There is much to applaud in the NDP/Liberal “supply-and-confidence agreement”, not least the promise of 3 years of stable government, and perhaps greater certainty of the Liberals actually keeping some of their election promises. Any optimism is, of course, based on the agreement being honoured, and it would be naive in the extreme to think that the Liberals wouldn’t weasel out of it if it suited their electoral calculations. Still, the prospect of dental care and pharmacare being added to our public health care is not to be sneezed at, though details are lacking.
But what is truly missing from this agreement amounts to the seeds of a tragedy of lost opportunity and disaster in the making. In the face of a climate emergency and a moribund Green Party, the NDP might have stepped in to ensure Canada faced up to the greatest challenge in our country’s and, indeed, humankind’s history. Instead, we got vague promises and action postponed two elections down the line.
On another related and critically important front, electoral reform, we got nothing. So, despite there being a national majority constituency for radical action to confront the climate emergency, it is unreflected in our Parliament. Parochial provincial climate deniers remain free to front the interests of Big Oil, playing up regional antagonisms that mask the national consensus. And in Ottawa, the self-interested Trudeau Liberals turn their backs on the public interest in proportional representation, the very thing that would counter the overwhelming influence of the corporate lobby and give voice and support to the policies we need. Leadership is absent.
The tragedy lies in the fact that in the search for an effective Parliament, the NDP has given up its leverage on these two vital fronts, and others besides (military spending, for one), promising to keep the Liberals in power for three years. It is hard not to conclude that they have been suckered.
The first big test is just around the corner – the Liberals’ decision on whether to give the green light to the massive polluting Bay du Nord deepwater oil development in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador. With the NDP quiescent, and the Liberals’ evident continuing responsiveness to the oil lobby, it is hard to believe they will do the right thing and turn down the project. More on that in my next post.