In ‘backdoor socialism’ we trust?

Mar 23, 2022
NDP’s Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

OTTAWA—Seems like I just dislodged myself enough from Candice Bergen’s socialist backdoor to realize that something just shifted in Canadian politics—and not soon enough.

Late Monday night, CBC reported that the Liberals and the NDP entered into a supply and confidence agreement until 2025. What this means is that the NDP will support the Liberals in confidence motions and the next four budgets. Given that we’re still in a minority Parliament, ostensibly in matters of parliamentary voting, the Liberals will have a backdoor socialist lover to dance with.

The basis of the Westminster parliamentary system is that of confidence. The ruling party must maintain confidence in the lower House to keep ruling. If the party has a majority, this is not an issue, but in a minority Parliament, it introduces precarity for the ruling party. And that’s where the Liberals are—at precarity; Canadians no longer have as much confidence in the government. Justin Trudeau is no longer the internet’s favourite boyfriend, rather his poll numbers have been sinking since he was re-elected as prime minister in September of last year. “Nearly half of Canadians—48 per cent—’think the prime minister has demonstrated that he is not up to the job of being prime minister,’” according to American political journalism website Washington Free Beacon, citing an early February Maru Group poll. “About a third blame Trudeau the most for inciting and escalating the truckers’ protests. Only 16 per cent of voters approve of his handling of the protests.” In addition, protracted conflicts tend to deliver voter malaise as time goes on, especially as we head into vacation season and gas prices become more of an issue. After two and a half years of a taxing pandemic, people want to live. Unfortunately, it’s way more expensive to do so. A forthcoming budget that will increase military spending on the backs of essential workers who have buoyed this economy during the pandemic looks like a Conservative one without the necessary social supports.

Enter the NDP.

Previously, I questioned why the NDP exists. I wrote: “Fauxgressives with zero ambition will never deliver the systemic change that is necessary in this country, so I wish they would stop wasting my time.” I didn’t think the NDP did enough to close the inequity gaps based on race, gender, and class that were revealed by the pandemic. This agreement does that—it begins to tackle the inequities in health, stopping short of tackling the inequities present in the social determinants of health and universal coverage. The dental plan is still means tested, which is problematic in an economic sense. As I wrote in this paper nearly two years ago, the National Affairs journal notes: “Means-tested benefits have the advantage of being more narrowly targeted, and therefore less costly, than universal benefits. One disadvantage, however, is that a means-tested benefit imposes an implicit marginal tax on people with earnings close to the income level at which the benefit phases out.” One step at a time, I guess. The NDP believes it can get something done for the marginalized of this country, and if that’s its goal, I can’t hate on it. Additionally, the NDP got the Liberals to ostensibly support and implement two measures the Liberals had previously voted against. Last year, the Liberals voted down Bill C-213, the Canada Pharmacare Act, by a vote of 295-32, as reported by HuffPost, and a motion on dental care, according to iPolitics. However, as history has shown, when it comes time to take credit, the Liberals usually drown out their junior partner.

This looks like a good thing for Canadians. Unless you’re a Conservative.

Candice Bergen memed herself into internet infamy with the phrase “backdoor socialism.” Yes, please. The official Conservative Party response to this newsy news was that this deal “is little more than backdoor socialism. Trudeau is truly polarizing politics, which is what he likes.” Is he, though? Trudeau has reached across the aisle, built bridges, and made a deal with another party that benefits the most vulnerable of us all at a time when they need it the most. Or at least that’s what the inevitable photo-op and then subsequent infomercial that Trudeau will release will communicate. This deal makes the NDP and Liberals look like the adults in the room; the Conservatives look like temperamental teenagers trying to change their curfew time—belligerent. With this deal, Trudeau is no longer the divisive one.

The agreement also allows two leaders who are looking a little long in the tooth to gracefully exit politics. Trudeau can go on an Obama-inspired book tour and Singh can accept as many bougie rocking chairs as he wants. The coronation of Chrystia Freeland and the transition of leadership to her can happen smoothly. But the real winners are people like this tweeter who replied to me: “This is why I am in tears. As a single mom often with no extended health-care plan, dental and pharmaceuticals were always such a struggle. I have so many friends who struggle and suffer with dental issues because they simply can’t afford care. God, I hope this is real.”

Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.