The reaction to the deal between Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh has typified the politics of our time.
While the NDP Leader wanted to focus on how his agreement with the Prime Minister would bring better dental care, health care and more affordable housing to Canadians, what most observers wanted to talk about were the political consequences. The horse race. Who won? Who lost?
By this yardstick Mr. Singh was deemed – and I tend to agree with the assessment – the big loser. Joining hands with an unpopular Liberal PM to extend his tenure is not a good look.
But as the Peggy Lee number put it, “Is that all there is?” Only the political calculation? Or could it be that Mr. Singh was doing something entirely uncommon in the context of what we see in politics today? Could it be that he was putting the interests, as he saw them, of the people and the country before those of narrow political partisanship?
Could it be that he really meant it when he said the most important thing for his party, its raison d’être, was getting “help to people” and that this deal with Mr. Trudeau advanced that objective? In a time of mind-numbing, reflexive hyper-partisanship that creates distrust and disgust toward politicians, and that has turned American politics into a cesspool, what a refreshing and ennobling change that would be.
You get the sense that Mr. Singh is a bit different from your standard bargain-basement politician. As an opposition leader, he’s not viscerally antagonistic to everything a government does. Not scoring political points doesn’t seem to bother him as much as it does others in the cynical enterprise. He appears to realize his party does not have a reasonable chance at forming government and that his primary role, therefore, is moving those in power as close as he can to his NDP priorities.
That said, his arrangement with Mr. Trudeau is less than meets the eye. The two parties were already aligned on many of the issues in the agreement. Mr. Singh didn’t nail down Mr. Trudeau with enough specifics on dental care, pharmacare and issues such as climate change. Much of the document is aspirational. Given his big gift to Mr. Trudeau, he could have exacted bigger concessions.
In making the deal, Mr. Trudeau may well have been thinking back to 1972 when, in the wake of a minority victory over the Robert Stanfield Tories, Pierre Trudeau and NDP leader David Lewis worked out an agreement that kept the Liberals afloat. Significant legislation pleasing to the NDP was passed over the next two years. Politically, the arrangement worked out splendidly for Justin Trudeau’s father, who won back a majority in the 1974 election, but poorly for the New Democrats, who lost 15 seats.
Today’s deal comes at an even more tumultuous period than the early 1970s. With two elections creating minority parliaments in the past three years, and with the pandemic, the trucker’s rebellion and now the calamity of war in Europe, Mr. Singh and Mr. Trudeau saw a need to stabilize the political environment. In this regard, the NDP Leader might be excused for feeling as though he acted in the public interest as well.
But long-time political strategist Rick Anderson saw benefits for governance in the Singh move. “Four-year terms are essential to get anything meaningful done,” he tweeted. “Those who play full-time electioneering games do not serve the public interest.”
The Conservatives will now probably have to wait three years before having another crack at the big prize. But what’s happened may benefit them. The Liberals lumping themselves in with the NDP puts up a large “socialist” target for the right-siders to fire at.
Mr. Singh’s move has raised doubts within his own 25-member caucus, with MP Jenny Kwan noting that some of her fellow Dippers lack faith in the Liberals: “They’re worried that they won’t actually act on the agreement,” she told reporters.
But the party has a leader in Jagmeet Singh who appears to prioritize the public interest over the political one. If that is indeed the case, he need be saluted. If more politicians showed that degree of integrity, faith in the sordid business could be restored.
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