Legislative Impacts of the Liberal-NDP deal

3 minute read

The Liberal-NDP Supply and Confidence Agreement fell short of establishing a formal coalition government, but it is set to shake up policy making and information sharing between both Parties. The scope of the agreement was broad, extending to matters of confidence, committees, and regular meetings between leaders on policy and legislative affairs. On top of that, it extended the shelf-life of this Parliament to June 2025, providing a longer runway for government bills and private members’ business alike. 

Confidence coordination

While the government can declare any motion a confidence motion, they typically do so when a motion would impede the government from functioning or call into question its legitimacy. 

For example, in October 2020, the Conservatives introduced a motion to create a committee to probe alleged Liberal corruption. Prime Minister Trudeau declared it a matter of confidence, and with NDP and Green Party support, defeated the motion. 

Under the new agreement, the NDP committed to support the government on standard confidence votes like budgets and money bills. But, the government also agreed to communicate with the NDP as soon as possible if a vote would be declared confidence. In return, the NDP promised to signal their voting intention in advance. 

Committees

The two parties agreed to “communicate regarding any issues that could impede the government’s ability to function or cause unnecessary obstructions to legislation review, studies and work plans at committees.” 

Since the Liberals lost majority status in the 2019 election, much of the government’s legislative agenda has bogged down after second reading. Their overhaul of the Broadcast Act in the last Parliament, for example, stalled when Conservatives successfully filibustered clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. This legislative logjam threatened to keep the government’s list of successes short, which is another reason why finding agreement with members of the opposition at the committee level was so important. 

The government now has a direct line to the NDP for support on committee-related matters. The NDP however, has not given a pass to the government on all legislative matters; the strength of this agreement is likely to face challenges should the government advance legislation that isn’t aligned with the NDP’s way of thinking. .

Leadership meetings and oversight

Another interesting part of the agreement is that it sets out a minimum number of formal, standing meetings between the NDP and the government. Trudeau and Singh will meet at least once per quarter; House leaders and whips will hold regular meetings; and, an oversight group of MPs and staff will gather monthly to take stock of overall progress on key priorities such as pharmacare and dental care.

The government also promised to make public servants available to brief the NDP on the budget, legislation and “other matters.” The NDP, in turn, agreed to work with the government on a limited number of “programming motions.” This includes time-allocation motions, closure motions to limit debate, potential filibusters and attempts to expedite legislation. 

Legislative Longview

On top of the NDP’s newly codified special status, the deal also blew up standard minority government timeframe assumptions. Typically, minority parliaments only last about two years before MPs are sent back to the hustings. That does not leave much time for governments to implement their legislative agenda. 

With the immediate threat of a snap election removed, the Liberals now have the opportunity to tackle bigger public policy issues and take a legislative longview. For a government that critics often accuse of being out of ideas, the extra time will either be a blessing or a curse.

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