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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Nov. 14, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberals and the NDP are coming together; the Conservatives are coming apart. While negotiations continue on some sort of pact between the two main progressive parties, the Conservatives are consumed by internal divisions – among other things, over vaccine mandates.

A nascent leadership revolt, in the form of a “civil liberties” caucus devoted to upholding the rights of vaccine resisters, appears to have been stifled for now, the ringleaders forced to recant and/or denied critics’ posts. But this is unlikely to be the end of it.

That the two should be happening at the same time may not be entirely coincidental. The Liberals and the NDP are coming together because the Tories are coming part. With little fear of losing votes to their right, the Liberals can afford to tack left, and yet still own the centre.

Indeed, so strong is the Liberal position in this Parliament that it’s difficult to see the point of a deal with the NDP.

The Liberals had no particular trouble getting legislation through the past Parliament. They are unlikely to have much more in the new one, and for the same reason: the distribution of the seats between the parties is such they can govern with the support of either the NDP or the Bloc, rather than having to depend on one or the other (or, worse, both).

That would explain why the deal, should one arise, is unlikely to be a full-blown coalition: the NDP are in no position to demand seats in cabinet. But neither are they in much position to demand anything else.

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Viewed another way, they don’t need to. The Liberals have already moved so far toward the NDP on most issues as to be all but indistinguishable from them. Perhaps, by agreeing to some sort of formal alliance, the NDP might be able to move the Liberals a little more their way, but at the cost of further blurring the distinctions between them.

If it’s hard to see what the Liberals get out of a deal, then, it’s even harder to see what the NDP get. Suppose they agree, as it has been reported they might, not to defeat the Liberals over the budget, or any other matter of confidence, for three years. What do they get in exchange? I’ll tell you what they get. They get to avoid having an election.

This is usually considered a gain for the party in power. But while no party wants an election any time soon, the NDP have a lot more reason to fear one than the Liberals. Simply put, they can’t afford it. Through the first three quarters of this year, the NDP raised only half as much money as the Liberals, a third as much as the Conservatives. They’ve only just finished paying off their debt from the 2019 election. They can’t possibly face another one.

So the NDP will promise not to bring the government down over things they weren’t about to bring it down over anyway. Only now they can say it’s on account of The Agreement, and not because they’re too deathly afraid to.

What, in particular, will they not bring the government down over? Not over policy differences – remember, they don’t really have any. That leaves questions of ethics and competence. A supply and confidence agreement would amount to a pledge not to make trouble on these files.

We can have some confidence this is what’s involved because of the party’s haste to deny it. “No matter what, we will still hold them to account,” Charlie Angus, the party’s ethics critic, assured The Globe. “If there is an SNC-Lavalin scandal, that ain’t getting pushed under the rug.”

Uh-huh. Getting answers out of governments is hard enough at the best of times. The opposition has few tools at its disposal, even in a minority Parliament; the only one that really matters is the threat to defeat the government if it does not give way.

Suppose, then, one of the opposition parties were to relinquish – sign away, in fact – this threat. And suppose a dispute arose over, say, the government’s readiness to hand over documents related to, oh let’s say, the mysterious dismissal of two Chinese scientists from a top-security laboratory in, for the sake of argument, Winnipeg.

How might those negotiations go, with the NDP safely tucked in the Liberals’ pocket? I can just guess:

Give us the documents!




Come on, be a sport.


All right, then. We tried.

Perhaps this was what Erin O’Toole had in mind when he described the deal as “billions of dollars of new spending to buy Jagmeet Singh’s silence.” But in truth the Liberals could probably have got it for free.

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