NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is laying down what he calls a “challenge” to the Liberal minority government.
But he cautioned he’s not yet drawing any lines in the sand in terms of what it will take to get his party’s support.
Singh spoke to reporters in Ottawa after his party’s first caucus meeting since the election, which saw them reduced from 39 seats to 24 and almost entirely locked out of Quebec save for a single seat. He used the scrum to single out two key points of concern he wants the government to address.
First, to support single-payer universal pharmacare.
Second, to back down from its appeal of the court ruling ordering it to compensate First Nations children and their families who were impacted by the underfunded child-welfare system in those communities.
“We think it’s important to show our priorities now so we can advance them,” said Singh, who was pressed repeatedly by reporters on whether these were requirements he was laying out for what the Liberals would need to do to get NDP support for their government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were reduced from majority to minority government in the election last week after they went from 177 seats in the House of Commons to 157, making them reliant on at least one other party’s support to govern.
While the Liberals pledged to hold talks with the provinces towards creating pharmacare, they did not promise in their platform to actually do it.
Trudeau has also insisted the government will continue appealing the ruling that ordered it to pay $2 billion in compensation to First Nations children and families separated by the child-welfare system, arguing the appeal is needed because the timeline imposed by the court is too tight.
When asked by reporters whether these were conditions the Liberals must meet to get NDP support for their legislative agenda, Singh said he would not deal with “hypothetical” situations about what he will and will not support until the Liberals put forward a throne speech that reveals their legislative priorities and plans.
“Our first step is to put out our challenge and put public pressure on this,” he said, noting no one from the Liberals have yet reached out to talk about potential areas of compromise and co-operation with his party.
“With every decision, we’re going to make out own assessment. We’ve made no decision about what will happen. What we’re doing today is announcing two steps that will advance our priorities.”
He was also asked about his objection to the Trans Mountain pipeline, a project Trudeau has vowed will go ahead.
Singh said he is “not going to negotiate lines in the sand in public like this.”
“I’ve been firmly against Trans Mountain and I will continue to be against it,” he said.
There have been questions asked about whether the NDP would be willing to topple the government if it were to lay out conditions and then have them not be met, given that the party’s financial filings show it is in debt, has struggled to raise money from its donors, took out a mortgage worth $12 million against its party headquarters ahead of the campaign, and couldn’t afford to charter a plane for it.
Singh was asked about that and brushed off the concerns, insisting his party is “in a good financial position” and is the only realistic partner for the Liberals if they want to implement programs and policy on a national scale rather than just in Quebec, where a Bloc Québécois surge ate into both Liberal and NDP support.
The Bloc won more than 30 seats — tripling its previous share — and leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has said his party’s guiding priority will be to act in the best interests of Quebec but has vowed to take a collaborative approach to working in a minority scenario.
That surge also came after Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer struggled in the French campaign debates and came under repeated attack over his socially conservative views on reproductive choice and same-sex marriage.
Scheer insisted in an interview with the Canadian Press following his election loss that someone can hold these views and still be prime minister.
Singh rejected that argument.
“I think it’s clear you can’t in Canada. Canada has made it very clear that as a country, we are strong on the fact a woman or a person has the right to choose,” he said.
“You cannot have Mr. