Canada is a big country with a small imagination – politically speaking.
A lot of Canadian politicians and pundits prefer it that way since predictability is often considered a synonym for stability. And stability is often considered a virtue in a cautious country with little affinity or enthusiasm for imaginative thinking – politically speaking.
So, when the governing Liberal Party, led by a chastised and vulnerable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, agreed to strike an entente with Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the pretend socialists – the New Democratic Party (NDP) – Canada became a little more interesting – politically speaking.
Distilled to its core, the Liberal-NDP pact calls for Singh to prop up Trudeau’s minority government until 2025. In exchange, Trudeau will try to find the money in post-pandemic budgets to relieve struggling Canadians of the pricey costs to take care of their teeth and to buy prescription drugs. Trudeau gets what he wants: to remain prime minister for longer than most observers – including yours truly – thought possible. Singh gets what he wants: credit for helping people who need help that could, over time, pay dividends.
To be clear: this is not a coalition – where Singh and company would be obliged to sit, knee-to-knee, in a room full of apostate Liberal cabinet ministers. Instead, Singh has leveraged the NDP’s hold on the balance of power in parliament into what amounts to a “coalition-light”. Much more importantly, he has won, on paper, commitments – not promises – from Trudeau to do what the prime minister has, until now, been reluctant to do.
On a stubborn, practical note, Singh knows that it will take years for the NDP to replenish its running-on-empty coffers before it can even contemplate bankrolling a costly federal election campaign. As such, Singh’s decision to act as Robin to Trudeau’s Batman until 2025 is a necessary by-product of the party’s halting balance sheet, as well as a genuine bid to aid Canadians in need.
Alas, the Trudeau-Singh axis – negotiated in secret by a nestful of aides – had the requisite dose of backroom dealing and intrigue to trigger a hysterical reaction among outraged conservative politicians and commentators who were so appalled that they pleaded with God on Twitter to save Canada from being disfigured beyond recognition or, worse, destroyed by a pair of Fidel Castro-loving revolutionaries.
As a general rule, I find that if excitable conservative politicians and columnists turn to the heavens as part of an apoplectic tantrum that Canada is about to be transformed into a slightly more agreeable version of North Korea, then someone, somewhere, has earned a hearty round of applause for having done something right. While I have some misgivings with how the Trudeau-Singh pact came about and the unelected apparatchiks who pieced it together, anytime a government makes what appears to be a binding pledge to help people who require help, that is, by any measure, a good thing.
Still, the confirmed cynic in me wonders not only if Trudeau will be around long enough to keep his word, but if Singh could also have pried more from a government eager to avoid a non-confidence vote and another federal election. Having worked on Parliament Hill decades ago, I can assure you the distrust and enmity between Liberals and the NDP were once as deep as any Himalayan crevasse.
A healthy dose of that distrust and enmity persists. It was born, in large part, by the Liberal Party’s historic habit of tacking to the left when the prevailing winds blow. This has translated into Canada’s we’ll-do-and-say-anything-to-win-an-election party stealing, outright, programmes that the NDP championed when it was a real and not pretend socialist party. (These days – true to milk-toast form – the pretend socialists have banned the word “socialist” from their party’s constitution.)
Understood in this context, Trudeau’s apparent appetite to play let’s make a deal with Singh confirms, once more, a defining Liberal trait and a wounded prime minister’s parochial calculus to stay in the job rather than any abiding need to serve the public interest. Given the NDP’s traditional scepticism and distrust – I am being charitable – of the LiberaI Party’s intentions and motivations, Singh may have thought it prudent to fashion, reportedly over months, an agreement with Trudeau privately and only consult with his paltry 25-member caucus after the fact to prevent potentially fatal leaks.
For a party that professes a near-religious devotion – hand on pretend socialist heart – to transparency and “grass-roots” democracy, Singh’s behind-closed-doors accord with Trudeau is antithetical to those supposed solemn conventions. In any event, the Trudeau-Singh pact makes plain the laser-thin daylight between the Liberals and Canada’s pretend socialists on domestic and foreign policy. Indeed, Singh was elected NDP leader as an effervescent rebuttal to an effervescent prime minister.
This may go some way towards explaining Singh’s and his tenured-for-life advisers’ sorry failure to wrestle, for example, fairer and just amendments to a number of adamant and inhumane Liberal foreign policies as tangible reciprocity for the NDP’s marriage of convenience and somewhat conviction.
Chief among them is Trudeau’s evangelical support for Israel. This, despite a library of reports by human rights groups that Canada’s can-never-do-any-wrong ally in the Middle East is guilty of apartheid as it continues to methodically evict, jail, traumatise, maim and kill Palestinian children, women and men whenever it wants to, for whatever reasons it wants to, for as long as it wants to. I am sure that Conservatives and their hyperbolic apologists take considerable solace in that.
But their frantic appeals to God for salvation from the Trudeau-Singh axis may reflect a sober admission that if, one day in perhaps the not-so-distant-future, the NDP and Liberals move, conceivably, from an entente to a merger, then the prospects of Conservatives forming a future government may dwindle to nil. The numbers on this score are absolute.
In the 2021 election, more than 8.5 million Canadians voted for Liberal and NDP candidates combined, or the equivalent of nearly 50 percent of the popular vote. The 2019 election results were almost identical to the percentage point. Canadians vote centre-left. If even a slice of soft or disenchanted Liberal voters drifted their way, Conservatives would face a herculean task – given the country’s immovable loyalty to electing government via first-past-the-post – to defeat a Liberal-NDP union.
The Conservative Party has veered back to the hard right, joining its rabid ideological brethren down south in embracing a litany of imaginary grievances disguised as “freedoms” as the dominant governing principle and flirting with crazed conspiracy theories. While it devotes time and energy to what looks destined to be a divisive and draining leadership contest between the lunatic right and not-so-lunatic right, the Liberal-NDP entente may prove agreeable to voters already inclined to vote centre-left.
By 2025, that could mean, in the wise words of that immortal sage, Bugs Bunny, “that’s all, folks” for the Conservative Party.