David Staples: Trudeau-Singh Pact a good try but current events are stacked against it

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The federal Liberals and New Democrats made official on Tuesday what has been obvious for years, that there’s almost no major policy or philosophical differences between Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Jagmeet Singh’s NDP.

The two leaders have entered into an open deal to keep Trudeau’s Liberal minority in power until 2025, with the NDP backing Liberals on non-confidence votes.

Most Liberal and NDP supporters will be fine with the new coalition, I suspect. With so little dividing the two parties, why not openly work together on shared goals, such as taxpayer-funded assistance for individual dental and pharmacy bills?

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What isn’t so obvious, however, is if this new pact can actually push ahead its agenda, which includes far more government spending at a time when inflation is growing out of control, and also advocates for a greater crackdown on Canada’s oil and gas industry at a time when energy security is becoming a national imperative.

Premier Jason Kenney spelled out the stakes for Albertans in a legislature speech: “After Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the world knows now more than ever that we need to increase and produce more Alberta energy to displace dictator oil, and that is why we will use every tool that we have to fight the Trudeau-Singh alliance and their effort to kill pipelines and damage Canada’s largest job-creating industry.”

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In a follow-up interview, Kenney said of the pact: “It can only be bad news for Alberta.”

The NDP will work with Trudeau’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, Kenney said, to keep Canadian oil in the ground. “It’s very discouraging.”

My own bet is that Alberta is going to be OK here. Yes, the pact is likely to embolden Singh and Guilbeault to create more short-term chaos in Canada’s energy sector. But no matter their anti-nuclear and anti-oil and gas policy preferences, due to Vladimir Putin’s staggeringly ill-conceived aggression against Ukraine, energy politics will chug like a big train down a mountain in favor of the security and economic stability that Alberta oil and gas can provide North America.

As for Trudeau and Singh pushing for more spending on dental bills and drugs, that can be a winning notion, especially when it comes to helping out folks in great need. But at his press conference, Trudeau tried to sell his pact as a response to troubled times, to the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine: “It is a responsible answer to the uncertainty that we’re in, to the challenges facing democracies with hyper -partisanship and toxic polarization, of saying let’s actually make deliberate efforts to work across party lines so we can get the things done that Canadians voted for in the last election, in voting for a number of parties with similar approaches.”

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It’s a strong argument for the Liberals to work together with like-minded parties, but did we really need a war in Ukraine to bring in a government dental program? I don’t see a strong link.

And it speaks to Trudeau’s Hudson Bay-sized blind spot that he decries polarization when he himself swung an election, then instigated the largest public protest we’ve seen in decades, by demonizing Canadians who greatly feared getting a medical procedure, COVID vaccination. Whatever you or I may think of the unvaccinated — and I’ve been as frustrated at times with their personal medical decision as many of you — does Trudeau not grasp how he’s marginalized and discriminated against that group?

Trudeau has had the majority on his side against the unvaccinated, but I doubt his aggression against them will age well.

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I also wonder if the majority will continue to support new spending on government programs, even as massive spending was popular during the pandemic.

Here’s where interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen scored her biggest point in addressing the Trudeau-Singh pact, saying it would mean $214 billion in new spending at a time when inflation is a major worry.

“There is no hope of inflation getting under control,” she said of the coalition’s agenda. “I would say there is no hope of reduced taxes. There is no hope of seeing control of the spending. It is a very dire situation for Canadians.”

Just like the Russian invasion has shaken everything up around energy politics, Canada’s incendiary inflation rate will also hit like a wrecking ball, most likely rocking the willingness of Canadians for ever greater government borrowing and spending money.

It may well be the Trudeau-Singh pact keeps a progressive coalition in power longer, but when current events and public opinion turn against massive new spending, little will come of the coalition’s agenda.

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