NDP-Liberal cotton wedding: It's always the honeymoon

NDP-Liberal cotton wedding: It's always the honeymoon

NDP-Liberal cotton wedding: It’s always the honeymoon

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press Among the elected and the half-dozen of political employees surveyed, on both the Liberal and NDP sides, no one foresees the end of this agreement in the short term.

The fate of Justin Trudeau's minority government has been in the hands of a small committee made up of six handpicked elected officials, three Liberals and three New Democrats, for the past year. On the eve of a second budget since the unusual alliance between two federal parties, it is still the honeymoon behind the scenes.

The worst misstep occurred last November. The New Democratic Party (NDP) was taken by surprise when the Liberals decided at the last minute to include a list of prohibited weapons in its Bill C-21, originally designed to freeze the number of weapons fist to the country.

However, the fourth opposition party in the Commons had been promised one thing in return for supporting the Trudeau government until 2025: “no surprises”. It's even written black on white in the joint text of the agreement.

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This text is published via our Perspectives section.

“Our biggest fight so far has been about C-21, about weapons. We didn't warn them properly,” admits a liberal official whom Le Devoir agreed not to name to allow him to speak freely.

The announcement caught up with rural NDP elected officials, who came to the defense of worried hunters. In the face of criticism, the government finally resolved to go back to its drawing board.

However, the imbroglio was not big enough to jeopardize the three-year “support and trust” agreement reached in March 2022 between the NDP and the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC), nor any other hiccup. occurred along the way. If the two party leaders were never called in urgently to save their extraordinary partnership, it is thanks to the shadowy work of a “monitoring committee”.

Couple communication

“It's the committee where things are said”, explains Quebec minister Pablo Rodriguez, one of the six elected officials responsible for managing the good agreement between the PLC and the NDP.

The former leader of the government was chosen for his experience in negotiations with other parties. With his Liberal colleagues Dominic LeBlanc and Ruby Sahota, he has participated in a dozen meetings over the past year with New Democrats Daniel Blaikie, Laurel Collins and Blake Desjarlais. Employees close to leaders Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh oversee the meetings.

” We tell each other everything. There is no filter, we are not here to try to spare sensitivities. If there is something to say, we say it. This allows you to solve the problems. And there are problems along the way,” said the Minister of Heritage and MP for Honoré-Mercier.

Over the past year, this committee has had to remind government ministers that it is their responsibility to keep their NDP counterparts informed of their activities. One Liberal political clerk described this task as developing “muscle memory” to avoid rushing the opposition partner. Another specifies that the elected members of the NDP must be informed when the government announces good news in their riding.

Some ministers must work more often in tandem, such as that of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, with NDP Health Critic Don Davies. Their collaboration resulted in a children's dental benefit last September. The agreement provides that the federal government will also pay dental bills for teenagers and the elderly or disabled on low incomes starting this year.

This element is part of the 27 policies promised by the agreement announced on March 22, 2022, the majority of which are at least partially already carried out after one year, shows a compilation of Devoir.

Trust is the key to the functioning of this alliance between the two parties, unprecedented in federal politics. However, the way was paved by a similar agreement in the British Columbia Parliament in 2017, this time between the province's NDP and the Green Party.

It was precisely a surprise that derailed the agreement, a year before its expiration date. A green amendment to a budget bill has not been digested by New Democrats. The Prime Minister preferred to end the agreement, get rid of his partner and plunge his province into an electoral campaign in the midst of a pandemic, in 2020. Unlike the federal arrangement, the management of the relationship between parties had been entrusted to a “secretariat” made up of political employees, not directly elected officials.

The art of criticizing your partner

The Liberal government appreciates the stability of Parliament conferred on it by the agreement. This frees him from the angst of minority governments, which normally must continually ensure the confidence of the House or new elections will be called.

Until Canadians return to the polls, however, the New Democratic Party's strategy is to assert its paternity in the public policies carried out thanks to the agreement, explained to Devoir the new director National Communications Party, Éric Demers.

Under the 2022 agreement, the party on the left of the federal political spectrum remains in opposition and can continue to criticize the Trudeau government. It is therefore not a coalition, and no New Democrats have obtained ministerial functions, for example.

The leader, Jagmeet Singh, claims the government's good deeds, while criticizing it on a regular basis. He also threatened to tear up the agreement in December if the federal government did not settle the health transfer file. On Thursday, he reiterated his call for a public inquiry into foreign interference.

NDP MP and member of the oversight committee, Daniel Blaikie illustrates this dual, sometimes contradictory role that his party must play when the government is due to table its second budget on March 28 since the agreement was signed. There will then only be two other budgets theoretically covered by this agreement.

“I do not expect any disappointing surprises in the budget. Compared to what is in the agreement, of course, since the budget may be disappointing on other aspects,” he says in French from his riding in Manitoba.

There is a very real risk that the NDP will pay a political price for its association with the Liberals, says Karl Bélanger, former adviser to NDP leaders Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair, now a consultant at Traxxion Strategies. “But despite the Liberal Party losing support, the NDP is holding up in the polls. The NDP may not suffer from the interference scandals affecting the Trudeau government, but it does not benefit from them either. »

Daniel Blaikie has already pondered when he will find himself in front of voters. “My job in the next election will be to say: here are all the things we managed to achieve despite our 25 seats. And we worked very hard with the other opposition parties to hold the government accountable. At the end of the day, it will be up to Canadians to decide if they want to reward us for this,” he said.

Among the elected officials and the half-dozen political employees surveyed, both on the Liberal and New Democratic sides, no one foresees the end of this agreement in the short term. At least not in the next twelve months. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Thursday declined to estimate the chances that his deal with the Liberals will really last until 2025.

15 of the 27 promises have already been at least partially fulfilled

In one year, most of the public policies agreed upon by the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have been at least partially implemented. Others should be there this year. In health, for example, low-income families are already eligible for dental benefits for children under 12, which is to be extended to teenagers, seniors and people with disabilities in 2023. a law on minimum standards for CHSLDs and a law on drug insurance have still not seen the light of day. Whether the recent health transfer agreement fulfills the promise of more doctors is more a question of interpretation. Commitments kept include last year's $500 Housing Assistance Allowance, a one-time tax for post-COVID banks, an energy efficiency program for homes, and maintaining the number of seats in Quebec. Among the dozen elements of the agreement that have still not been realized, some are promised for this year, including the creation of a charter of rights for the buyer, a public register of properties or even an anti-breakers law. to strike.