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Liberal-NDP cooperation deal leaves many questions, and opportunities for progress

Aivalis: This deal is a good one for democracy, and could help many Canadians

Canadian Politics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Photos courtesy Canadian Press.

On Tuesday morning, it was announced the Liberal Party and the NDP had reached a supply and confidence deal to keep the current government in power until 2025 in exchange for key priorities held within the NDP’s platform. Both Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh spoke highly of the deal, and praised a spirit of cooperation. But of course, we should put the rhetoric aside and look at the devil within the details. What we find are many questions remaining, but also the seeds of a deal that could flourish into a meaningful victory for Canadians, especially those who need the greatest help.

Off the top, it should be said that details so far released about the deal are insufficient. When it comes to the question of pharmacare, for instance, there is a rough timeline of when legislation can be expected to be passed, but there isn’t a clear articulation of what universality actually means in this context (and when Canadians can expect to actually receive coverage for the medications they need on this supposedly universal basis). Leaving this in somewhat nebulous terms to be completed at the end of the agreement increases the odds that Trudeau and the Liberals can simply kill the deal right before an election in 2024-25, or that an incomplete plan can be scuttled by a Conservative victory. It doesn’t help that this provision includes language like “Continuing progress toward…” which should send alarm bells ringing in the ears of every leftist. In contrast, the proposed dentalcare plan—while flawed in that it is explicitly means tested—nonetheless gives much more specificity in terms of parameters and timelines.

Similar issues arise across the document, but one illustrative example is on housing. The agreement pledges to tackle “the financialization of the housing market by the end of 2023.” This could mean any number of things. It will likely be some tinkering around house flipping and other token reforms, but it could also hypothetically mean the enshrinement of housing as a universal human right. Of course, the latter won’t be happening with the current government, but it highlights how vague all of this is. The same can be said for long-term care reform. The deal promises an act to “ensure seniors are guaranteed access to care,” but this will almost certainly sidestep the reality that unless profit is eliminated from the LTC system, abuse and neglect will fester indefinitely.

There are many good things in the deal beyond this, such as a ban on scab labour in federally-regulated workplaces, and real solutions to address barriers to voting that especially impacted youth and Indigenous peoples in the last election. But on issues like climate change, the deal is marred both by ambiguity and a lack of ambition. Both the Liberal Party and the NDP have (correctly) declared that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, but this plan still treats the issue as something we can delay for the better part of two generations.

We can go on. The lack of meaningful taxation on the wealthy and missing electoral reform show the stark limitations of this deal. As some have noted, the NDP demanded reform, along with other policies like a basic income guarantee, but as the minor party, they only have so much bargaining power. Nonetheless, the implementation of both pharmacare and dentalcare would be a momentous achievement for Canadians.

While the left should be critical of the plan’s omissions—and should remain vigilant to ensure the good elements actually become law—progressives must also recognize that there are real building blocks here, especially given that the agreements leave open the possibility of other policies. Additionally, it should be recognized that even last week, many of these items weren’t actually on the table, so Singh and company deserve credit for forcing action from this minority parliament.

One final word: the question of this deal’s contents is vital, but it must be said that whatever your opinion on the specifics, Liberal-NDP cooperation is perfectly legitimate within our system of Parliamentary democracy. Some—mostly within the Conservative Party—are trying to paint this deal as a secretive socialist power grab that steals democracy from the Canadian people and plunges society into autocracy. But this is absurd on a number of fronts. Fundamentally, the deal is in no way a socialist project given that the Liberals would never agree to it. It is at best an amalgam of left-liberal and social democratic proposals that fails to include many things from the NDPs platform (which few would call a meaningfully socialist offering).

Yet beyond this, it should be said that this agreement is far more representative of the will of Canadians than any other government in recent memory. Certainly, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a majority in 2011, and when Trudeau did the same in 2015, those governments had effectively absolute power while representing under 40 percent of the popular vote. This Liberal-NDP deal represents more parliamentary seats than either the Trudeau or Harper majorities, as well as over half of the vote (if only barely).

This deal is a good one for democracy, and could help many Canadians. Singh said his objective above all was to help people, and in this writer’s estimation, there is certainly a path to achieve that in this cooperation agreement.

Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.


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