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Tom Mulcair: Trudeau's deal with NDP is quite the coup

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Justin Trudeau has just pulled off the type of move that has kept his Liberals in power for most of confederation. After voters handed Trudeau his second minority, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP has offered to effectively give him a majority up until the next scheduled election, in 2025.

Quite a coup.

The average Canadian, who is not an ardent Conservative partisan, probably breathed a sigh of relief. We’ve had two federal general elections in two years and, let’s face it, minority governments are part of the new normal. In the past, minorities were the exception as Canadians swept alternate majority Conservative and (mostly) Liberal governments to power.

In the last seven federal elections, starting with Paul Martin’s, we’ve now had five minorities and only two majorities. Things have changed on the Canadian electoral landscape and the most positive thing that can be said about the Liberal-NDP pact is that it takes that reality into account.

The important question is: who got what and in exchange for what?

On the Liberal side, the answer is easy. They get a full mandate and control 100% of government with less than ⅓ of Canadians’ votes.

For the NDP, they get a couple of concrete things they’ll be able to point to at the next election like dental care for kids (promised for this year) and anti-scab legislation in federally-regulated industries. That last one is huge from a labour point of view. Trudeau somehow forgot to mention it during his news conference.

Most of the document is aspirational and speaks of intentions. They’ll be “continuing progress towards”…pharmacare.

On climate change the Liberals promise to keep “advancing measures to achieve significant emissions reductions…” and “continuing to find ways to further accelerate the trajectory…” . There’s no promise to meet our obligations under the Paris Accord.

As Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development has pointed out, under the Liberals we’ve had the worst record in the G7. That’s something that Singh also pointed to in the last election campaign so it’s surprising to see this weak language on such a key issue.

On something as cut and dry as ending subsidies to the oil and gas sectors, the only commitment is to “develop a plan to phase-out public financing of the fossil fuel sector”. Why wait? It’s a long-standing promise and a commitment Canada has already made internationally. They could do nothing over the next three years and still theoretically respect this weak stipulation.

In assessing what was actually concurred in, it’s worth noting that Trudeau and Singh don’t appear to have actually signed a formal agreement. Both put out press releases talking about the deal. Neither appears to have wanted to sign a common document setting it out or, for that matter, show up at the same news conference.

That’s interesting historically. The 2008 document signed by Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, launched at a press conference where all three were present, came back to haunt the Liberals. Their institutional memory prevailed and they avoided that trap today.

Ironically, one of the happiest people today is Pierre Poilievre. He gets to bellow out the ultimate “I told you so” and denounce the whole thing as proof that the Liberals have gone hard left and cannot be trusted.

One of the most concerned people must be Chrystia Freeland, who’ll have the job of trying to present the budgets that will attempt to keep this unwieldy deal on track. Mark Carney will be waiting in the wings.

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.

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