LILLEY: Why NDP-Liberal coalition is bad for Parliament and democracy

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The announcement that the Liberals and NDP had come to an agreement to keep the Trudeau minority government in power until 2025 was the most shocking development in Canadian politics in quite some time.

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It set tongues wagging and keyboard bashing with support, outrage and questions.

Why did they do this? Is it legal? Is it a good idea? What will be the result?

The deal is obviously legal, though sneaky and underhanded. It is also a coalition despite the parties involved protesting too much. The real problem with this deal though, is the way it will affect the workings of Parliament and the harmful effects on the economy.

Is it a coalition?

The Liberals and the NDP have both been adamant that this is not a coalition because there are no NDP cabinet ministers, but that’s not actually the definition of a coalition. Perhaps an argument could be made that seats at the cabinet table are required for a coalition government, but they aren’t required for a coalition to exist.

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The Oxford dictionary defines a coalition as a “temporary alliance of political parties.”

Similar definitions are found with Merriam-Webster, Collins and to name just a few. They all describe what the Liberals and the NDP are doing, working together to advance an agenda.

There is nothing illegal about this and it is how our system works, though the optics won’t sit well with many Canadians.

Beyond the dictionary definition of what a coalition is though, there are parts of the agreement that show this is much deeper than policy agreements. The Liberals and the NDP have agreed to consult behind closed doors on many fronts and in many ways that actually goes against Parliamentary norms and procedures and is bad for Canada’s democracy.

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It helps solidify the idea that this is a coalition.

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The UnParliamentary Procedure

Beyond the agreement to work together on a pharmacare program, a dental care program and a bunch of other programs that all fall under provincial jurisdiction, the agreement lays out how the parties will work together in Parliament.

For those who favour an adversarial Parliament to push for and produce better legislation and programs, this will be a disappointment.

On the important issue of committees, where legislation and government proposals are studied, challenged and improved, the NDP has effectively agreed to roll over and let the Trudeau government do what they want.

“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,” the agreement states.

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh take part in the federal election English-language debate in Gatineau, Sept. 9, 2021.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh take part in the federal election English-language debate in Gatineau, Sept. 9, 2021. Photo by Justin Tang / Pool /REUTERS

Translation, the NDP won’t get in the way

The NDP has also promised that if any vote beyond a budget bill is deemed a confidence vote that the government will inform the NDP ahead of time, and before the public, and the NDP will inform the government of their position ahead of time, and before the public, so that discussions can take place.

That is a lot of backroom governance happening there and not a lot of transparency.

Have I mentioned that the government has agreed to let the public service brief the NDP on government plans, priorities and legislation? The agreement says that this will happen in a timely manner, “to allow for constructive feedback and discussion.”

So everything from legislation to voting plans, committee work to briefings by public servants will take place behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny.

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On top of all of that, the NDP got the Liberals to agree to regular intra-party meetings:

– Leaders meeting at least once per quarter;

– Regular House Leader meetings;

– Regular Whip meetings;

– Monthly stock-take meetings by an oversight group.

The group overseeing how your Parliament will work “will consist of a small group of staff and politicians.”

Who needs voters and Parliamentary oversight?

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Are you on drugs?

One of the really interesting things about the deal is that it calls for imposing extra taxes on the insurance companies of Canada while also taking over a large part of their business and sending tens of thousands of people to the unemployment line.

This is the combined impact of the Liberal promise to impose an extra tax on Canada’s banks and insurance companies while also announcing that this coalition will bring about “a universal national pharmacare program.” Yes, in order to deal with the fact that some Canadians don’t have prescription drug coverage, we will now have to pay for the prescriptions of everyone in the country, even if they are covered.

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Royal Bank CEO David McKay earned more than $13 million last year. Do we really need to have the government paying for whatever pills he’s popping?

There is an easy solution to the lack of prescription drug coverage in some parts of Canada and it is the Quebec model. Yet because Quebec’s plan involves the private sector, the NDP and Trudeau both oppose it.

They want a national and universal program with the federal government operating as the bulk purchaser of all prescription drugs.

As someone who has covered federal politics for a long time, the government has trouble purchasing anything properly from fighter jets to light bulbs. So putting them in charge of buying all your prescriptions and running the system sounds like a recipe for disaster.

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