The federal NDP is holding informal talks with the Liberals to prop up the minority government for two to three years in exchange for action on housing, pharmacare, climate change, compensation for Indigenous children and other issues.
MPs from both parties are expected to discuss the matter when the Liberal and NDP caucuses hold separate meetings on Monday – it will be the Liberals’ first meeting since the election almost seven weeks ago.
Details of the informal talks are being kept under wraps, with the Liberals declining to comment on specifics Friday.
A co-operative agreement was first broached in a meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh last month, and those talks continue, NDP MP Charlie Angus said on Friday.
“I know Justin Trudeau reached out to Jagmeet and I think we will get a picture at caucus,” Mr. Angus said. “It all comes down to whether the government is going to put stuff on the table that we can work with, so we shall see.”
The goal of a potential deal is to avoid a short-lived minority government and give the parties time to build up their coffers. The Liberals need to stay in power long enough to implement a heavy policy agenda; the New Democrats want action on issues they believe the government has neglected.
Mr. Angus stressed that any agreement would not prevent the NDP from holding the Liberal government to account for scandals, spending abuses or failure to deal with pressing issues such as federal compensation for Indigenous children who were removed from their communities and placed into care since 2006.
“No matter what, we will still hold them to account. If there is an SNC-Lavalin scandal, that ain’t getting pushed under the rug,” he said.
The NDP, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois have said they plan to resume their parliamentary battle for the disclosure of documents on the firing of two scientists from Canada’s highest security infectious-disease laboratory, a dispute that has pitted the Trudeau government against the House of Commons.
However, Mr. Angus said there are opportunities to work with the Trudeau government on major challenges. By electing another minority Parliament in September, he said, Canadians sent a strong message that they expect all parties to work together.
Mr. Trudeau has an ambitious agenda to present a new affordable housing strategy, promote electric vehicles and cap greenhouse-gas emissions from the oil-and-gas sector. Any measures would require significant spending and need to be approved by the House.
Karl Bélanger, a veteran NDP strategist, said the caucus and party members will want assurances that any deal does not open Mr. Singh to opposition criticism for propping up the Liberals. They will also expect to see policy achievements that the NDP can claim credit for in the next election campaign.
“It won’t be an easy sell for Singh. He needs to get something big,” Mr. Bélanger said.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Friday, and Mark Kennedy, a spokesperson for House Leader Mark Holland, would not comment on the talks. Mr. Kennedy said the government is talking to all parties “as we seek common ground.”
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said on Friday he is not involved in discussions, but supports an agreement with the NDP. Mr. Erskine-Smith said he is less concerned about the politics of a deal than about missing an opportunity to get some big things done. Constituents told him during the election campaign they want the government to deliver, he said.
“How do we make the most of these three to four years? I think it is through a working agreement with the NDP.”
Another Liberal MP, Wayne Long, said there are “many natural alliances” with the NDP and it would be the best party for the government to work with, but he reserved judgment on a potential deal, saying he would need to see its details first.
It’s not unusual in Canadian politics for minority government to reach agreements with other parties to remain in power.
When Paul Martin had a minority Parliament in 2005, NDP leader Jack Layton won significant concessions in exchange for his party’s support of the Liberal budget. Mr. Martin dropped plans to cut corporate taxes and guaranteed $4.6-billion in new investment in the environment, affordable housing, foreign aid, and postsecondary education and training.
In 2017, the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Green Party signed a “confidence and supply agreement,” that propped up the first NDP government in 16 years. Under the deal, the Greens supported the NDP agenda on supply and budget issues, but no Greens were in cabinet.
With reports from Campbell Clark and Ian Bailey
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