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Susan Delacourt: Deal in the works between Liberals and NDP that would keep Justin Trudeau’s government in power in exchange for NDP-friendly measures


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Susan Delacourt: Deal in the works between Liberals and NDP that would keep Justin Trudeau’s government in power in exchange for NDP-friendly measures

A deal is in the works between the federal Liberals and New Democrats that could see Justin Trudeau’s minority government safely staying in power for the next few years — in exchange for NDP-friendly measures in the coming budgets.

News of the potential deal leaked after Trudeau informed his Liberal MPs on Monday night. Sources are saying that Liberals have committed to a dental care program and “real progress” on a national pharmacare program, as the NDP has long demanded.

If the Liberal-NDP deal goes ahead, and sources were saying negotiations were still going on late into Monday night, Canada would be spared a federal election until 2025.

The Liberals currently have 159 seats in the House of Commons — just 11 short of the 170 votes they need to guarantee passage of confidence votes. The New Democrats, with 25 seats, would give them the numbers they need.

The interim Conservative leader, Candice Bergen, released a statement late Monday night, predicting that Canada was in for a “rough ride” if this deal pans out.

“The NDP-Liberal coalition is nothing more than a callous attempt by Trudeau to hold on to power,” Bergen said. “Canadians did not vote for an NDP government. This is little more than backdoor socialism. Trudeau is truly polarizing politics which is what he likes. This is an NDP-Liberal attempt at government by blackmail. Nation-building is replaced by vote-buying; secret deal-making over parliamentary debate; and opportunism over accountability.”

The Conservatives, currently in the midst of a contest to choose a new leader, have 119 seats in the Commons and high hopes that enough Canadians will be ready to deny Trudeau power the next time Canada goes to an election. The Bloc Québécois has 32 seats and the Greens have another two.

Sources were saying that other elements of the Liberal-NDP deal could include more resources for housing, reconciliation with Indigenous people and possibly higher taxes on banks and insurance companies, as the NDP was demanding in its opposition motion this week in the House.

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The deal is being discussed by both caucuses, sources said, and wasn’t expected to be finalized until MPs were on side. The prime minister leaves for Brussels on Wednesday, to take part in NATO talks on the Ukraine crisis.

It remains to be seen how this agreement will affect plans to increase defence spending in light of that crisis.

This isn’t the first time that the Liberals and New Democrats have negotiated a co-operation agreement. Back in 2008, shortly after Stephen Harper’s government won a minority government, the parties worked out a deal — with help from the Bloc Québécois — that would have seen the Conservatives tossed out of power.

Harper averted that arrangement by proroguing Parliament late in 2008, along with an aggressive public relations attack on the “unholy coalition” of opposition parties.

Coincidentally, two of the key players in those talks — Katie Telford, currently chief of staff to Trudeau, and Anne McGrath, now national director of the NDP — were also involved in the ones under way Monday night, sources said.

In 2005, Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government made a deal with Jack Layton’s New Democrats to get a budget passed in exchange for more than $4 billion in social program spending. It was a short-lived arrangement. By the end of that year, Martin’s government collapsed when the NDP withdrew confidence in the House and Liberals were ejected from power for nearly a decade.

Susan Delacourt is an Ottawa-based columnist covering national politics for the Star. Reach her via email: sdelacourt@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt

Heather Scoffield is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and an economics columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @hscoffield

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