It never ceases to amaze me how some big things just happen, surprising us all and catching everyone off guard. It seems to come when we least expect it or see it coming. Last night was a prime example of that for me in my home. Yesterday was my first day back in my office in Ottawa after over two years away because of COVID. After that long day at work and spending a bit of time with my daughter at home, I decided to put down my phone to catch up on a couple of my favourite TV shows.
Things seemed to be quiet, and it felt like I could disconnect and just soak in some entertainment without having to worry about much, if anything of note, happening. So I took that time to myself and when I was done, I checked in on my phone to see what social media was saying. And well folks, that’s when all Hell broke loose:
Well folks, wow. That sure did come out of nowhere, didn’t it? Given our recent history in Canada around Parliamentary co-operation, this big news was clearly going to set certain people off and the Conservatives have delivered that in spades. Throwing around terms like “government by blackmail” and “backdoor socialism” (which sounds like the title of a classy 80s adult film that Pierre Poilievre probably came of age to in the 90s) just screams the kind of ugly politics that the Conservatives have been playing for generations and, to be fair, has worked for them before.
But those kinds of misleading bellows seriously don’t matter right now (if they ever should have to begin with). Things have changed and we’re in a very different period than we were in 2008. The fact remains that, based on these reports, this is not a coalition agreement, just a “confidence-and-supply agreement”. This will not stop the NDP from holding the Liberals to account for many things in committees and in the House itself, as they won’t be a formal part of the government. Most things that happen in the House are not matters of confidence in the government, so this agreement protects that avenue for accountability. In exchange for that, they will get action on big policy planks the NDP have been pushing for now for years in successive elections, namely pharmacare and dental care. For a party and leader in Jagmeet Singh, who has made his brand in the past two years of minority government all about making Parliament work for Canadians, this completely fits that mold.
This is good for the government as well, as it formalizes support for this minority government and keeps it alive much longer than most minority Parliaments ever survive. The irony is that while doing that, it doesn’t change the basics of how Parliament has worked in this period of minority government. All this agreement does is take away the regular drama of “will the government fall or not”, which some partisans feed off of like a vampire does blood. Sucking that ratcheted up venom from our politics in the best of times is probably a very good thing, and a welcomed change from the usual partisan crap we all complain about seeing on a daily basis in the House of Commons.
But where this agreement stands out and is all the more exceptional to me is that these aren’t the best of times. We are hopefully coming out of two years of global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our society and economy. We’re less than a month away from an occupation of our Nations Capital by a group organized by people with the repeated, expressed desire to overthrow our elected government and install an unelected group they agree with, essentially doing away with democracy in this country. And just as that was ending, we’ve seen the invasion of Ukraine by Russia bring the world the closest we have been to the brink of World War Three. Maybe, just maybe, these aren’t the times for hyper partisan crap in our Parliament and a time for cooperation instead? Maybe being on the brink of potential global, nuclear war might not be the best time to indulge in the usual partisan crap that we rightly complain about ad nauseum?
I’ve always believed in the old Tommy Douglas quote saying that “the greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work”, so much so that I made it the motto of this blog. Most times, making things work involves cooperation, reaching across the aisle and finding compromise. Most Canadians usually complain loudly about the lack of cooperation we normally see in our politics, saying that it sets a terrible example of the country and our children. Yet in the moments where we see actual compromise and cooperation, do we actually reward it? Watch the reaction of the Conservatives and you can see that we don’t because if we did, their disconsolate reaction would be a death knell for their brand. If we did, it would have been the Conservatives trying to reach across the aisle to come to an agreement of their own because they would have seen that as the most advantageous move to achieve their political ends.
It’s in that environment I bring that old Douglas quote out, because making democracy work doesn’t always mean a surefire huge political win. For the NDP, as it is reported, this deal more than does the job. The orange team can go back to their voters and point to the big items they ran on and delivered. They can actually help make the lives of Canadians better, especially those who at this moment can’t afford their prescription medications or to see a dentist. That will bring better health outcomes for all Canadians, and help keep people from ending up in our hospitals with bigger problems because they were denied those services due to cost.
Some have already pointed to this deal as terrible for the NDP, that it will reduce them to ruins in the next election and will help the Liberals above all. To that, all I’ll say is sometimes that does happen in such agreements, but sometimes it doesn’t. The opposite happened in Ontario over 30 years ago when Bob Rae’s NDP used that agreement to vault over the Peterson Liberals to a majority government. And after cooperating with this current Liberal government for the past two years, the destruction that was predicted for the NDP in the last election never came.
The job of an elected politician is to serve the people and make decisions in their benefit in the years that they are in office, not spend those years in office focused on nothing but getting re-elected. Some might call that naïve, but I’ve learned from first-hand experience working on Parliament Hill for a decade that good policy makes for good politics. Voters tend to reward popular policy decisions and given that over 50% of Canadians voted for parties that support the measures we’re talking about above (in some way, shape or form), that likely will be well received.
In the meantime there will be plenty of time to pick through the entrails of what all of this agreement will mean for the future of the NDP, the more-likely retirement of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leadership race it would set off, and what it means for whoever wins the Conservative leadership. But for today, this agreement should be held up as an example of how our politics should be done more often in this country. We keep saying we want to see more of this, so now is the time for Canadians show our political leaders that cooperation and compromise are more politically advantageous than division, hyper-partisanship and social media snipes. I give the NDP and the Liberals credit for taking this chance and taking a step that isn’t the conventional one in our politics. Making democracy work isn’t without risk and not always easy, but doing so makes for a strong democracy and a better country. I, for one, will applaud the courage of those who chose to take those difficult steps in service to their country, rather than putting their own political ambitions above all else.