The Liberal-NDP agreement changed the political dynamics of Parliament Hill

Written by Javed Iqbal

Mia Rabson, Stephanie Taylor and Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, June 23, 2022 at 05:47 EDT

A trust and supply agreement reached between the Liberals and the NDP three months ago changed the dynamics of the House of Commons, even in a parliamentary session that will be largely remembered for the dismissal of another Conservative leader and the further polarization of Canadian politics by a convoy against pandemic restrictions.

However, the agreement means that MPs will set off for this summer’s barbecue and parade circuit without having to prepare for a known or potentially federal election in the autumn for the first time in four years.

The NDP and the Liberal Party describe the agreement as a success to date. For the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, the deal has been a recipe for frustration that has shut them out of many house negotiations because the 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 with the most confidence polls, and the Liberals agreed to cooperate on some NDP priorities.

In the months that followed, the NDP actually voted with the government on trust proposals, including the budget, but also on a number of no-confidence issues. NDP MPs helped the government curb the debate on some bills and get others, including controversial amendments to the Broadcasting Act, through the House and to the Senate.

The Liberals moved on some NDP priorities, including by putting a national dental care program in the federal budget and some housing programs.

Government House leader Mark Holland downplayed the impact of the agreement on Wednesday, saying the main effect is “to give parliament stability.”

“So little is actually in the supply and trust agreement,” he said.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Wednesday that he felt the deal worked as he had 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 prepared to withdraw NDP support for the Liberal minority government. He said he intends to push the government hard to deliver more to help Canadians struggling under the weight of near-record high inflation.

“We have made it very clear that we also need to see further support,” he said. “The agreement lays a floor … but it does not set a ceiling on what we can ask for or what we can fight for.”

Singh and Trudeau met several times as required by the agreement, and the co-operation and exchange of information between the parties is said to have been good.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the secretary of state for foreign affairs, said in his view that the agreement provided energy for Trudeau and the Liberals, who could move forward with their priorities without the constant threat of defeat.

“I think it has put a bit of a leap in his stride,” Oliphant said in an interview. “I see him really engaged in the last few months, where there were a few months where I wasn’t sure he was that engaged.”

Oliphant said the deal had the opposite effect on the Conservatives, putting them on “operation”.

“What does matter is that it takes the wind out of the Conservatives’ sails because they know they are not capable of defeating us easily,” he said. “And I think they do not know what to do with it.”

Opposition leader John Brassard had similar feelings in a scrum with journalists on Tuesday.

“It certainly is, there is no doubt in my mind, that changed the whole dynamic of our particular leadership team,” he said.

The Conservatives characterize the trust and supply agreement as a coalition government of the NDP and the Liberals, effectively giving the Liberals the majority they failed to win in the 2021 election.

It also meant the end of the discussions the Liberals had with the Conservatives, Brassard said.

“The official opposition was actually shut out,” he said. “We were the last to hear about many of the things that happened in the House of Commons because the Liberals would simply go to the NDP and say, ‘That’s what we want to do’ and get their deal.”

There were occasional signs of co-operation between more than one party, with all MPs voting in favor of legislation to ensure that seniors who received the guaranteed income supplement and COVID-19 benefits did not get money back.

In the midst of it all, the Conservatives were engaged in internal strife when their third leadership race in six years exposed some deep divisions within the party.

Erin O’Toole was voted out as head of the caucus in early February, just as a convoy of Canadians blocked the streets around Parliament Hill and several border crossings, demanding everything from the end to all COVID-19 restrictions to the expulsion of Trudeau.

The convoy has colored much of the political landscape through 2022. Ongoing investigations and committee hearings on the government’s decision to invoke the emergency law increase tensions.

The government is being accused of withholding information that could explain its rationale for the emergency law. Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino is in hot water to say that the police asked for the action to be invoked, which has been contradicted both by the police and his own colleague, Emergency Management Minister Bill Blair.

The 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, which could not be processed until some new tax deductions became official.

Both the budget bill and new legislation that has been accelerated in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling on the use of extreme intoxication as a criminal defense are expected to pass before the summer holidays begin.

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

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Javed Iqbal

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