NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says that, with his party weighing whether to support the Throne Speech this month, he wants to see the government focus on health care, an expansion of the social safety net and an economic recovery plan that will ensure greater access to child care and create jobs to help fight the climate crisis.
Mr. Singh will be meeting this Tuesday and Thursday with members of his caucus – some in person, some virtually – for a strategy session.
The meeting comes at a critical moment for the NDP, as it prepares to respond to the Sept. 23 Throne Speech, which will lay out the minority government’s priorities. The party’s MPs will also need to consider the prospect of a fall election should the government not receive enough support in a non-confidence vote.
Mr. Singh says the NDP’s priorities have remained the same throughout the pandemic.
“We’ve been focused on people – exclusively focused on what people need and how we can get help to them," he said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail.
"When it comes to the next decisions in front of us, we are going to operate with that same commitment.”
Peter Graefe, a political science professor at McMaster University, said Monday it is likely the first time in the past 10 months that the NDP feels it may have a bit of leverage with the government.
However, Prof. Graefe said, considering the party’s organizational and financial states, he doesn’t believe there is a huge appetite on the part of the NDP to go to the polls.
He also said it doesn’t appear that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the people around him feel they have to cut a deal with the NDP to avoid an election – as former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin did in 2005.
“I think [the Liberals] feel that there’s enough play with the Bloc [Québécois] and the Conservatives that they will have to bend a bit to the NDP, but it is not something that’s going to be negotiated with them," Prof. Graefe said.
Mr. Singh says his party is ready to fight an election, although he insists it is not the priority.
“We will not hesitate to do so if it is in the interest of people,” he said.
Karl Bélanger, the president of Traxxion Stratégies and a former principal secretary of the NDP, said Monday that the Trudeau government has been sending signals about its plans that may make it difficult for the New Democrats to vote against the Throne Speech. Cabinet ministers and Mr. Trudeau have spoken in recent weeks about the need to focus on the environment as part of any economic recovery plan.
But Mr. Bélanger said this does not amount to a blank cheque for the government.
“If I were the NDP, or any of the opposition parties, I would push really hard to see a budget tabled as soon as possible," he said.
Mr. Singh said his greatest concern now is the future of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides financial support to Canadians whose jobs have been directly affected by the pandemic. The government announced in August that eligibility would be extended to Sept. 26, for a maximum of 28 weeks.
The CERB has been the most substantial federal pandemic support measure, paying out $68.5-billion to 8.6 million applicants as of early August. The government said the extension alone would cost about $8-billion.
Mr. Singh also laments that the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament this summer, suggesting legislation to expand employment insurance benefits could have been addressed.
He said he believes the real motivation for the shutdown was to hit pause on House probes of the now-cancelled government contract with WE Charity. The issue, which resulted in weeks of controversy for the government this summer, also prompted ethics probes of Mr. Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau.
Last week, the charity announced it would shutter its Canadian operations.
“[The Liberals] were so worried about stopping the investigation into WE that they shut down Parliament and it has directly hurt people," Mr. Singh said.
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