Scheer May Have Been Right About One Thing – The Future of a Liberal/NDP Partnership

“The Liberal-NDP coalition you can’t afford”, warned Andrew Scheer. This may have been a wedge, but also served as an unintentional sales pitch. Innovative Research put out a poll on October 17 that showed 40% of Canadians hoped their votes would result in a minority Parliament. Canadians consistently say they support the idea of more cooperation among parties.

Andrew Scheer pointed to his win of “the popular vote” (34%) repeatedly. This number is ultimately meaningless in the Canadian parliamentary context, which only relies upon the confidence of the majority of those in the House of Commons to decide its government. Governments, whether in a minority or majority Parliament, are still legitimate, despite partisan protests to the contrary.

In this case, 55% of Canadians in total voted for progressive parties, federalist ones at least, thereby excluding the Bloc.

This concept of progressives as a collective being the majority has put wind in the sails of switch-voters who believe in more NDP-style approaches to policy issues but want a Liberal government to inject some reality into implementation.

While the Prime Minister today formally denounced a coalition, where cabinet posts could have gone to NDP caucus members, the Singh and Trudeau-led parties are still the most natural dancing partners on offer.

Singh, recognizing this, laid out his conditions or priorities for negotiations with a future government during the campaign:

  • A national, single-payer universal pharmacare plan and a national dental care plan;
  • Investments in housing;
  • A plan to waive interest on student loans;
  • A commitment to reduce carbon emissions, to end subsidies for oil companies and to deliver aid to oilpatch workers to transition them out of fossil fuel industries;
  • The introduction of a “super wealth” tax and a commitment to closing tax loopholes;
  • Reducing cellphone bills.

Of those, there are natural dovetails from the Liberal platform on affordable housing to make it a top priority. From there, climate action is a natural connection that Liberals could move more quickly on. Both are easy, political wins for both sides.

Liberals would also say they have plans that achieve similarly aimed
goals on student debt, reducing cellphone bills, closing tax loopholes,
ending fossil fuels subsidies, clean job retraining, and national pharmacare.

The NDP suggested universal, single-payer pharmacare could be done in 1-year under their leadership through a combination of threats to uncooperative provinces and public shaming. The Liberals compared it more to the implementation of medicare, a ten-year track, phased in, cost shared with the provinces and territories, and keeping public opinion onside around deficit management.

This is a difference, but they do share the goal of universal in principle.
The differentiation points are not easily litigated during a fractious election campaign.

Giving credit to the NDP for any of these listed above will add to their
narrative of promoting good policy, riding along in the sidecar. This may
help the NDP long-term, but there are also risks to ideological junior
partners to more centrist governments.

More hardened partisans hold strong to their principles and do not like seeing their party be conciliatory. Nobody likes the taste of water in their wine, and Liberals are going to have to ground some fiscal and logistical reality into the NDP’s “super wealth tax” panacea that would, clearly, fail to work.

Measuring the Trudeau Liberals against Singh’s priority list of absolutist policies is folly. Trudeau wants to uphold a brand of solid management and stickhandling divergent interests. Plus, Jagmeet Singh has no leverage to threaten Liberals to go back into a campaign where his party would be underfunded and disorganized.

Liberals can likely govern with an effective majority by pulling on NDP and Green support for things that all those parties naturally agree upon. Trudeau could even be able to wedge a few pipelines or increasing CBSA funding into the mix by shaming the Conservatives, although they seem to be chomping at the bit for a redo of the 2019 campaign already. Conservatives have more money in the bank than other parties at present.

The story of this election may have on the surface seemed like the ‘Revenge of the Regions’, specifically Québec and the Prairies. However, it may be truly a story of progressive policies getting a double down.

For progressive-minded voters struggling with Liberal pragmatism, the Liberals now have NDP-partnership excuses to move in an interventionist, social policy-focused direction if they choose to.