After wandering aimlessly through crises since last year’s election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals sealed a deal with the NDP in the dark of night that makes the direction of the government clearer. On Tuesday morning, Mr. Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh unveiled the surprise to the public.
If that wasn’t what Canadians expected, well, they get to cast their judgment on it at the ballot box. The caveat – and in politics it is a big one – is that 3 1/2 years will pass before then.
In the meantime, Mr. Trudeau has just sealed a deal to entrench his legacy.
This Prime Minister’s legacy was never going to be about balanced budgets or spending restraint. Even now with a Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s not going to be about increasing Canada’s military spending – even if that is to be expected in the next budget.
Mr. Trudeau will surely see his potential legacy as revolving around climate-change policy and social programs, in particular the $10-a-day child-care program now being put into place. Those things can be swept away if he loses power in a year, but in 3 1/2 years, they will be harder to uproot.
The Liberals didn’t need this deal right now. No one, especially the NDP, is about to trigger an election.
But Mr. Trudeau saw the chance for an agreement that promised the time and space to work on that legacy without the threat that he will find himself, say, fighting an election over inflation in 10 months – and he grabbed it. The next election won’t come until 2025, and in theory, that would also allow for a transition to a new Liberal leader.
The trade-offs, such as promising a bit of public dental care and pharmacare to guarantee years of survival, were bound to suit Mr. Trudeau anyway. The suddenness of the deal is surprising, but its direction is not.
After last fall’s election, his complaints about the harsh politics of the campaign weren’t about the bitter attacks from Conservatives, but about why he didn’t get props from the left.
Since then, Mr. Trudeau’s government seemed aimless, failing to enact promises such as bank taxes, bouncing through crises, and musing about a restrained back-to-basics budget for uncertain times.
But with this deal we now know that postpandemic debt, or spiking inflation, or Russian invasion of Ukraine aren’t going to make Mr. Trudeau scale back social-program ambitions, focus on the economy or retrench budgets.
The anxious times did drive this deal, though. The hush-hush deal making got going with talks between two aides from each party about six weeks ago, and intensified in the past three weeks. Both sides say chaotic recent events, the truckers convoy, the war, the uncertainty around the economy and inflation, drove them to look for stability. In politics, that means an insurance policy against an unexpected election – one the NDP is not ready to fight and the Liberals aren’t willing to risk.
The Conservatives reacted to it as though it were some kind of trick. Quebec MP Gérard Deltell said Mr. Trudeau made the deal in order to stay in power – as though he’s shocked to discover politics in Ottawa.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the fourth party agreeing to support a minority government in return for getting a bit of their platform enacted. That’s parliamentary democracy.
It’s the substance of the agreed Liberal-NDP agenda that really offers the Opposition some openings.
The Conservatives have every reason to ask if a Liberal government backed by the NDP will prudently constrain the public finances in uncertain times or favour efforts to spur economic growth over social spending. The Bloc Québécois are right that the agreement intrudes heavily into provincial jurisdiction.
The Tories can console themselves with the idea that when the next election rolls around, after a decade of left-leaning Liberal government, there will be a thirst for change.
Except that’s years away. In 2025, the surprise of Tuesday’s deal will be in the past, and their warnings of an “NDP-Liberal coalition” might be less ominous. Events will have changed politics. The front-runner in the Conservative leadership race, Pierre Poilievre, is running on inflation now, but that might not be a big concern in 2025.
By then, Mr. Trudeau will have been in power a decade, and his own party might have pressed him to make way for a successor. But for now, he has sealed a deal for breathing room to entrench the left-leaning legacy he wanted.
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