(Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meeting on the agreement)
Will the Confident Agreement Hold? Tensions in the Confidence Agreement
In the past couple of weeks, there has been some strain being felt on the Liberal and NDP supply-confidence agreement. In the immediate aftermath of the 2021 federal election where the Liberals clinched a minority, Prime Minister Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh had formally reached an agreement to “Deliver for Canadians”. The political crux of this agreement was for the NDP to ensure the Liberal government’s reign of power until 2025 in exchange for key NDP policies to be passed. On the surface, the Liberals had positioned the agreement to be a collaborative effort with the NDP. However, the policies seen in this agreement also showcase how Canada’s two major progressive parties have more to agree than to disagree.
For Parliament, many political pundits have pointed out that the current aura of Parliament is stable. When at least 50% of parliament agrees to prioritize certain policies, the fear of an early election being called by the government in power is minimized. Moreover, at a time when inflation is squeezing the budgets of families, having a stable government is what’s required.
In TorontoStar journalist Althia Raj’s recent episode on “It’s political”, she discusses the structure of the agreement with several political party insiders. According to these insiders, the NDP have generally faired well in this agreement since this is one of the only times in the NDP’s recent history where they had real political power over government policy. As a third-place opposition party, the NDP technically has no role in the policies the PMO or cabinet decides. With the agreement, however, the NDP is in a position to take advantage of governmental information they receive to be informed of legislative decisions. It also means the NDP is technically in a closer governmental position than the official opposition or even backbench Liberal MPs. As a testament to this, the two parties are compelled to have:
- Leaders meet at least once per quarter
- Regular House Leader meetings
- Regular Whip meetings
- Monthly stock-take meetings by an oversight group
The agreement also goes further to make sure:
“both parties agree to communicate regarding any issues which could impede the government’s ability to function or cause unnecessary obstructions to legislation review, studies and work plans at committees.”...“the government will ensure public servants remain available to brief the NDP on other matters. Briefings should be done in a timely fashion to allow for constructive feedback and discussion.”
Both of these clauses mean that the NDP and Liberals will communicate any initiative that may impede Parliament to move forward on legislation procedures. In addition, the agreement also means that the NDP will be briefed by the Liberals with information outside of the legislative priorities set in the agreement as proof of good faith and collaborative process.
The Political Divide
Although both parties are collaborating in a constructive manner not before seen in recent Canadian politics. Both parties still have personal political interests to gain from the agreement. For the NDP, the risk of a Conservative winning the next election means that they stand nothing to lose to squeeze as much legislation before such a possibility. For the NDP, the conservatives would play no interest in passing progressive legislation in a mutual agreement. As such, if the Conservatives are elected, the NDP is positioned to be less relevant compared to a Liberal government
The NDP will try as hard as possible to separate their policies and vision from the Liberals. If they can sufficiently convince the electorate of that, then they’ll likely be able to gain seats. Otherwise, the Liberals will get away with selling themselves as the only viable progressive party. As such the NDP needs to squeeze out as much social policy as possible before a possible Liberal loss in the next election
At the same time, however, the Liberals have continued to take credit for the rolling out of the legislative priorities set in the agreement. In future, the Liberals will make it paramount that policies passed under the agreement were their ideas with little input from the NDP.
The Liberals will fight tooth and nail to scribe these policies as entirely Liberal with a smidge of NDP support. The Liberals could use this agreement as proof of their efforts to maintain a collaborative Parliament, passing NDP policies would simply be a precursor of this collaboration.
Major policies completed and upcoming policies like dental care, support for seniors, a $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund, GST rebates, childcare enshrinement, a one-time tax on Canada’s financial institutions, and a Homebuyer Bill of Rights will all be seen Liberal initiatives rather than NDP wins if the Liberals play their media cards right.
Outstanding Policy to Pass
Nevertheless, there are still policies in the agreement that haven’t been passed yet.
