Bargain or ‘blackmail’? Why the Liberals might be wise to do a deal with the NDP – CBC.ca

Posted: October 17, 2021 at 5:13 pm

After the Ontario election of 1985, Bob Rae went looking for a way to avoid what he called the "day-to-day blackmail bullshit" of minority government.

The result was a unique accord between David Peterson's Liberals and Rae's NDP which saw the New Democrats (with 25 seats) formally agree to support a Liberal government (with 48 seats) on a series of specific initiatives for a period of two years.

Such arrangements remain rare in Canadian politics. For the most part, whenever an election fails to produce a majority government, the governing party and the opposition parties proceed to engage in the "day-to-day roulette of minority government," as Rae described it in his autobiography, From Protest to Power.Each new measure put before Parliament becomes a game of chicken fought on the basis of whether anyone is willing to force an election.

But if at the federal level, at least minority Parliaments are now likely to be the rulerather than the exception, it might be time for the major parties to agree with Rae's contention that there are better and less exhausting ways to run a democracy.

And perhaps the Peterson and Rae accord could serve asinspiration for Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau and NDP LeaderJagmeet Singh.

In 1985, shared priorities gave the Liberals and NDP a solid basis for working together. "When we came to negotiate between the two parties, we had enough to fill up several legislative agendas that we could agree on," Herschel Ezrin, Peterson's chief of staff, told me in 2015.

The resulting agreement covered a range of progressive priorities, including employment for young people, housing, elder care, child care and pensions.

But the parties also made a deliberateeffort to communicate with each other over those two years.

"We were careful not to give them any view that we were somehow trying to do something that had not been agreed to. We introduced other pieces of legislation that hadn't been on the list, but the point was we never tried to do anything that was a surprise,"Ezrin said. "This was no drama. There was a lot of time expended on maintenance."

In terms of both policy and process, there are echoes of the 1985 accord in the 2017 agreement in British Columbia between theprovince's NDP and Greens. That 2017 dealstated that it would establish "a new relationship between the two parties, founded on the principle of 'good faith and no surprises.'"

In both cases, those deals might have seemed more necessary because the parties with the second-most seats in the legislature (the Ontario Liberals in 1985 and the B.C.NDP in 2017) were looking to defeat and replace incumbent governments after an election. Practically, theneed to guarantee the support of the third party wasobvious. Politically, it was important to project stability.

Those same conditions won't be present in the House of Commons thatconvenes in Ottawa on November 22. The Liberals are relatively ensconced in government, they have more than one potential bargaining partner andthe other parties aren't manoeuvringto replace them immediately.

But one of the messages of last month's election was that Canadians aren'tparticularly interested in seeing politicians campaignright now. What they seem towant instead is forMPstogetthings done.

And however much the Liberals and NDP disagree about methods, they agree broadlywhen it comes to which issues the federal government should focus on: inequality, climate change, reconciliation and improving public support programs like child care and long term care.

For the Liberals, the benefit of suchan agreement could be a chance to get more things done over the next two or four years than they could by negotiatingissue-to-issue. In addition to establishing a clear agenda, an accord might make it easier for the government to get around the sorts of opposition stalling tacticsthat are more easily employed in a minority Parliament.

If such an accord were to succeed, New Democrats could eventually claim some credit for a particularly activist period in federal government. They also wouldwant to come away with a few accomplishmentsthey could point to as havinghappened only because they were involved.

Naysayers on the NDP side might point out that Peterson's Ontario Liberals won a huge majority after the accord concluded in 1987. But Rae's NDPwent on to winits own majority in 1990 the one and only time the party has formed a government in Ontario.

For now, this all seems to be entirely hypothetical. The Prime Minister's Office said Friday that Trudeau will speak with the other party leaders next week, but an NDP source says they haven't yet heard from the government about any plans for how Parliament will work. The same source says the party thinks the last Parliament worked well without a formal accord.

New Democrats did come away from the last Parliament claiming they had moved the Liberals on several fronts (the Liberals might debate the details of some of those claims). They might be content to let the new Parliament play out again as a rolling series of battles and bargains.

The Liberals might be happy to do likewise. On any given issue and for the next while they might find that mostMPs are unwilling to trigger an election by defeating government legislation on a confidence vote.

But perhaps there's a better way to get things done in a parliamentary democracy one that involves less of the"day-to-day blackmail bullshit."

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Bargain or 'blackmail'? Why the Liberals might be wise to do a deal with the NDP - CBC.ca

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