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'There's an opportunity to divorce themselves': Strategists weigh in on future of Liberal-NDP deal

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With NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh putting the Liberals “on notice” that it could be a deal breaker if they don’t deliver on a pharmacare framework by March 1, the weekly panel of political strategists on CTV’s Question Period weigh in on the future of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement.

The deal — inked in the spring of 2022 — sees the NDP prop up the Liberals until 2025 in exchange for progress on key policy issues, such as pharmacare.

The parties had initially set the deadline for tabling pharmacare framework legislation for the end of last year, but in December, they pushed back that cut-off date to March 1.

This week, Singh said there will be “repercussions” if the government doesn’t follow through by the set time, and that he considers it to mean they’ve “walked away” from the confidence-and-supply pact.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Mark Holland told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, he has “every confidence” the federal government can deliver on a pharmacare framework by the deadline.

He also said the confidence-and-supply deal “absolutely” continues to serve the government, and he doesn’t believe Canadians want them “pulling that fire alarm.”

But Scott Reid — a CTV News political analyst and former communications director to former prime minister Paul Martin — told Kapelos and the rest of the CTV’s Question Period strategists panel that the potential end of the supply-and-confidence deal doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the Liberal government.

“So If I were the Liberals, I think there's an opportunity to divorce themselves from this deal, get themselves away from the agenda, which I think is actually starting to harm them over time,” he said.

“Maybe it’s to say ‘listen, you know what, pharmacare is a fine idea, but at this point in time, we just can't afford it’,” he added. “And it becomes a definitional issue for the Liberals, they separate someone from the NDP, they move themselves back toward the middle, they say no to a big spending program, and instead talk about focusing on core health care.”

Kory Teneycke, who was Ontario Premier Doug Ford's campaign manager and former director of communications for former prime minister Stephen Harper, told the panel he agrees with Reid.

Teneycke had also predicted last December that 2024 could be the year of the Liberals and NDP redefining the parameters of their agreement to be more of an “à la carte” partnership, and he still believes it’s “an advantage” to both parties to have that happen.

“But I especially think it's good for the NDP to play a little bit harder to get,” he said. “And I've always been perplexed at them focusing on pharmacare, because when you look at all the different issues that you could be going on if you were the NDP, in many ways, it's the least likely one to me, because the amount of support from voters for it is tepid at best.”

“So I think it's a weak issue to tie this much of your agenda to if you're the NDP, but hey, they would be higher in the polls if they were smarter,” he also said.

However, Kathleen Monk, a former NDP strategist and director of communications to the late Jack Layton, said it remains “very important for a number of Canadians” that the pharmacare deal move forward.

“These are things that will matter on the ground, and whether they boost popularity or pump the polls, or if they're just the right policy, those are two different questions,” Monk said.

She pointed to the Liberal’s child care policy as another issue that may not necessarily spur massive polling numbers, but that was the right thing to do.

“So how this goes forward, the New Democrats are playing a bit more tough,” Monk said. “They are saying ‘hey, we're not going to help you move forward your agenda with things like time allocation, with cooperation on committees, until we see a bill that we think will satisfy our needs on pharmacare.”

You can watch CTV’s Question Period’s full Sunday Strategy Session in the video player at the top of this article.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello

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