The day after the Liberals and NDP announced they’ve entered into a three-year deal to keep Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in power in exchange for policy action on a suite of progressive issues, the major dynamic shift in the domestic political landscape is still the preoccupying focus for many on Parliament Hill.
The NDP are already starting to articulate how they’d like elements of the agreement to be enacted, the Liberals are touting the move as important for “stability” in a time without much of it globally, and the Conservatives continue to rail against the move as undemocratic, while expressing optimism over the window of opportunity it may provide their party.
All party caucuses had meetings on Wednesday morning—a regular weekly occurrence on the Hill—and as MPs made their way in and out of these meetings, reporters dug into some of the current questions surrounding the deal. From what it’ll mean for each party’s long-term positioning to how realistic is it that the agreement will bring substantial change in the short-term, here’s what federal elected officials had to say.
For the Liberals, the deal injects years of predictability—not having to find alliances on every confidence vote—but could also come with political risk that they alienate their more centrist supporters by progressing a left-leaning agenda. Will the agreement pay off by allowing Trudeau to hit a decade in power and secure some legacy items? Or will it backfire and open up ground for their opponents? And what does it mean for future leadership hopefuls?
Amid these big questions, multiple cabinet ministers and MPs referenced how they feel the deal is important for federal stability and responds to precisely what voters asked for in the 2021 election: cross-party co-operation.
“I am all for stability and certainty. One thing I’ve learned in this racket is that we’re all human beings. We only have so much time in a day. The more time you spend on what my grandmother used to call ‘old foolishness,’ you know, the less time you’re actually governing and moving policy forward. So I’m delighted for stability,” said Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan.
“We as a country need stability while we’re facing many crises, definitely a war in Europe as well as the pandemic, so this is the time to make sure that we continue to deliver for Canadians while dealing with unprecedented challenges,” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said.
Asked whether she thinks it will be difficult to sell the deal to more fiscally conservative Liberal voters, Joly didn’t directly answer, but went on to say that based on the Conservative Party’s current positioning, “clearly, you know, they’re not about occupying the center right now.”
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller told reporters that ultimately, Canadians will be able to have their say on whether the deal was a good idea, or effective, in the next federal election.
“When you [talk] about political calculations, I think we sort of put that to the side and said: ‘how do we want to govern responsibly over the next three years for what is an ambitious agenda?'” Miller said. “The NDP will not support us unconditionally and everyone knows that they are not push-overs, even though people like to portray them as such, particularly among the Conservatives… They will hold us to account, and you know, this isn’t a coalition. This is a responsible pathway forward for stability for Canadians for the next three years.”
Longtime Liberal MP John McKay told reporters that the reaction within his party has been “relatively positive.”
“Every MP looks at any kind of a deal as to ‘how does this affect me?’ So I think … after about 24 hours of reflection, most members have come to the conclusion ‘it’s really not got much impact on me,'” he said.
McKay also told reporters that he thinks there’s “no question” there will be spending challenges and that he “doesn’t envy” the job Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland now has with crafting the upcoming spring budget in a way that meets the commitments set out in the deal while also considering increasing military spending.
THE NEW DEMOCRATS
For the NDP, in a best-case scenario they will walk away in 2025 having played a role in seeing what NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called “the biggest expansion of health care in a generation,” as well as making progress on housing affordability, climate change, and reconciliation. However, could the alignment with the Liberals eat at their ability to remain a critical opposition party? How does it alter their positioning in the next campaign?
Considering these dynamics, NDP MPs who spoke with reporters on their way out of the New Democrats’ caucus meeting had one main takeaway: “This is huge.”
“I’m very proud of it,” said NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice. “Dental care is huge, people will be so happy for their kids, teenagers, seniors. This is concrete actions, concrete results that we can deliver in the minority government.”
Boulerice said NDP MPs still feel that they have the freedom to oppose anything that isn’t a confidence matter.
“This is a huge thing for people. I’ve had so many people reach out to me just since this announcement to say ‘that’s going to make a tangible difference in my life,'” said NDP MP Taylor Bacharach of the commitment to fully launching a new dental care program for low- income Canadians by 2025.
“I think there’s strong support for this in caucus, this is more than we’ve been able to achieve in quite a while, and it’s something that people are feeling good about. Of course there are always questions, there are always discussions about how this is going to work, how we’re going to hold the Liberals to account,” Bachrach said.
He told reporters that he’s “really proud” to be a part of a caucus that’s used their leverage to “get things done,” but is still cautious given the Liberals’ track record of not following through on things they said they would.
NDP MP Jenny Kwan said that while the deal doesn’t include all of the policies the NDP want progress on, “it is about getting as much as we can for the people who need the supports and services,” and she and others will continue to fight for more.
“That’s what this agreement is about, getting as much as we can,” Kwan said. “Imagine—if 25 New Democrats can get us this far—what a majority New Democrat government can do.”
For the Conservatives, the prospect of not having another early election has its pitfalls and its advantages. The party will be electing its next leader in September, and should this major deal last, the victor will be facing their first few years in the job as leader of the Official Opposition. Though, that would also give them more time to get established, unify the party, and introduce themselves to Canadians as the only viable option if voters want change.
Building on interim Leader Candice Bergen’s framing of the deal as “backdoor socialism,” Conservative MPs spoke Wednesday about how they feel this deal is undemocratic as no one voted for a parliamentary alliance in the 2021 election. However, 50.4 per cent of voters did vote for either the Liberals or New Democrats.
Others spoke about the potential advantage it provides to whomever is elected as the Conservative Party’s new leader.
“It gives our new leader, whoever that is, some time to get their feet underneath them, build a team and show Canadians that we’re fighting for them, which we do every day,” said Conservative MP Todd Doherty.
“We’ve been saying this since early 2020, that there has been a coalition. And if you want to look at it, the Prime Minister and Jagmeet [Singh] are finally being honest with Canadians and proof’s in the pudding that there is a coalition,” Doherty said.
“It certainly seems we’re taking a major leftward shift in the country,” said Conservative MP Dane Lloyd.
Lloyd said that while he’s disappointed that there won’t be an earlier opportunity to get rid of the Liberal government, he thinks the Liberal-NDP alliance “draws a sharper contrast for Canadians.”
“I think that would be positive for whoever the future leader of the Conservative Party is going to be… We’ll see how it plays out.”
“I think this is not democracy,” said Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, citing that just three million Canadians voted for the NDP. She predicted that it will “not end in a good marriage.”