Safe Long-term Care Act and Nationalized Standards
The Liberal party had campaigned in the 2021 election to improve the standards of Long-term Care (LTC) by passing legislation to standardize quality across the provincial lines. Unfortunately, this piece of legislation in particular will likely be limited in scope as LTC is under provincial jurisdiction. If the federal government is looking to improve the standard of care in these sectors, then they must negotiate bilateral deals with the provinces using their fiscal power as leverage (just as the feds did with childcare and healthcare). With long-term care being an insignificant issue in the minds of voters according to recent polls, the federal government is not in any rush to push for such changes. Nevertheless, according to recent press releases from Canada’s health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal government is looking to pass a Safe Long-term Care Act in the coming months.
Per the 2021 Liberal election platform, such a policy will have the federal government providing billions to the provinces to improve LTC by “[training] up to 50,000 new personal support workers and [raising] wages”. In addition, the federal government is looking to “invest $9 billion over five years to meet those targets for long-term care, with $3 billion specifically to support the implementation of new national standards.”
The NDP is looking to pass such a policy as they’ve put that provision in the agreement. If the Liberals aren’t willing to legislate such a policy, then the NDP has full justification for pulling out of the agreement.
Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Green Jobs
An entire section of the agreement is dedicated to reducing emissions, creating green jobs, and bolstering the transition to a greener economy. Fortunately for the NDP, Budget 2023 contains all sorts of policies that will reduce emissions and transform Canada’s economy to a low-emission future.
According to Canada’s Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, Budget 2023 is looking to invest billions in a “Just Transition” jobs training program for fossil fuel workers to transition their skills for clean-tech manufacturing.
Budget 2023 also commits billions in tax credits, retrofits, and subsidies for households and businesses to transform their operations to more green-oriented development and sustainability. Such policies may include rebates for households to replace their gas-powered appliances such as water heaters to electric powered ones, modernizing the electricity grid to utilize more renewables, promoting businesses to reduce their emissions through tax credits with companies that provide clean power, giving provinces subsidies to generate more solar-wind-nuclear-hydro power, providing tax credits for purchasing EVs, providing incentives for companies to generate clean power and products rather than fossil fuel products, and a focus to make sure such companies produce and home supply chains in Canada.
This comes as the federal government has doubled down on their commitments to reaching net-zero emissions no later than 2050. The supply-confidence agreement stipulates:
“Advancing measures to achieve significant emissions reductions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Continuing to identify ways to further accelerate the trajectory to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”
Regarding policy on Indigenous reconciliation, the Liberal government has done very few systemic changes and has instead put focus on small gradual improvements, investments, and consultations with Indigenous peoples for reconciliation. A full highlight of commitments since 2015 is available on the federal government’s website. In total, the federal government has invested billions in funding to support Indigenous communities, provide educational support, provide funding for social services and infrastructure, economic opportunities, support for natural disasters and climate change initiatives, providing funding for clean water, employment programs, providing high-speed internet to remote communities, etc.
Considering the presence of support in previous federal budgets, it’s safe to expect more support in Budget 2023 for Indigenous people through targeted support in healthcare, employment, infrastructure, and economic development.
The NDP's principal policy to extract from the federal government includes a national pharmacare program. This program essentially serves to provide funding and a regulatory framework for covering or lowering the cost of prescription drugs in Canada.
“Continuing progress towards a universal national pharmacare program by passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then tasking the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”
Unfortunately for the NDP, the agreement only poises steps for implementation rather than the actual implementation of the program itself. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh recently admit that the Liberals are unlikely to implement a “full pharmacare” program. Singh goes on to say that the NDP ”...are forcing them to go a lot further than they would have gone,”
Leader Singh seems to be pointing out the obvious. A recent investigative piece from TheBreach has alleged that Health Minister Duclos is caving into the demands of the pharmaceutical lobby after he intervened in delaying pharma regulations that would’ve saved Canadians $3 billion a year on medications. Minister Duclos has personally declined such allegation claiming that he is still committed to reducing prices and implementing a pharmacare program. The Prime Minister has also reiterated such commitments during Question Period. For Duclos, the minister must prove he is willing to pass a pharmacare program, as otherwise, media pressure will sow doubt among Liberal progressive voters.
