What it cost for the Liberals to buy the NDP’s support

OTTAWA—Ten billion dollars: that’s how much the Liberals paid to keep their parliamentary pact with the NDP alive.

If you slice away all of the measures from the deal in this week’s federal budget that the Liberals were already promising to implement themselves, you’re left with between $9.6 billion and $10.1 billion in new spending the NDP can claim exists because of its influence.

About half of that is to provide dental care coverage to low-income Canadians, starting with children 12 and under this year and expanding to everyone from households that earn less than $90,000 per year by 2025. The budget earmarked $5.3 billion over the next five years for that program, which has been an NDP flagship priority since 2019.

The budget also devotes $4.3 billion over seven years to Indigenous housing. The NDP says it’s responsible for $2.3 billion of that, since the Liberals only promised another $2 billion in this area during the last federal election.

The New Democrats can also take credit for the $1.5 billion the government committed to extend a “rapid housing” program to build at least 6,000 new affordable units, something the Liberals did not promise to do in the last campaign.

They can likewise claim victory for $475 million to provide a $500 boost to federal housing benefits for Canadians in need, and arguably for the $458 million geared to provide green home renovation funds to low-income earners (the Liberals didn’t promise that in the last federal election, but included it in their March climate plan).

Daniel Blaikie, a New Democrat MP from Winnipeg who is the party’s finance critic in Parliament, said the $10-billion figure sounds accurate and represents policy gains the party was able to extract from the Liberals. The measures were included in the confidence and supply agreement in which the NDP pledged to prop up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government for up to three years in exchange for action on a host of progressive policies.

“I think when you compare it to the idea of having Canadians go back to the polls six months after an election that nobody wanted in the first place — yes, these are some tangible wins,” Blaikie told the Star on Friday.

That’s not to say the New Democrats are happy with the budget as a whole. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters after the budget was tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday that it was “sufficient” to earn his party’s support.

For Blaikie, the budget fell short in a range of areas. On climate change, the NDP opposes the Liberals’ plan to spend more than $2.6 billion on an industrial tax credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology, which many environmentalists deplore as a way to use public money to help fossil fuel companies keep producing oil and gas that the world’s climate can’t afford to burn.

Blaikie also said his party wanted more for Indigenous reconciliation. The Liberal-NDP deal called for a “significant new” investment in Indigenous housing in 2022. In the end, of the $10 billion in new spending devoted in the budget to a range of initiatives, $652 million is earmarked for Indigenous housing for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

“It’s not enough. We know that,” Blaikie said, referring to the $4.3 billion in new Indigenous housing funds, which pales in comparison to the $44 billion for which the Assembly of First Nations has called.

“For us in respect to the budget, an important principle for us has been … how do we not let perfect be the enemy of the good? How do we make progress on things that the Liberals are willing to work with us on?” Blaikie said. “We’re continuing to be very honest about the inadequacies of their government’s policy on a number of other fronts.”

From their end, the Liberals have downplayed the NDP’s impact on any of their decisions. The budget doesn’t mention the party — the only search result for “NDP” is when the letters appear in the word “grandparent” — and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland stated simply on Thursday that the extra spending from the deal with the New Democrats has not pushed any of the government’s campaign promises aside. That is the case even for initiatives that were not included in this week’s budget, she said.

“We had an election last fall, and this is therefore the first of four budgets,” Freeland said. “We were always building this budget on the assumption we had a four-year mandate.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives decry the Liberal-NDP deal as a reckless “backroom” accord, and have said the budget fails to help Canadians deal with rising prices from inflation and cranks up reckless government spending.

The actual new spending that can be clearly tied to the pact represents about $2.4 billion in 2022-23. That’s about 0.5 per cent of the $453.2 billion in government expenses booked for the year.

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