Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh, leader of the far-left New Democratic Party, have announced a deal which would give Trudeau's Liberal minority government an operational majority in parliament until 2025. The deal -- which they're calling a "confidence and supply agreement" -- would see the N.D.P. support the government on every potential confidence vote for the next four years.
In exchange, Trudeau's Liberals would embrace policy priorities championed by the N.D.P. in last fall's election, including free dental care for Canadians who make less than $90,000 per year; a "pharmacare" program, which would develop a list of "essential medicines" to be paid for with tax dollars; lengthening the period of time for voting in federal elections to three days; and anti-fossil fuel initiatives, the details of which are not yet clear.
The Liberals under Trudeau have gone into the past two Canadian elections expecting an outright majority, and both times they were disappointed. In each instance, they won only a minority of seats while also losing the popular vote to the Conservatives, a fact that has no technical significance, but which illustrates Trudeau's tenuous grasp on power, especially in the Westminster system where a government can theoretically fall at any time. This deal is meant to combat that that instability, putting the Liberals comfortably over the majority threshold on the most important questions and ensuring that the Conservatives won't be able to effect an early election.
On one level, this merely formalizes the arrangement that has existed for years—under Singh, the N.D.P. has never seriously challenged Trudeau and has always bailed him out when necessary. The party's support for Trudeau's invocation of the Emergencies Act is a good example; N.D.P. members whispered to the press that they were uncomfortable about it, but in the end Singh pledged his party's support, with the unenforceable proviso that the government's new powers never be used against “Indigenous land defenders, climate change activists, workers fighting for fairness.”
Singh's ultimate justification for approving the measure was that "we do not want to trigger an election." Empowering the Liberals has been his modus operandi for some time. In the words of Andrew Coyne, "the N.D.P. have forsworn any serious effort to hold the government to account, in return for which the Libs have forsworn any serious effort to rein in federal spending. Not that either were making much of an effort before."
There's a reason that left of center voters in Canada support different parties: traditionally Liberal voters have been concerned by the N.D.P.'s financial recklessness and N.D.P. voters feel that the Liberal establishment places the interests of big business over those of working-class Canadians. Chances are, a significant minority of both sets of voters are wary of this deal this morning, seeing the truth in interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen's charge that "nothing more than a callous attempt by Trudeau to hold on to power."
“Canadians have woken up to, in essence, an NDP-Liberal majority government. I think we have to let that sink in,” she said. “Make no mistake, the NDP are in charge,” insisted Bergen. She added that this deal means the “decimation of Canadian oil and gas” at a time when it is needed, but also “more debt, more inflation, more jobs lost, more uncertainty and, frankly, more polarization” across the country. “This is not a good day for Canadians.”
It's worth pointing out that there is nothing legally binding about an agreement like this. If enough New Democrat M.P.s make a stink, if perhaps some sane Liberals begin to drift towards the Tories, this deal could all fall apart overnight. In the meantime, the Conservatives have to stay focused on their ongoing leadership election. Hopefully this time they can avoid the self-interested Liberal-lite types, and put an actual conservative in charge.