As to how exactly the program will look like, many political pundits are looking at PEI. Before the 2021 election, the federal government struck a deal with the province of Prince Edward Island to fund coverage for several medications, known as a formulary.
Political pundits predict that the Liberals will fall short of a universal single-payer program due to its $15 billion price tag and instead issue bilateral formulary deals with the provinces. Essentially, the federal government would go in with significant money to fund medications the provinces deem necessary and enshrine the funding under provisions through a national Canada Pharmacare Act (as mentioned in the confidence agreement).
On the other hand, federal movement on increasing access to effective and affordable medication for rare diseases has been recently initiated. As of March 22, the federal government is looking to invest $1.5 billion over 3 years in a National Strategy for Drugs for Rare Diseases. The press release states:
“As part of this overall investment, the Government of Canada will make available up to $1.4 billion to provinces and territories through bilateral agreements. This funding will help provinces and territories improve access to new and emerging drugs, as well as support enhanced access to existing drugs, early diagnosis, and screening for rare diseases. This will help patients with rare diseases, including children, have access to treatments as early as possible, for better quality of life.”
Although this policy isn’t anywhere in the confidence agreement. It nonetheless showcases the Liberal government’s approach to implementing policies that require provincial concessions. The government is willing to make policy arrangements that have the highest chance of success and the lowest chance of political backlash from provinces claiming jurisdictional intrusion.
But the NDP can’t rule out the Liberals just yet. Just as the Liberals did with childcare, a possibility of a fully implemented pharmacare program may come before the dawn of an election. The Liberals may use such deals as a pitch to voters (notably NDP voters) to vote Liberal for pharmacare. On the other hand, the Liberals may just as easily implement some form of pharmacare this year out of political whim for the confidence agreement.
All in all, there is no definitive way of what to expect from the Liberals on this front.
Wildcard: Democratic Reform as Election Interference Recovery
Interestingly, now that story after story is coming out on Liberal MPs allegedly having adverse connections to China. The best time to implement democratic reform is now. At a time when confidence in Canadian democracy is crippling, the government must make sure resolute steps are taken to investigate and mitigate such happenings among our public officials.
And although the supply-confidence agreement doesn’t expand on election interference policy. There are nevertheless democratic reform measures in place to at least soften the blow of the erosion of confidence in Canadian democracy and the Liberal Party. According to the agreement, the federal government would implement:
- An expanded “Election Day” of three days of voting.
- Allowing people to vote at any polling place within their Electoral District.
- Improving the process of mail-in ballots to ensure that voters who choose this method of voting are not disenfranchised.
All of these policies have yet to be implemented. However, the likelihood of the Liberals developing a policy on ‘improving’ democracy in Canada after the recent election interference fiasco is higher now more than ever.
So if policy is being met, the primary “tensions” between the two parties are inherently political rather than based on policy fallouts. Which serves to put a wedge between the difference between the Liberals and NDP. The NDP requires this difference as voters may feel as though both are similar enough and thus reasons for voting NDP decreases (according to Althia’s reporting).
Despite all the perceived differences between the NDP and Liberals, both parties still agree on many social policy initiatives. Children under 18 can now enjoy getting their teeth cared for with the Dental care benefit. In Budget 2023, this benefit is being expanded to include seniors and people with disabilities and will eventually be fully implemented for all uninsured Canadians by 2025.
Both parties have numerous policies they’ve passed in this parliamentary session. This includes GST rebates for struggling low-income Canadians have also been passed to provide more support for people to pay for the rising cost of living, Housing supports for low-income Canadians were issued and the development of a ‘Housing Accelerator Fund’ to build 100,000 homes is going to launch in summer 2023. Other measures such as increasing pension support for seniors (although not in the LPC-NDP agreement) are also supported by both parties.
However, the NDP’s chief of staff, Jeniffer Howard, still strongly believes in gaining more seats. Howard profusely believes the Liberals are more political rivals than allies. Howard recognizes that internal meetings between the two parties can be constructive for progress, but those meetings can also have “pretty strong words about things not moving fast enough”, Howard says.
Edited by: Niko
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in