(Image Credit: Mohamed Hassan on pxhere.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
Lofty claims from either party notwithstanding, the deal between the Liberals and NDP has the potential to be disastrous for both parties – and calamitous for Canadians at large. In other words, this is a marriage made in hell.
The recently announced deal between the federal Liberals and the NDP was at once a surprising move and the very opposite of a surprise. Since the 2019 election when the Liberals got their first minority, NDP has been playing this odd dance of publicly and vociferously opposing / criticizing them on major issues while voting in their favor in the parliament every time it counted. The deal, therefore, merely brings to a formal level the hollowness of the NDP’s words about holding the government to account.
It is easy to see how, at the surface level, the deal may appear to be beneficial to the respective parties, and much has been said and written about that. On another side, reaction to the announcement has been along expected partisan lines. Depending on where your politics lie, this is clinching proof of either ‘cooperation’ or ‘collusion’; this development shows either exactly how a democracy based on the Westminster model is supposed to work or a fatal blow to democracy in Canada.
It is not at all surprising – and in fact expected – that the parties to the deal and their acolytes in the media / commentariat would describe it in flowery terms. According to them, it inures to the benefit of all concerned – specifically, the Canadian society. Putting the glossy brochures aside, however, it is easy to see how the opposite could be true. Particularly significant (in my view) is the difference between the natural tendencies of the two parties (although there is a widespread belief that the Liberal party of today is indistinguishable from the NDP). In my mind, I understand this difference via an old Gujarati saying – but translating it into English would make it confusing because the context would be missing, so let me tell you the story that is encapsulated in that Gujarati one-liner.
Once there was a great drought and every living being struggled to find food. A fox that had been unable to find anything to eat in the forest drifted towards a village, while a starving dog from the village decided to try his luck in the forest. The two met in-between the two places. After sharing stories of their plight, the two weakened animals decided to team up for a hunt. After much searching, they located an equally emaciated chicken and chased it successfully. Once the chicken was in both their jaws, however, their natural tendencies kicked in; the dog started to pull in the direction of the village, while the fox did the opposite. Soon a fight broke out between the two. As a result, the meager amount of meat on the chicken’s body got shredded to tiny bits and was lost, while the two erstwhile friends only managed to wound each other severely. Neither got to eat, and both were weakened even further as a result of their ‘partnership’.
Coming back to the subject at hand, I see this fundamental point of difference between the Liberals and NDP at the federal level: The Liberals consider themselves ‘the natural governing party of Canada’, whereas the NDP has never formed government in the over half a century of its existence (this is not counting its previous incarnation as the CCF). Much gets said about the arrogance of the Liberals, and there is at least a grain of truth in that. Given this, it is more than likely that the Liberals will (a) periodically show the NDP who is boss, and (b) will not be all gung-ho to implement policies favored by the NDP beyond what suits the Liberal cause in the immediate term, all the rhetoric about ‘cooperation’ notwithstanding.
While the NDP leader Jagmeet Singh may be willing to absorb this mistreatment for his own reasons (including, perhaps, the fact that he becomes due for his gold-plated pension as MP in 2025), his caucus, party functionaries and grassroots base will, at some point, start feeling disillusioned and/or used. However, given the party’s sensitivity (especially in the top echelons) about the optics surrounding their non-white leader, it is perhaps unlikely that they would move to dethrone Singh from his leadership position any time soon. The opportunity for anyone to express their displeasure with him will come at the time of the next election (which, contrary to what many assume, may come before 2025). In this scenario, the NDP’s next campaign may be characterized by lackadaisical participation from the volunteer base and donors – and quite likely by the party apparatus itself. While they may get their psychological satisfaction by doing this, the party could end up shrinking even further in terms of its seat-count in the House of Commons as well as the vote-share. The drubbing at the ballot box would finally make it possible for the party to hold a leadership review and replace Singh. Whether the party remains viable at this point is open to question: they may bounce back like the Liberals did after their historic loss in 2011 or may rebuild themselves painstakingly like the Conservatives did (over one decade-plus) after their party’s immolation in 1993.
Two events happened within days of the announcement of the deal that point to the likelihood that the above scenario is indeed in store for the federal NDP. On March 22, a Motion tabled by Jagmeet Singh himself came up for vote. It called for providing relief for Canadians against rising prices of gas, groceries etc. by way of levying a 3% surtax on banks and insurance companies on profits over $ 1 billion and redistributing this money to individuals. The motion was defeated 60-114. And while that may be disappointing to Mr. Singh and others, the pertinent fact here is that only 1 Liberal MP showed up to vote on a Motion tabled by the leader of his party’s newly minted ‘partner’ (you can see the text of the Motion and the voting record at this link). This event is akin to newlyweds having a disagreement before reaching the honeymoon suite. Then, on March 25, the press secretary for the federal NDP caucus tweeted that she was leaving (note the cryptic sentence at the end):
As we see more instances like the former one, we will see more cases like the latter one. Of course, people leaving the party at the grassroots will not be publicized. And while the staffers leaving the party would be replaced, the same cannot be said for the volunteers. Over time, this dual-effect phenomenon results in a hollowing out of the party. I consider it very likely that we will witness this over the next election campaign.
