Nearly every question NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gets these days is about what it would take to make him defeat Justin Trudeau’s government.
His party has roughly the same power to defeat the Liberals in this Parliament as it did in the last one. But since March, when the NDP struck a deal to support the Liberals in confidence votes till 2025 in return for some policy concessions, the ever-present NDP question is when Mr. Singh will trigger an election. Or why he won’t.
How can he complain about Trade Minister Mary Ng arranging a contract for a friend, critics ask, while he props up Mr. Trudeau’s government? On Thursday, after a caucus meeting, reporters wanted to know whether he will trigger an election if Mr. Trudeau doesn’t stop provinces from expanding the private delivery of health care.
In truth, Mr. Singh never actually delivers an ultimatum but often leaves a veiled threat in the air.
His politics now centre on convincing people he is forcing Mr. Trudeau to do things he doesn’t want to do.
“My goal isn’t to find an excuse to have an election. My goal is to actually get the thing done,” Mr. Singh said in an interview in his Parliament Hill office. “I was careful with my words because I’m not trying to find a loophole where I can say, “Oh – this is broken. I’m going to an election.’”
The deal suits the NDP’s desire to avoid an election right now. But none of the parties in Parliament are itching for one just yet. And in a sense, the agreement fits the traditional modus operandi of the federal NDP: trying to extract concessions from the party in power.
But the agreement to support the Liberals till 2025, leaves Mr. Singh constantly having to make the case that he is getting something out of it. And that he can criticize the Liberals while propping them up.
“I think you can do both. You can listen to the will of Canadians that have sent us here in a minority government, two in a row. If I interpret the will of Canadians, it’s ‘Work for us.’”
“We have an agreement where we force the government to do a number of things,” he said. “And we can critique them when they are doing things that don’t make sense or we don’t agree with.”
He argued that triggering an early election means giving up things like a national dental care program. “There might come a time that we have to do that. But in the meantime we’re going to fight to get people the help that they need,” he said.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Liberal government issued cheques to low-income renters last year, and made a start of sorts on a dental-care program by issuing cheques to parents of kids under 12 below an income threshold. “They’re doing things they fought against. They fought against dental care,” Mr. Singh said.
In 2023, the deal calls for the passage of a legal framework for a future pharmacare program, in addition to actually implementing a real dental care program for lower-income minors and seniors. “This is going to be the big year,” Mr. Singh said.
Now he is adding new demands, notably a call for the Liberals to “stop the privatization of health care” – and a complaint that Mr. Trudeau hasn’t objected to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s move to pay private clinics to perform a larger number of cataract surgeries.
He is calling for Mr. Trudeau to set conditions on new health care funding that would require provinces to only use federal money for publicly delivered health care.
At a time when most premiers are insisting there should be no strings attached to federal funding, Mr. Singh is demanding more. “Absolutely,” he said, arguing that federal health funds should not be used to make profits for private companies. “I think it’s reasonable for Canadians to expect that the money that we are spending on health care goes to health care.”
But as time goes on, Mr. Singh will keep having to make the case that the NDP is forcing the Liberals to adopt its policies – while the Liberals try to take credit with left-leaning voters. And what voters might remember most is how the deal ends.