NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party’s commitment to prop up the Liberals in House of Commons confidence votes, in exchange for action on NDP priorities, won’t prevent his caucus from holding the government accountable in parliamentary committees.
At those committees, opposition MPs ask questions of government ministers, holding them accountable on the policies that they manage. Government MPs also sit on the committees.
At a news conference Thursday, Mr. Singh said the routine of tough opposition questioning won’t change.
This week, Mr. Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a deal to keep the Liberals in power through 2025 in exchange for parliamentary co-operation and progress on key NDP objectives, including an income-based dental-care program and national pharmacare, and on issues such as housing and climate change.
“Nothing in this agreement precludes us from continuing to be an opposition party that holds the government to account, whether in Parliament or in the committees,” Mr. Singh said.
Committees consist of members from the government side and opposition, roughly in the same proportion as the party standings in the House. They are responsible for reviewing legislation and government spending proposals. They can also launch special studies.
Committee meetings generally involve hearing from witnesses such as cabinet ministers, senior public servants or policy experts.
For example, the standing committee on foreign affairs and international development questioned Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly on Thursday.
But committees also have been key to probing such issues as the WE Charity controversy, which was subject to review by three Commons committees. There was also a special committee investigating the crisis in Canada-China relations, which the Liberals initially voted against creating.
Opposition MPs have outnumbered the members of the minority Liberal government on committees and, therefore, have been able to override the governing party to call hearings.
Mr. Trudeau briefly raised the issue of committees at a news conference earlier this week. “We both believe firmly in Parliament’s role of keeping the government accountable. This agreement maintains that critical function,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“Every piece of legislation will continue to get the scrutiny it merits. Committees will continue to do their essential work and members of Parliament will continue representing their constituents and holding the government to account.”
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, attending the same news conference as Mr. Singh, called the Liberal-NDP deal the “most significant” agreement he had seen between a governing party and the NDP.
Mr. Broadbent was leader of the NDP from 1979 to 1989, and returned to the House in 2004 for a single term as an MP.
“The key part of this is the requirement of monitoring committees to make sure it’s enforced, and having dealt, for many years, with the Liberal Party myself when they are in power, it’s absolutely essential for the NDP to keep on top of this to make sure the agreements that have been entered into are actually acted upon,” said Mr. Broadbent.
But other parties are skeptical.
Conservative MP Blaine Calkins, the chief Opposition whip, noted the agreement with the NDP and Liberals commits to the New Democrats co-ordinating with the Liberals at committee.
The text of an agreement released by the NDP says, “To ensure committees are able to continue their essential work, both parties agree to communicate regarding any issues which could impede the government’s ability to function or cause unnecessary obstructions to legislation review, studies and work plans at committees.”
Mr. Calkins said it’s a concerning commitment.
“After six years of Liberal corruption scandals and anti-democratic power grabs, it is hard to believe this flip-flop from New Democrats who have agreed to do Justin Trudeau’s dirty work of subverting Parliament, choosing political opportunism over democratic accountability,” he said in a statement.
Christine Normandin, the Deputy House Leader of the Bloc Québécois, said the Liberal-NDP agreement officializes a degree of co-operation at committees that her party has noticed between the two parties.
“What it tells us is when the NDP will vote against the government in committees, it’s most likely going to because it’s a way for them to get a face-saver and still be able to say, ‘Yeah, we’re doing our job as an opposition,’“ Ms. Normandin said in an interview.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.