CALLING KING PYRRHUS
For the Liberal party as well, there are several ways in which this move can be damaging. To start with, people who may have voted for the Liberals because they didn’t like the NDP may feel cheated. This reaction is somewhat difficult to gauge because they may not be very vocal, or because discretion is the better part of valour. But even among steadfast Liberal supporters, the consequences of the policies that the LPC-NDP combo manage to bring into being have the potential to turn them against the deal. As I see it, these policies fall in two broad categories: (a) those relating to fiscal matters (doling out ‘free’ money to selected demographics while finagling even more money from the wallets of people in other demographics – or even from the other wallets of the recipients of ‘free’ money themselves) and (b) expanding the State’s powers and control in the everyday activities of Canadians. Over time, more and more people would start getting negatively affected by these policies and the Liberal supporters among them may begin to waver in their convictions regarding these policies. To quote Sir Winston Churchill, “Nothing concentrates the mind quite like staring down the wrong end of a barrel.”
One other consequence of these policies is that more and more people would conclude that Canada is no longer a country worth living in and may leave. This has begun to happen already, as recent chatter on social media and even reports in the mainstream media indicate. However, the process had begun about a year ago, which I observed and commented on in three articles: in May 2021 (‘Taking Flight’), February 2022 (‘Canada’s Double Refugees’) and earlier this month (‘Two-Way Exodus’). Additionally, CTV News reported on March 25 that “Young immigrants may leave Canada due to high cost of living: survey”. The report says that 30% of new Canadians in the 18-34 age group, and 23% of university educated new Canadians said that they are likely to move to another country in the next two years.
In summary, therefore, multi-generational (the so-called ‘old stock’) Canadians, refugees and newly arrived young Canadians with good education have separately come to the same conclusion – that Canada doesn’t offer them a good future. This has a direct impact on the overall economy and thereby the tax revenues of the government. In light of the humongous debt that the governments (federal as well as provincial) have taken on in the wake of Covid, the preceding point acquires pivotal importance.
Of course, at the political level, the answer to depopulation of Canada via outward immigration is to further jack up inward immigration. There is still a huge appetite for immigrating to Canada in many countries, so achieving any number of inward immigrants is not difficult. But there are two factors to consider here: (a) the idea that Canada is not a worthwhile destination may spread to those countries (aided by the new Canadians who are leaving and who may let people in their country of origin know why they made that decision), and (b) the new arrivals under the increased immigration quotas would likely come to the same conclusion as the people leaving now have come to.
The long and short of this is that in their effort to secure the immediate survival of their government, the Liberal party may have put its long-term prospects in peril; their present ‘victory’ is a Pyrrhic one. Furthermore, at some point, the pendulum of the public mood will swing. In that scenario, any politician or party (we may reasonably expect that it would be someone from the broader conservative camp) who promises to undo / roll back the policies that are being (or likely to be) implemented under the LPC-NDP combo is likely to gain power and stay elected for quite a while.
THE FATE OF GRASS
From the above discussion, it would be somewhat clear as to what kind of damage the people of Canada would suffer. Although I have focused on the damages that these two ‘partners’ are likely to inflict on themselves, as the East African saying goes (which I kept hearing often when I lived in Kenya), “When two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers the most”. The gradual (or it may even be not-so-gradual) choking of economic prospects and personal freedoms would severely impact the well-being of those who choose to stay here or may be unable to leave. To elaborate a bit on the economic side, a combination of Canada being unattractive for business investment for a host of reasons and ever-rising burden of taxes and ever-escalating cost of living will create economic stagnation for a very large number of people. To make matters more suffocating, expressing their frustration may bring on them the wrath of the government via the proposed legislation on ‘hate speech’, ‘misinformation’, ‘disinformation’ etc.
The current scenario in Canada reminds me a lot of the Indian one in the 1970’s: weak economic growth coupled with an obsessive focus on ideological issues, at the expense of the material well-being of people. Subscribing to lofty-sounding ideas that supposedly made us better people and ours a finer society was the reigning priority. In reality, that ideology was but a cover for the government’s failures in various aspects of governance or meant to expand the powers of the government. One person who saw clearly the future that was in store for the people of India was the principal of a school in my town, Reverend Father Charles Gomes. What he said in Gujarati (he could speak in 14 languages) would perhaps be offensive to the Canadian ear, but the gist of it was that only unproductive people would be left in India at one point – everyone who had merit and possessed productivity would fly off to places where those traits were valued and rewarded. One decade later, his words came true – the first large waves of people immigrating out of India began. At the time, it was mostly very well-educated people who could expect to get a visa for one of the more developed countries. Now, of course, we have substantially diluted our criteria / standards for accepting immigrants into Canada. Combined with the exodus of meritorious Canadians to other countries, we are in a real danger of becoming the kind of Third World country that India was in the 1970’s. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, it will be because the ill-advised partnership between the LPC and NDP will have doomed the partnership between Canadians and their government.