A Supply of New Confidence: Retooling the Supply and Confidence Agreement

2 minute read

The summer has fundamentally altered the dynamic between the Liberals and the NDP. According to the most recent Abacus Data survey results, if an election were held today, 41% of committed voters would vote Conservative. The CPC is now polling in majority territory and enjoying a 15-point lead. The Grits are bleeding the fastest. As the personal image of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has worsened, and the net favourable score of Pierre Poilievre has increased, each party has altered their political calculus. 

New Commitments 

Since March 2022, the supply and confidence agreement has undergirded NDP-Liberal relations. Jagmeet Singh has publicly confirmed that he intends to leverage the Liberals’ relative weakness to secure policy commitments that transcend the initial agreement. His topmost focus will be introducing new policies that increase the supply of affordable housing. Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s housing critic, has set her sights on the fall economic statement. The NDP has advocated in favour of more housing co-operatives and expanding the not-for-profit housing market. The NDP is also seeking significant alterations to the national housing strategy. 

The stagnating supply and confidence agreement included some key housing planks. For example, it dictated that the government must enhance efforts to launch the Housing Accelerator Fund. Last Wednesday, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced municipal agreements under the Housing Accelerator Fund, Singh’s political victory was lost in the fray. The housing landscape demonstrates a key flaw in the design of the Liberals and NDP agreement. 

While public sabre-rattling and policy origination can score the NDP political points; their fulfillment does not. The NDP will trumpet their progressive ideas; the Liberals will execute them. Similarly, when the Liberals shirk their preferences (as they are slated to do on pharmacare), the NDP is left without adequate recourse. The NDP can threaten to pull their support, but an election at this time would not increase their fortunes – for political and policy outcomes. If the Liberals fail to deliver a single-payer pharmacare system by the end of the year, the NDP has very few tools in their toolbox. 

The Political Upshot

Twelve years after the Orange Wave, the NDP is swimming against the current; the party is working hard just to maintain its current standing among Canadians. At this moment, 56% of Canadians have a negative impression of Justin Trudeau. Singh’s political priority is ensuring that this public souring is not directed at him; without a significant strategic shift, gains in support don’t appear to be in the cards. 

This fall, the NDP’s approach is to walk a difficult line: hand-shaking on new promises with one hand, while punching their weakened partners with the other. So far, this strategy has not succeeded, but it has not woefully harmed them, either. In politics, irrelevance is a sticky issue.

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