Knowing that the Liberals have little appetite for an election over the coming year, the NDP is looking to push the federal government for more policy concessions, party sources tell Radio-Canada.
“[The Liberals] do not want to go to an election and it shows,” a New Democrat source said.
With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s team now facing a marked drop in the polls, the NDP is trying to assert itself. “We feel we have levers,” the source added.
In 2022, the NDP agreed to support the minority Liberal government in the House of Commons and stave off an election until 2025 through a confidence-and-supply agreement. In exchange, the Liberals agreed to move on certain shared priorities, such as a national dental program for low-income Canadians.
But behind the scenes, Jagmeet Singh’s party is now trying to secure additional concessions — including housing and cost-of-living commitments — in exchange for the NDP’s continued support.
This account is based on two senior NDP sources who are aware of the negotiations, along with a Liberal source familiar with the party’s thinking about the timing of the next election.
Party sources say the NDP wants the government to announce it’s renewing the GST credit for vulnerable Canadians in its fall economic statement. The two parties are also discussing measures to speed up the construction of affordable housing.
When asked, the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t deny that New Democrats are pushing for more concessions. A PMO spokesperson said the government is in regular contact with the NDP.
“We focus on our common interests rather than our legitimate differences,” the spokesperson said in a French statement.
Speaking with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics on Tuesday about the government’s housing policy, Singh said his party isn’t limited to the concessions in the original confidence-and-supply agreement.
“The agreement gives us the ability to negotiate and force this government to do more. Housing is one of the priorities that we have,” he told guest host Travis Dhanraj.
Conversations between the two parties are nothing new but they’ve become more frequent in recent weeks, said both Liberal and NDP sources. The NDP is not looking for a completely new version of the agreement but it now wants to get more out of it, one party source said.
The original agreement notably provided for the creation of a fund to accelerate the construction of housing, the implementation of a charter of rights for home buyers and a top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit in 2022.
New Democrats say they know there is a political cost to associating with the Liberal government and are looking for wins they can present to voters in the next federal election.
Right now, sources said, the NDP feels it has the upper hand on the governing party.
“We feel that the Liberals want our support so that it lasts longer,” said one senior NDP source.
Election in 2024 or 2025?
Inside Liberal party ranks, the summer polls have had the effect of a cold shower. The results of an Abacus poll published on Aug. 25 suggest the Liberals are 12 points behind the Conservatives nationally.
Just a few months ago, Liberal sources were quick to point to the spring of 2024 as the first possible window for holding an election. That eagerness has since evaporated and several Liberal sources are now talking about fall 2024 or spring 2025 as their earliest preferred dates.
Liberal insiders said they are betting on better economic news before the next election and believe voters’ anxieties about the cost of living could calm down by then. Interest rates are not likely to fall before next summer, Liberal sources said.
Some sources also suggest that the U.S. election next fall could affect the political dynamic on this side of the border — especially if former president Donald Trump returns to power.
Faced with discouraging polls, some Liberals argue that new ministers should be given at least a year to make their marks and generate results they can present to voters.
New Democrats are in no hurry
Members of Trudeau’s team remember the harsh criticism they faced for calling an early election in 2021, when the country still hadn’t emerged from the pandemic.
“No one wants to go through that again,” said one Liberal source.
As he shuffled his cabinet in July, Trudeau signalled that he was in no rush to call an election. “The elections are not scheduled before the fall of 2025 and we have a lot to do to deliver for Canadians,” he said in French.
If New Democrats want to capitalize on the Liberals’ bad luck, they could do so by threatening to force an election, said an NDP source.
But Singh’s team seems ready to show patience. There are still elements of its agreement with the government that the NDP wants to achieve, said the source.
Some New Democrats believe a federal law to prohibit the use of replacement workers during strikes could help improve relations between the party and the labour movement. Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives are actively trying to court unionized workers.
New Democrats are also aware that forcing an election is always a gamble. “The NDP has no advantage in calling an election to end up with a Conservative government in power,” an NDP MP, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told Radio-Canada.
Some New Democrats fear that a Conservative government would force a rightward policy shift, undermining any chance of advancing a progressive agenda. They warn that left-leaning voters could blame Singh if the Conservative Party is swept into power.