BY IAN PATTISON
This is an edited version of a column that appeared in the March 26 print edition.
My God! You would think there was a political coup in Ottawa.
Opposition Tories are outraged over a new deal that will see the NDP backing the minority Liberal government until 2025 in exchange for action on NDP priorities like pharmacare and care income-based dental care.
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen called the pact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “desperate” attempt to “cling to power” by effectively handing the reins of government to the “socialist” NDP in a “coalition”.
At one point, Bergen blew on “a government led by Jagmeet Singh in charge”. Nowhere in the deal does it say that Trudeau will hand over the reins to Singh, nor would he dream of doing so. He loves being in control too much to do more than share some of that control in order to stay where he is – for now.
By the time the deal ends and the next election is held, Trudeau will have been in office for 10 years. As this corner theorized recently, Trudeau appears to be grooming his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, as his successor. Maybe 2025 is his exit target and this deal is designed to cement his legacy.
For his part, Singh genuinely appears to have put the public interest ahead of his own political considerations with this deal.
Tory MP Pierre Poilievre, the favorite in the race for permanent party leader, was equally bored and generally overworked. “Obviously they have agreed on a radical and extreme program to expand the power of government by taking away the freedoms of the people” with a new “coalition” government. The freedoms of Canadians have all been usurped by this non-binding agreement? Oh dear!
Poilievre’s main challenger for leadership, Jean Charest, was uncharacteristically hyperbolic: This “coalition” is “further proof that the Trudeau Liberals are governing for themselves — not for Canadians.” They will stop at nothing to keep power, even if it means buying themselves a majority. Canadians deserve adult leadership, not juvenile political theater. Wow!
Let’s face it, the Tories are furious because, until Tuesday, tied with the Liberals in the polls, they could taste the chance to form government in an election that could be called at any time in a minority Parliament . Now they will have to wait. Poilievre, Charest and the other contenders did not intend to spend three years at the head of the opposition.
Poilievre has at least one seat in the House of Commons to maintain his profile, as do Leslyn Lewis, Scott Aitchison and Marc Dalton. Charest is without a seat and therefore disadvantaged for the next 3 ½ years. So does Patrick Brown, who is attracting attention as mayor of Brampton.
For the record, this so-called “supply and confidence agreement” is not a coalition at all, and they all know it.
In a minority coalition government, ministerial positions are shared between two or more parties. Since 1867, no coalition government in peacetime and only one coalition in wartime (1917-1921) has existed, as the Canadian Encyclopedia indicates. However, in order to govern cooperatively, parties often create informal alliances in minority parliaments. That’s what happened here.
Moreover, the agreement is nothing new in Canadian politics. If a minority government is elected, it is up to the parties to determine how things go.
The NDP has promised to pass the next four Liberal budgets and help defeat the censure measures proposed by the other opposition parties. The government has promised to consult with the NDP on the legislation and to make senior officials available for policy and legislative briefings.
An added benefit of this deal is that it likely avoids another early and unnecessary election.
The merits of the pact lie in the certainty it provides. This is something pandemic-weary Canadians can appreciate as we enter what is hopefully the springtime of our contentment.
The parties agreed to work together on seven key policy areas: climate change, health spending, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, economic growth, and efforts to make life more affordable. Is there a living, breathing Canadian who doesn’t care deeply about any or all of these issues?
Rather than wondering what the deal will mean, critics might instead ask why it was needed.
As one of my longtime neighbors put it in an email this week: “Given the dysfunctional nature of the Conservative Party, I don’t see them actually threatening to bring down the government. If so, then what is this agreement for? »
Speaking on his Power and Politics show on CBC Wednesday, Vassy Kapelos noted that the Liberals have already managed to achieve many of their stated goals with the support of the NDP. So why make official what has been happening on Parliament Hill for nearly three years, irritating the Conservatives and arousing suspicion among some Canadians?
Yet this is not a secret cabal designed to neutralize Parliament. However, he urges the government to spend more than expected.
It is common practice for a minority government to seek the support of a third party to pass legislation that suits both. Things work the way they are supposed to.
Lester B. Pearson’s two federal minority Liberal governments of the mid-1960s worked with the NDP to pass impressive legislation that included universal health care, student loans, a 40-hour workweek with two weeks vacation , a minimum wage, the Auto Pact , the Canada Pension Plan and a new Canadian flag.
The Conservatives opposed each of these measures and issued dire warnings about the economic effects of the agreement’s seven action plans.
Here there is cause for concern. Canada has gone deep into debt to fund pandemic relief and we are not out of the woods of Covid yet, by any means.
Canadian consumers are facing record high prices on all essentials. Inflation is at a three-decade high of 5.7 percent. On March 2, the Bank of Canada raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point to 0.5%, the first increase in more than three years. Most analysts expect further bulls to follow. The big five banks can’t help but follow suit, putting variable rate mortgages in motion, and some in jeopardy.
The war in Ukraine has disrupted the entire world economy. The next budget will reveal plans for a major increase in defense spending due to growing threats to global peace and stability from Russia, China and North Korea, which this week tested their longer-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. .
Canada is under increasing pressure to increase its contribution to NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time with the price measured in the hyper-expensive but essential transition away from fossil fuels.
While the dental care and help with prescription drug costs outlined in the new deal is important for many Canadians, it will be expensive – $1.5 billion a year for just one dental program, according to an earlier estimate. of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. According to an analysis by CBC Second Opinion, advocates and healthcare workers say it could help prevent dental health problems from turning into life-threatening conditions – and prevent more people from using hospital emergency rooms.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland can count on rising oil revenues and a planned surtax on big, wealthy banks to boost government revenue ahead of the budget. But the Liberals still have $50 billion in spending commitments from their last election campaign to account for.
For now, the major rating agencies give Canada an AA+ or AAA rating with a stable outlook. This should not be forgotten when critics of the government predict that the sky is falling. But the sky is not the limit for government spending in these difficult and unpredictable times.
Good ideas alone are not the measure of success. As promising as these new measures may seem, let’s all make sure that the April budget does not cause us to exceed our collective credit limit.
Ian Pattison is retired after 50 years of award-winning journalism at the Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on the news.