Risky bet by Jagmeet Singh

The author spent nearly 20 years on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, including as chief spokesman for Jack Layton, chief secretary for Thomas Mulcair, and later as National Director of the NDP. In addition to his work as a political commentator and analyst, he is President of the Douglas-Caldwell Foundation and President of Traxxion Strategies.

To say that Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh surprised the political class is an understatement. With this historic “agreement of support and trust,” the two leaders frustrated the plans of many strategists. However, for Canadians seeking political stability, after a second consecutive minority government, this is good news.

This agreement will indeed put an end to crises of confidence, parliamentary psychodramas and recurring electoral threats, with visible social progress likely to take place in the background.

The most interesting political battle will not be between this alliance and other opposition parties, but within the PLC-NDP alliance itself. And it has already begun. What is at stake: who will receive recognition for new initiatives and the gratitude of voters.

Usually in this kind of partnership, the state prevails over the partner. His soundboard is more powerful, and it is the ministers who make great statements! The minority partner is eventually buried, and the voters, satisfied with the existing government, trust him. What’s more, the partner could be hurt by the government’s actions: if scandals ever undermine Trudeau’s mandate, the NDP could be corrupted, allowing a government with questionable ethics to survive. Other parties would be happy to link one to the scandals of the other.

So why is Jagmeet Singh taking such a risk? First, because there are always exceptions. Secondly, because it gives him the opportunity to change his status: he looks like a statesman. The deal with the Liberals will give the NDP a track record of governance on which it will then campaign, trying to convince voters that more new Democrats in Ottawa will do more good things for them and their families. Moreover, attacks from other parties that talk about an NDP-liberal government or secure the title of Deputy Prime Minister for Singh do no harm, on the contrary: they normalize this possibility in the minds of voters.

The new Democrats will add that everything that happened was the right thing to do for the good of the country. People need help after two years of the pandemic. Jack Layton told me that you can do a lot of good things in politics if you don’t try to get credit for it. I could not help but tell him that a politician who is not trusted will not do good for a long time.

If this union is surprising, it is primarily because of the moment when it was sealed. Usually, a minority government wishes to provide some guarantee of stability by allying with another party in the days after the election. Or when he is in trouble and risks being overthrown by the opposition parties in case of a possible defeat in the elections.

Six months after the election, when no crisis of confidence is foreseen, the time is special. Why did both sides feel the need to agree now, so that the government would last until 2025?

The negotiations were held at the highest level, which allowed to avoid leaks. Justin Trudeau opened the door to such an arrangement as his conversations with Jagmeet Singh multiplied, the trucker crisis and the war in Ukraine oblige. In addition to party leaders, two female chiefs of staff took part in the process. The circle of advisers aware of the procedures was very limited.

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Trudeau and the liberals have little to lose. The Prime Minister now has more power over the House of Commons and therefore more leeway. As long as the NDP feels the government is making progress on the terms of the agreement (which are largely in line with the liberal platform), Trudeau is in power. The latter at the same time restores its progressive image. What’s more, the deal also gives him more time to plan for his departure, as well as race for leadership to replace him… should he decide to retire from politics.

Meanwhile, the NDP is making progress on some of its key policy proposals. Most importantly, the creation of a new dental insurance program for families whose annual income is less than $90,000 per year. Add to this more or less concrete commitments to move forward with the implementation of the universal drug insurance plan, increase the number of doctors and nurses, improve mental health care, home care and long-term care. Singh is following in the footsteps of Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian Medicare, and is pushing liberals to implement the “next phase of Medicare.”

For the NDP allies, it was also Christmas. The agreement includes a guarantee of 10 days of paid sick leave for all federally regulated employees beginning this year. The commitment to introduce a bill to ban the use of strikebreakers by the end of 2023, a long-standing demand from the working world, is receiving thunderous applause. Whether the bill will move quickly remains to be seen.

There are also commitments to reconciliation with Aboriginal people, to climate change, to fair taxation, to childcare, to housing and to improving democracy… In short, a lot of material.

The NDP also pushed for the addition of a commitment to ensure that the number of Quebec seats in the House of Commons remained constant. If we are to designate the immediate loser of this agreement, it is the Bloc Québec: Yves-François Blanchet is no longer important to the Liberal Party. The agreement clearly reduces the bloc’s influence in this parliament. The famous balance of power is now exclusively in the hands of the NDP. The bloc will simply limit itself to the role of protector of Quebec interests.M.D. against the evil centralizers, who will also play a joke on François Legault.

For the Conservative Party, even if his shirt is torn, the deal is actually good news. This means that the future leader will have time to get used to his new role (even if Jean Charest is elected, consider that he has spent a decade away from politics and that he does not really know the beast…) and put a solid plan and command on place rather than plunge into hasty elections.

But the deal also changes the dynamics of the fight for dominance, as the enemy to defeat now has an ally. This forces conservatives to expose the specters of a “socialist coalition” and a “democracy takeover”. The fact that the maneuver is completely democratic and legitimate does not matter to conservatives because it will activate a certain part of their base that hates liberals, and especially Justin Trudeau.

Thus, Pierre Poilliev’s candidacy is solidified among the conservative base, one who has long established himself as Trudeau’s killer par excellence.

If the liberal strategists were afraid of Poilieff, they would not give him this gift. From here, to draw the opposite conclusion, there is only one step left …

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