Liberal-NDP government including millions of Liberal voters” can easily be challenged and disproven. Between March 23 and 25, the Angus Reid Institute surveyed 1,602 Canadian adults for a randomized, representative sample. In their survey, they found that in total, 83 percent of Liberal voters support the deal with 43 percent doing so strongly. Alongside them, 75 percent of NDP voters supported the agreement with 32 percent doing so strongly. These findings were echoed by Abacus Data which surveyed 1,500 Canadians between March 22 and 25 and reported that 74 percent of Liberal voters and 55 percent of NDP voters approved of the agreement.
But opinion amongst various politicians is more tempered if not outright oppositional. Amita Kuttner, interim leader of the Green Party finished off a statement on the matter by saying “Given three years of relative stability covering four federal budgets, this agreement could have set the course for a post-pandemic transformation to a greener and more just society. Instead, we get more incrementalism. We applaud the spirit of collaboration but the goals could have been so much more impressive. This is very disappointing.” Similarly, Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison (quoted in the Cranbrook Daily Townsman) echoed the interim Conservative leader in saying that Canadians now had an NDP government they did not vote for and a government that could not be held to account.
But Dennis Pilon, a political scientist at York University told CTV News “I find it weird to see the Conservatives call out this idea of a deal between the NDP and Liberals as something undemocratic or not on in terms of being proper… Unless the complaint is ‘I don’t like democracy, I would prefer that a group with fewer votes be able to run the show.’ I mean, this makes no sense, unless, of course, they object to the specific content of the deal — that’s different.”
Yet his peer Chris Cochrane, a politics professor at the University of Toronto, see’s the deal differently, telling CTV News on March 23 that this could allow the Conservatives to paint the “NDP and Liberals as interchangeable.” As if that wasn’t enough, Professor Cochrane argues that the majority of the benefit of this deal may fall to the Liberals while it could be a “very big strategic blunder” for Singh and the NDP. And the idea of this being more problems than profits for the NDP was echoed by political commentator and pollster Nik Nanos who noted that should any political scandals occur for the Liberal government in the next three years Jagmeet Singh will be in the uncomfortable position of propping up the embattled government. Nanos then flatly predicted that there would be controversy in the upcoming years.
This in turn leaves the NDP in the position not of leadership but as a handy support beam for the Liberal government. Though I doubt that Trudeau plans another controversy shortly, it is likely given the past seven years that another will rear its head soon. For Jagmeet Singh and the NDP, the goal may just be to position themselves as the drivers of progress in such a way that they curry favour with voters while sidestepping any pull the Liberal party may have towards tempering or moderating the progress the NDP has planned. A clever political play could allow Singh to market any progress made as a trial run of an NDP government.
Conversely, the Liberal party may be best served by claiming all popular successes that may come out of this collaboration as their own and offloading blame onto the NDP for any missteps. Though it may be nakedly Machiavellian to a keen observer, a little political backstabbing and scapegoating could keep the ever embattled Prime Minister relatively popular—or at least stave off serious unpopularity—long enough to find a more stable plan for the next election. Provided that global surprises like a pandemic or the invasion of a foreign country stay out of the way, this could provide an opportune and beneficial cooling off and rebuilding period for the Liberal party’s image.
Speaking of rebuilding, without the threat of an election at any moment, the Conservative party can also focus on finding a new leader and cementing their image going forwards. With the Liberals and NDP currently joined in an agreement, there is now a new space for the Tories to take in the centre-right of the political spectrum. If a Torie leader can make the opposition NDP and Liberal parties out to be the spendthrift and tax-heavy twins of Canadian politics, the case for a more cautious and conservative economic approach may just make itself. If a domestic or global recession were to hit, the choice would seem all the simpler for many voters as well.
Regardless of the potential for scheming and future positioning, the confidence and supply agreement is not the herald of a carefree and easy coalition government. All federal parties will have to wait for the first real challenge to this agreement to see how well the two parties can negotiate or put aside their differences.