That Liberal-NDP deal made Parliament more predictable — but not more boring

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That Liberal-NDP deal made Parliament more predictable — but not more boring

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The confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and NDP — now two months old — has brought a certain amount of predictability to Parliament. The institution is no longer dominated by questions about whether an election might be triggered by whichever bill happens to be in front of MPs at the moment.

But that predictability shouldn’t be overstated. Interesting things still happen in the Commons from time to time.

As one might expect, the Liberals and New Democrats have so far voted together to advance a half-dozen government bills. They include legislation to implement last fall’s economic update and this spring’s budget (C-8 and C-19), two supply bills to fund the government (C-15 and C-16), a bill to implement sentencing reform (C-5) and the Online Streaming Act (C-11).

C-14, which amends the formula for allotting seats in the House of Commons, also passed second reading but without a recorded vote.

But the two parties also haven’t been entirely alone when voting in favour of legislation. The Bloc Québécois voted in favour of C-5, C-11, C-15, C-16 and C-19, but against C-8. The two Green MPs have voted for C-5, C-8, C-11, C-15 and C-16, but against C-19. 

Where the Liberals and New Democrats have been (almost) entirely alone is on the use of time allocation to bring debate to a close. As the government and Official Opposition battle over precious parliamentary time — the Liberals trying to keep things moving, the Conservatives trying to throw up obstacles — Liberal and NDP MPs have voted together to use time allocation to end debate on five government bills. On three occasions, they have been joined by Green MP Mike Morrice.

On opposition proposals, things get interesting

But while the Liberal-NDP deal has brought stability to the legislative agenda, its reach does not extend into opposition motions and private members’ bills. In those areas, the common ground is constantly shifting.

In late March and early April, for instance, the Liberals, Bloc Québécois, NDP and Greens voted together against three Conservative motions — one that called for the budget to contain no new tax increases, one that called for a temporary reduction in the gas tax and one that called for an end to all vaccine mandates.

But when the Conservatives put forward a motion calling on the government to raise defence spending to two per cent of GDP — in line with NATO’s target — it passed overwhelmingly, with Liberals and the Bloc voting in favour. The NDP and Greens voted against. (Such motions are non-binding.)

MPs stand for a moment of silence in commemoration of D-Day in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 6, 2019. The Commons rejected a motion to scrap the reading of a prayer at the opening of each day’s sitting of Parliament. (The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand)

Earlier this month, Liberals (with the exception of Nathaniel Erskine-Smith) and Conservatives also voted together to defeat a motion from the Bloc Québécois that would have ended the daily practice of reading a prayer before the House begins its business. Bloc MPs, most NDP MPs and the two Green MPs voted in favour.

The Liberals also voted against an NDP motion that called on the government to prevent oil and gas companies from accessing a new tax credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage projects. With Conservatives also voting nay, the motion was defeated.

WATCH: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says deal with Liberals will hold them accountable

Public deal with Liberals will hold them accountable, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says

The New Democrats will back the Liberal minority government until June 2025 after signing a confidence-and-supply agreement. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talks to Rosemary Barton Live about what his party gets for supporting the government — and what was left out of the pact.

The Liberals and New Democrats probably welcome these opportunities to disagree. For the sake of the next election, they’ll both want to make it clear that they remain different parties with different preferences.

New Democrats also have twice used their votes to advance items the Liberals opposed.

First, NDP MPs supported a Conservative proposal earlier this month to reestablish a special committee on China. Two days later, NDP MPs voted in favour of a Conservative MP’s bill that would exempt propane and natural gas used for farming from the federal carbon tax (New Democrats had also voted for a previous version of the bill during the last Parliament).

Somewhere between a majority and a minority

These aren’t earth-shattering developments. But a majority Liberal government very likely would have been able to defeat the proposal for that special committee and that Conservative MP’s bill (though backbench revolts are still possible). And if everyone is still trying to understand what a confidence-and-supply agreement means in practice, these seem like notable events.

Parliament Hill isn’t functioning under the threat of blackmail that typically hangs over a minority Parliament. But these early returns suggest the Liberals and NDP won’t necessarily function as a de facto majority either — at least not on everything.

Instead, the 44th Parliament might end up establishing a middle path.