By Gary Porter and Barry Weisleder, members of the NDP Socialist Caucus federal steering committee
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh found a way to avoid a federal election, and to gain a vague promise of health service reforms – likely at the cost of huge increases in military spending. The Liberal-NDP deal paves the way for Justin Trudeau to stay in power until 2025, at least. That goes to serve capitalist political ‘stability’ in the relentless march to climate catastrophe, growing social inequality and the horrors of inter-imperialist war.
Interim Conservative Party Leader Candice Bergen made the absurd claim that the Liberal-NDP deal hands the reins of government to the NDP — claiming that Jagmeet Singh is “basically” deputy prime minister. Bergen seems to be confused about the difference between a coalition and a mere agreement in which no member of the NDP will have a cabinet post.
CPC leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre called the Grit/NDP deal a “socialist coalition power pact.” This suggests that Poilievre has the same disregard for facts as his mentor and idol, Stephen Harper.
The deal, known as a “confidence-and-supply” agreement, would see the NDP support the minority government Liberals in upcoming confidence votes — including the next four federal budgets — in exchange for non-specific statements of good intention toward NDP-friendly measures, until June 2025.
The prime minister said the deal was about “improving the way we do politics” while still making room for debate and disagreement, rather than “compromising the core beliefs” of either party.
The Globe and Mail weighed in with an editorial that reached the astonishing conclusion that in making this arrangement with the NDP, Justin Trudeau has figured out a new way to castrate Parliament, even though the two parties won a majority of seats and a majority of votes cast in the September 2021 federal election. These critics decry even the possibility that Trudeau may bend a little towards NDP priorities and start spending on urgent social needs. Nothing in Trudeau’s past indicates any such proclivity.
The following are the gains touted by Singh in an email to NDP members:
Expanded public dental care to deliver better health outcomes for Canadians; A pharma care plan to ensure access to the meds people need; Anti-scab legislation that protects striking workers; A plan to advance affordable housing as a human right, especially for Indigenous communities; and Just Transition legislation to help tackle the climate crisis and create good paying jobs.
As for the agreement itself, with the exception of an income-based national dental care program to be phased-in over the next three years, the language of the deal is aspirational, not prescriptive. The pact itself is non-binding. Although slated to last until 2025, either party can opt out at will. Far from being a backroom coup cooked up by power-hungry socialists, it is a set of good intentions, not commitments. The language is pretty oceanic.
Additional “investments” in the COVID-ravaged health-care system; “continuing progress” on a universal pharmacare program; “moving forward” on tax reform; the pledge to “explore ways” to expand access to voting; “developing plans” to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel sector; advancing measures to achieve “significant” emissions reductions by 2030; a “significant” additional investment in Indigenous housing…
What the hell does significant mean? You get the picture.
Three years of stable government may look good to a public battered by COVID, price-shocked at the gas pump and at the grocery store, and the prospect of World War Last brewing in Ukraine. And if the whole thing goes south, some say, we are no worse off than before the deal. But is that really true?
Of the two leaders, Justin Trudeau absolutely gained the most. Assuming that the good vibes between the Liberals and NDP continue, Trudeau gets to implement his agenda without rolling the dice on every confidence vote. That means that difficult decisions, like billions more for everything from pipelines to fighter jets and navy frigates, can be implemented without risk of triggering an election.
It also casts the prime minister as a conciliator, someone who can reach across the aisle and work with MPs in another caucus.
Jagmeet Singh, on the other hand, has taken on the role of Riverboat Gambler in this live-stream mini-series. In return for supporting a minority government, as several NDP leaders have done in the past, he hopes to “appear” to punch far above the weight of the 25 seats he won in 2021.
Take dental care. Trudeau took a pass on that policy in the last election. Now he has signed on to it, giving Singh a decent chance to take some political credit for it. Things could be even better for Singh if other items on the NDP wish-list are adopted by the government. Just don’t hold your breath.
Which means that this is all a big gamble for Singh. For that reason, former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told CTV he wouldn’t have signed the co-operation agreement with the Liberals.
This deal is more co-optation, than cooperation, for the NDP, as so often in the past. The Liberals are the masters of identity theft, usually at the NDP’s expense. If the NDP sticks with the Liberals until 2025, and doesn’t get the credit for things like a national dental care program, its candidates will be faced at the doorstep of Canadians with a tough question.
How can the NDP ask to replace the Liberals, after spending three years propping them up?
Underlying all the froth on the surface is a basic fact. Jagmeet Singh has made a deal with the devil. He has now guaranteed that warmonger, strike breaker and fossil fuel promoter Justin Trudeau will stay in power for three more years, in exchange for the promise of a means-tested, slowly phased-in dental care service, and a few statements of good intentions from a lying scion of the ruling class. Singh may well get nothing for his sellout.
The Liberals will enjoy the advantage of NDP endorsement to do whatever they want, like the Emergencies Act that Trudeau invoked in mid-February. This deal says to the working class that it is OK to unite with a boss party against the workers.
Singh has once again demonstrated his naïve belief that the difference between the NDP and the Liberals is just a few ideas, that the NDP are just Liberals in a hurry — which appears to be true for the privileged middle-class leadership of the NDP.
But the founding of the NDP in 1961 as a party based on labour unions and the Canadian Labour Congress, was a step forward for the working class, the creation of its own independent political arm, a partial break with big business parties and Bay Street. The NDP should be based on Main Street, on the working class, women, impoverished, racialized and oppressed folks.
Whatever they claim about ruling in the interests of the people of Canada, all the other political parties represent the bosses, the capitalists, the fossil fuel industry, the mine owners, the arms industries, giant telecoms, Big Pharma, retail chain empires, agribusiness, mega manufacturers, loan sharks and the banks.
Singh will vote for increases in war budgets and war profits. He will back wars in which working class families die or become refugees. If Trudeau aims to hit the NATO military spending target of 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in the 2022-23 federal budget, that means increasing military spending by $16 billion in a single year, up from current spending of more than $26 billion this year. Singh’s commitment to provide the Liberals with “confidence and supply” implies endorsement for beefing up the Canadian Forces to participate in NATO wars, as it did in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Libya.
It encompasses lethal aid to Nazi battalions battering the Donbas, and weapons to the Saudi monarchy pulverizing Yemen, and boosting the Israeli Apartheid state. It means backing any moves by Trudeau to complete the TMX pipeline, and to continue under-funding health care and ignoring the needs of Indigenous people.
Singh has, once again, crossed the class line, and betrayed the working people of Canada. He has done this for a non-universal dental plan and for boss promises of sunny ways with no specifics. Singh and the bulk of the NDP leadership simply support capitalism even though they rest on the organized working class which is exploited under this system. They are right wing social democrats who seem incapable of change. They have to go. Our task is to build the socialist left in the NDP and the unions, to fight for socialist policies and for a class struggle leadership that knows the difference between the workers and the bosses — that knows on which side we should stand.