‘We have seen some goodwill’: Jagmeet Singh says his deal with the Liberals is working — so far

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is full of praise for the Liberal government with which he inked a supply and confidence agreement last month that could see the Grits in office until June 2025.

“We have seen some goodwill,” he told “It’s Political,” the Star’s new politics podcast. “They’ve been providing a lot of examples of good faith in working through this agreement.”

It’s quite a change in tone from Singh, who spent the last election campaign saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau couldn’t be trusted to keep his promises, was “bad for Canada” and an “abject failure.” Even this week, Singh was posting on Instagram claiming the Liberals have “rigged the system” to work for their “very rich” “well-connected friends.” He suggested inflation was driven by “Big Oil” raising its profits and sticking regular folks with the bill and laid the blame at the Liberals’ feet.

It’s a delicate dance Singh is trying to do. On the one hand, he credits the Grits with keeping their word.

“We’ve got a lot of ways to make sure the Liberals follow through and so far they have been,” he told me.

Regular meetings between House leaders and party whips, and briefings with the government — offering insight, for example, into the budget before it was tabled — have the NDP feeling like it knows the government’s goals and understands its road map. A committee charged with overseeing the health of the NDP-Liberal agreement has already met, and will continue to meet each month. And, so far, Singh suggests, things are going swimmingly.

But on the other hand, Singh doesn’t shy away from criticizing the Grits, and letting New Democrats know he’d do things differently were he in charge. NDP MPs continue to denounce government actions. Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus has been particularly biting, accusing the Liberals of “burning the future of the planet” and singling out Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault for what Angus calls his unserious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, when given a chance to prioritize climate change, Singh chose dental care instead. The flagship feature of the Liberal-NDP deal is a new national dental-care program for families earning less than $90,000 a year. That commitment is specific — a plan to provide dental care to children under 12 by year’s end, to those under 18, seniors and people with disabilities by 2023, and to everyone else by 2025.

There are environmental pledges in the agreement, such as “moving forward with ‘Just Transition’ legislation,” but few significant commitments. That’s led the Green Party to declare the NDP-Liberal deal “not good enough.”

One pledge — to develop “a plan to phaseout public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including from Crown corporations, including early moves in 2022”— appears already broken. But Singh goes out of his way to say it is not.

“Our ask is to end all of (the fossil fuel subsidies), and specifically in the deal is to end one of them. They are fulfilling that by ending one fossil fuel subsidy,” he said.

Singh refers to the Liberals’ 2022 budget pledge to eliminate flow-through shares for oil, gas and coal activities. Flow-through shares allow companies to transfer the tax benefits of qualifying exploration and development expenses to investors.

But while the Liberals moved to eliminate one subsidy to the industry, they also introduced a big new one in the budget — a $6-billion tax credit to reduce large capital costs involved in construction of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) projects for heavy emitters, a measure that could spur more oil and gas development.

Singh calls that tax break a fossil-fuel subsidy and said it’s “definitely not the spirit” of the agreement.

But he’s not ready to pull the plug on the deal. Like a marriage, he said, he’s looking for ways the parties can stay together, not for reasons to walk away.

He has good reasons. His chief of staff, Jennifer Howard, says the strategy in entering this deal is based on feedback from focus groups that felt the NDP’s proposals were too lofty and unlikely to be realized.

Singh is understandably focused on showing they’re doable.

Althia Raj is an Ottawa-based national politics columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @althiaraj

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