Liberal-NDP deal changed dynamics on Parliament Hill

OTTAWA — A confidence deal between the Liberals and the NDP reached three months ago changed the dynamics of the House of Commons, even turning it into a parliamentary assembly best remembered for the impeachment of another Conservative leader and the further polarization of Canada’s government. politically by a convoy against pandemic restrictions.

However, the agreement means MPs will take to the summer barbecue and parade circuit for the first time in four years without preparing for a known or potential federal election in the fall.

The NDP and the liberals describe the deal as a success so far. For the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, the agreement was a recipe for frustration, barring them from many House negotiations as Liberals no longer had to wonder which opposition party would be their dance partner.

Under the agreement announced on March 22, the NDP offered to support the government in most confidence votes and the Liberals agreed to work together on a number of NDP priorities.

Indeed, in the months since, the NDP has voted with the government on trust laws, including the budget, but also on a number of mistrust issues. NDP MPs helped the government narrow debate on some bills and get others, including controversial amendments to the Broadcasting Act, through the House and into the Senate.

The Liberals have pursued a number of NDP priorities, including by including a national dental care program in the federal budget, and some housing programs.

Head of government Mark Holland downplayed the effect of the agreement on Wednesday, saying its main impact is “providing stability to Parliament”.

“There’s so little in the supply and trust agreement,” he said.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Wednesday that he felt the agreement worked as he hoped, and is confident it will continue to deliver on NDP priorities in the coming months.

But he warned that if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not deliver, he would be willing to withdraw NDP support for the liberal minority government. He said he plans to push the government hard to deliver more to help Canadians struggling under the weight of near-record inflation.

“We’ve made it very clear that we also need additional support,” he said. “The agreement sets a floor… but doesn’t set a ceiling on what we can ask or fight for.”

Singh and Trudeau have met several times as required by the agreement, and the cooperation and information sharing between the parties is said to have been good.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said that from his point of view, the agreement gave Trudeau and the Liberals new energy, who could pursue their priorities without the constant threat of being defeated.

“I think it’s put a bit of a spring in its step,” Oliphant said in an interview. “I’ve seen him really engaged in the last few months, where there were a few months where I wasn’t sure if he was really that engaged.”

Oliphant said the agreement had the opposite effect on the Conservatives, driving them “adrift.”

“What that does is it takes the wind out of the conservatives’ sails because they know they can’t beat us easily,” he said. “And I think they don’t know what to do with that.”

Opposition leader John Brassard had somewhat similar sentiments in a scrum with reporters on Tuesday.

“It’s definitely, no doubt about that in my mind, changed the whole dynamic for our particular leadership team,” he said.

The Conservatives characterize the trust-and-delivery agreement as a coalition government of the NDP and the Liberals, effectively giving the Liberals the majority they failed to secure in the 2021 elections.

It also marked the end of any discussions the liberals had with the conservatives, Brassard said.

“The official opposition was effectively shut out,” he said. “We were the last to hear about a lot of the stuff that was going on in the House of Commons because the Liberals would just go to the NDP and say, ‘This is what we want to do’ and get their agreement.”

There were occasional signs of multi-party collaboration, with all MPs voting in favor of legislation to ensure that seniors receiving the guaranteed income supplement and COVID-19 benefits do not get a refund.

Amid all this, the Conservatives were mired in internal strife, as their third leadership race in six years exposed some deep divisions within the party.

Erin O’Toole was voted off as leader by the caucus in early February, just as a convoy of Canadians blocked the streets around Parliament Hill and multiple border crossings, demanding everything from the end to all COVID-19 restrictions to Trudeau’s ouster.

The convoy has colored much of the political landscape in 2022. Ongoing investigations and committee hearings over the government’s decision to invoke the Emergency Act are adding to the tension.

The government is accused of withholding information that could explain its justification for the Emergency Act. Public Security Secretary Marco Mendicino has been in hot water for saying police have asked for the law to be invoked, which has been contradicted by both the police and his own colleague, Emergency Preparedness Secretary Bill Blair.

Movement on liberal bills has been slow. Only four major bills were passed between Christmas and Wednesday, and one of them — the fall economic statement — took so long that some Canadians had to wait weeks for tax refunds that couldn’t be processed until some new tax credits became official.

Both the budget bill and new legislation passed in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling on the use of extreme intoxication as a criminal defense defense are expected to be passed before the summer break begins.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.

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