OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of trying to trigger an election after the PM suggested in a year-end interview that the opposition parties “don’t agree” with his post-pandemic plans.
“The frame he is trying to set up is self-serving; it is not accurate,” Singh told HuffPost Canada Tuesday. “Their stated themes, we agree with those things.”
Trudeau’s minority government has survived 14 months with the help of several all-party agreements that have, for example, established benefits for Canadians and extended help for business owners to weather the pandemic. The NDP has also offered the Grits a lifeline on more than one occasion, including supporting the passage of their throne speech.
“Build back better” issues
Yet, Sunday on the CBC program “Rosemary Barton Live,” Trudeau contended that the opposition parties won’t support his government’s vision on how to build back better, and that that could be the cause of an early election.
“Obviously, as we get through this pandemic, and have conversations on how to build back better, how to move forward for a strong economy, we know the parties don’t agree,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister did not rule out triggering a federal contest himself by, for example, walking over to Rideau Hall and asking the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.
Trudeau said he wasn’t “eager” for an election but is “not precluding any options.” At one point, the prime minister spoke of “next year’s election,” then quickly clarified: “potential, the potential election next year.”
While the Conservatives are critical of the amount of government spending — the Fall Economic Statement pegged the government deficit at slightly over $381 billion — the NDP supports the Liberals’ stated goals of establishing a national child care program, a national pharmacare program, and more investment in public health care, such as in long-term-care residences.
“The things that he has stated in the ‘build back better,’ are topics that we can work on together, absolutely,” Singh told HuffPost. “Like, we can work on childcare together, we can work on pharmacare together… There is still an opening to working together, ’cause I want to get it done.”
Singh’s primary concern, he said, is that the Liberals won’t follow through on their commitments.
“They’ll say the right things but then won’t do it.”
The NDP leader noted that his party worked successfully with the Liberals in 2020. He claimed credit for boosting the amount out-of-work Canadians received through the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) replacement benefits, as well as assistance that went out to students and a more generous wage subsidy for employers.
“We raised the wage subsidy from 10 per cent when it was introduced to 75 per cent and we got paid sick leave. We’ve been focused on getting help for people, and we’ve been doing that.
“The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is clearly looking for an election,” Singh said.
Still, Singh would not commit to supporting the Liberals’ budget. The NDP wants to see the wealthiest Canadians — those with fortunes of over $20 million — pay more in taxes, as well as digital giants, companies such as Netflix, Google and Amazon, forced to pay corporate tax in Canada, he said.
“What we’ve done is put out what we want to see, and then used our leverage to negotiate,” Singh said, pointing to, for example, the NDP’s successful demand that paid sick leave be negotiated with the premiers. That measure was formalized this fall with the introduction of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB).
“As we get closer to the negotiating period, if there is a time to talk this through, we’ll share … where we are at,” the NDP leader said about his potential red lines.
Singh said he “fundamentally disagrees” with two aspects of the Liberals’ “build back better” plan. He is concerned about who pays for all the government’s spending, and he opposes efforts to fund infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships (P3s).
“This notion of bringing private money into public infrastructure and effectively privatizing the building of infrastructure is wrong,” Singh said. “Public infrastructure should remain public.”
Adding to his wish list, Singh said he would also like to see the federal government take profit out of long-term-care homes and is urging Ottawa to take over the Revera chain of residences, which is owned by Public Sector Pension Investment Board, a Crown corporation.
Singh said Revera’s “for-profit” nature had resulted in “horrible conditions for scenarios.” This spring, during the first wave of the pandemic, there were 87 outbreaks at Revera sites, according to an expert advisory report prepared for the company, leading to the death of 266 residents in long term care and of 20 seniors in its retirement residences.
Singh said he also hopes to see a recovery plan focused on creating jobs that “help us fight the climate crisis.” Although the Liberals recently released a $15-billion climate plan, Singh suggested this did not constitute “a clear plan.”
The NDP leader also pointed to a desire to see more health care transfers to the provinces that are long term and sustainable — something Trudeau has pledged to do but only after the pandemic. The NDP also hopes to press the Liberals on their stated commitment to pharmacare, by moving forward on a bill that establishes the parameters for federally funded provincially run drug insurance plans.
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The NDP leader said he’s “not looking for a reason to go into an election,” but his party has paid off its 2015 and 2019 campaign debts and is on a better financial footing if a contest is launched.
“We are in a better position than we were in the last election, but it is not my goal,” he said.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s press secretary, Chelsea Tucker, told HuffPost that the Tories supported policies “to help Canadians weather this pandemic, while growing the economy.” But she said Trudeau’s policies had left too many Canadians behind.
Still, she said, there is no appetite for an election during the second wave of the pandemic.
“It will be up to Justin Trudeau whether he wants to force everyone who couldn’t gather with their families this holiday season into lines at the polls,” she said.