On Tuesday, March 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party announced an alliance with his far-left opponent, Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party (NDP). The brokered deal has been dubbed the “Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement.” The deal will allow Trudeau to maintain a hold on parliamentary power until the next scheduled federal election in 2025 in exchange for Liberal concessions on key NDP policy priorities where both parties share similar “medium-term” outcomes – at the center of which is a national dental care program for low-income Canadians.
At a news conference on Parliament Hill, Trudeau cited the global and economic instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coupled with September 2021’s minority election results to announce the Liberal-NDP deal. “Nobody benefits when increasing polarization, dysfunction, and obstruction dominate our Parliament,” says Trudeau regarding the deal’s push away from American-style partisan governance that is said to be plaguing Canada’s political sphere.
At a separate conference, Singh expressed that if the Trudeau Liberals failed to deliver on their promises, such as dental care, then the deal will dissolve.
What is the ‘deal’?
The Trudeau-Liberals have promised to pass legislation in seven key areas: healthcare, affordability, climate change, helping workers, reconciliation, taxes, and democratic procedure. Taking the spotlight among proposed legislation is a national dental care program for low-income Canadians from Singh’s campaign promises in the previous two federal elections. The program is set to begin this year by providing dental coverage for children under 12 and will expand for all those with incomes under $90,000 in 2024. If implemented, it would be the largest expansion of Canadian public healthcare since Medicare was created– providing dental care to 6.5 million Canadians nationwide.
Some other promises of the deal include a plan for universal pharmacare under the “Canada Pharmacare Act,” by the end of 2023. The National Drug Agency has also been tasked with developing a national index of essential medicines and a bulk purchasing plan by the end of 2025. Additionally, a plan for more affordable childcare is on the table. This will include securing $10-a-day childcare for all Canadian families and introducing an Early Learning Child Care Act.
In addition to policy initiatives, Trudeau will meet with Singh at least once each quarter, conduct a stock-take meeting, and consult with the NDP on major political developments that concern governance.
In exchange for this rather large increase in influence power from only 25 seats in the House of Commons, the NDP has promised to pass the next four Liberal budget proposals and vote to defeat any potential non-confidence motions by the Conservative Party and the Bloc Quebecois.
A non-confidence motion is a vote instigated by an opposition party against a sitting minority government that calls into question whether the incumbent is adequately governing the nation. If such a motion is passed, then the incumbent must resign, and another election is called. That being said, with the NDP officially on Trudeau’s side, a non-confidence motion cannot carry, and House stability is preserved.
Partnership or Coalition?
Some Conservative leaders have referred to the Liberal-NDP partnership as a coalition.
“The NDP-Liberal coalition is nothing more than a callous attempt by Trudeau to hold onto power,” says interim leader of the Conservative Party Candice Bergin, “Canadians did not vote for an NDP government.”
But because no NDP MP will sit in the Liberal cabinet, the deal cannot be called a coalition. In fact, the only time in which a formal coalition occurred was in 1917 under Prime Minister Robert Borden who was facing strong opposition in parliament due to World War I with regards to conscription. However, this coalition only lasted until the end of the war in 1918.
Instead, the deal can be thought of as a pact that trades NDP influence for Liberal stability. That is, Singh gets his policy agenda on the table, while Trudeau is less crippled by his minority status. This deal is not novel. After the 2017 British Columbia provincial election, the minority NDPs made a similar deal with the Green party called the “Confidence and Supply Agreement.” The agreement entailed Green support of the NDP in the legislature on confidence matters in exchange for ‘green’ policy initiatives.
That being said, the deal is a federal arrangement that poses higher stakes for both parties. There is the risk that one party rolls over on the partnership. Therefore, open communication between party lines is paramount for long-term success. Otherwise, both parties risk their agendas, and the Trudeau-Liberals risk their seat as governing leaders – pulling the country into yet another election.
What is needed is active collaboration in the House of Commons, this deal offers a step in that direction if the agreement is successful.
Edited by Kimberly Lord
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.