National Post (Latest Edition)
NDP looks to thread a parliamentary needle
If ideas prove popular, Liberals may see reward
The NDP is embarking on a familiar game by extracting a deal from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in return for propping up his minority government during a confidence vote on the throne speech
It’s a minority government high- wire act that few political parties can pull off. The NDP has to differentiate itself from the Liberals in the battle for left-leaning voters, while working closely with its rival on vital legislation.
“While in politics, you can achieve a lot if you don’t seek credit. But you can achieve way more if you get it. And that’s the challenge,” said Karl Bélanger, the president of Traxxion Strategies and former NDP strategist.
The only option for the NDP, said Bélanger, is to keep pulling out concessions from the government and then reminding voters about those successes. With each confidence vote, there will be a fractious negotiation and the NDP will hope to get leader Jagmeet Singh in front of news cameras as much as possible.
“Clearly the government was not interested in securing any kind of stability by striking an agreement with another party, so it creates the conditions for ongoing drama,” said Bélanger. “Each party has to re-evaluate their position and their strength at each time and the key is who has the most to lose.”
In other words, as long as the Liberals don’t want an election, the NDP should be able to get movement on some of the party’s big ideas.
So far the Liberals have made two concessions to the NDP.
To support the throne speech, Singh demanded a funding boost for Canadians who have lost work due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, from $400 to $500 per week. Then on Friday, Singh told reporters that the Liberals had agreed to widening workers’ access to sick-leave benefits during the pandemic.
“People who are worried about getting sick in this pandemic will now know when this legislation passes, that there will be paid sick leave for them,” Singh said last week. “It’s the first step towards our ultimate goal of ensuring all Canadian workers have paid sick leave now and forever.”
The NDP’S position could be a high- risk, high- reward situation. An opposition party in a majority Parliament can do little more than criticize, but the NDP can make a credible case that it has helped govern. The downside is that the Liberals can simply take credit for the measures negotiated by the NDP.
“In terms of Liberals taking credit for NDP ideas and policies, that is not a solvable problem, because it happens. It will happen every time,” said Anne Mcgrath, the party’s national director.
After winning concessions from the Liberals, Mcgrath is already looking ahead to future negotiations with Trudeau’s party.
“So the issue now I think is going to be how to make these things permanent. So there’s still a lot of work to do. You know, these are things that should exist during a pandemic but also not during a pandemic,” said McGrath.
Even as they negotiate legislation that satisfies both parties, the NDP and Liberals will be competing fiercely for recognition from Canadians.
“Part of the problem they will face is there is a lot of noise right now, so it’s difficult for people to focus on federal politics, considering everything that is happening,” said Bélanger. “They will need to campaign really hard to remind Canadians of the wins they got for them in the rest of the negotiations.”
In debate on Monday, the NDP was threading a needle between boasting about the bill they had helped write and criticizing the government for not getting back to work sooner. While the Conservatives, who have already said they will vote against the throne speech, have free rein to rip the government however they like, the calculation is more difficult for the NDP.
But this is a calculation the party has done before.
In 2005, NDP leader Jack Layton briefly supported scandal- plagued Liberals before pulling the plug and defeating Paul Martin’s minority government.
Similar to Singh this week, Layton had extracted promises from the Liberals for spending on some key issues, which racked up a price tag of $ 4.6 billion in new social spending over two years. Layton also convinced Martin to delay corporate tax cuts to help pay for the spending.
Mcgrath, who played a role in those negotiations, said she’s still proud of what the party achieved in 2005.
It’s also true that too much bellicosity in a minority Parliament can backfire.
It was 11 years ago that former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stood in front of television cameras and told Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was leading a minority government, that his “time is up.”
In fact, Harper governed for two more years before winning his first majority and reducing the Liberal seat count from 77 to 34. Every moment that Harper continued to be prime minister after being told his time was up showed the difficulty of being in opposition during a minority Parliament.
Bélanger said it ultimately comes down to how eager the governing party is to go to the polls. Singh may find the promises he can extract from the Liberal government dry up if the polls get better for Trudeau’s party.
“If the government is not afraid to fall or would actually prefer falling, then you are hard pressed to get anything from them,” said Bélanger.
YOU CAN ACHIEVE A LOT IF YOU DON’T SEEK CREDIT.