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Kelly McParland: Singh's shameful deal could see history repeat itself for the guileless NDP

 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh arrives to hold a press conference on Parliament Hill on May 25, 2020.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh arrives to hold a press conference on Parliament Hill on May 25, 2020.

Jagmeet Singh should be deeply ashamed of the squalid little deal he’s done with the Trudeau Liberals to shut down Parliament for another three months.

The New Democratic Party leader appears to have serious problems with good judgment. His early months as leader were notably disappointing as a result of regular stumbles, attributed at the time to inexperience and a degree of naiveté. Thanks to a strong performance on the campaign trail he managed to hold onto his job, but his failure to grasp the shoddiness of the pact proffered by the Liberals suggests he’s learned little from experience.

In return for a flaccid pledge to seek 10 days paid leave for all Canadian workers, Singh agreed to continue giving the Liberals a free hand to run the country without the usual bother of facing Parliament to account for itself before a full house of doubting opposition parties. Justin Trudeau’s party, remember, won just 33 per cent of the vote in October, demonstrating the extreme limits on Canadians’ faith in its performance or abilities. The House of Commons has already been a largely empty chamber since the pandemic broke three months ago. Singh has agreed to give Trudeau’s minority the support it needs to extend that open ice to a full six months.

The New Democratic Party leader appears to have serious problems with good judgment

In return for what? Singh demanded a pledge to seek 10 days paid leave for all Canadian workers. The prime minister must have been shocked at the paltriness of the request. Rarely do sheep come along so eager to be fleeced. He barely blinked before agreeing, asserting that “nobody should have to choose between taking a day off work due to illness or being able to pay the bills.”

From a Liberal standpoint it’s a sweet deal. Ottawa can’t actually force employers to abide by the promise without help from the provinces, but by agreeing to try Trudeau can claim to have kept his end of the bargain. In return he gets something of great value: Liberals are keen to keep running the country by remote-control, with a virtual Parliament standing in for the real thing, robbing opponents of the already-limited access they have to voter attention while maintaining Trudeau’s ability to commandeer the cameras with daily appearances on his front doorstep.

From the public’s perspective it’s a travesty. The hundreds of thousands of immigrants who opted for Canada over one-party states may wonder how it is their new home is operated overwhelmingly from the offices of a single party, which feels no need to attend a regular gathering to explain what it’s up to and justify its decisions. It’s a deal that clearly hobbles the largest opposition party, the Conservatives, by robbing its new, soon-to-be-chosen leader of a high-profile forum in which voters can assess him against the competition. It treats Parliament, question period and 150 years of precedent in the way the country is governed as expendable, something that can be casually bartered away for an extra few months of certainty for the ruling minority.

Neither Singh nor Trudeau appear to have given much thought as to how to pay for the new benefit, or how thousands of firms, struggling just to stay alive, would find the means to pay a second set of workers while the first were on paid-for breaks. Money is being thrown around Ottawa with such abandon these days that those peripherals barely merit a thought any more. It’s all about what people want rather than what we can afford.

If Singh uses the spare time he gains by sidelining Parliament to study history, he’ll find his party struck a similar bargain under an earlier Trudeau that proved devastating to its fortunes. In the 1972 election the NDP won its largest number of seats to that date, gaining the balance of power over an almost even split of Liberals and Progressive-Conservatives. To hold onto power, Justin Trudeau’s father shifted the party sharply to the left, aiming to win short-term support from New Democrats while co-opting its support in the longer term.

Neither Singh nor Trudeau appear to have given much thought as to how to pay for the new benefit

To that aim, he opened the vaults, pledging more money for social programs and tax cuts. (Yes, in those days the NDP thought lower taxes were a good idea). He financed the spendathon with borrowed money, pushing up the deficit in what would be become decades of ballooning debt. Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals also created a state-owned oil company despite fierce opposition from Alberta, agreed to cushion gas prices for Easterners at the expense of Westerners, and established an agency to review foreign investments to appease leftist demands.

It worked wonderfully for the government. Liberals won all the credit for the expensive grab-bag of changes. Less than two years later they won a majority they stretched out to five years before being forced to face another vote. The NDP saw its seat count cut in half. Leader David Lewis soon resigned and quit politics.

Singh’s deal gives this Trudeau the opportunity to repeat the trick. Even in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s never-say-no finance department, pandemic bills will eventually come due. Next spring’s budget could see efforts, however meagre, to rein in the largesse. By then the Liberals would like to have nailed down a majority, and Singh seems determined to help them get it. Ever wide-eyed and innocent, the NDP can’t seem to help contributing to its own demise.

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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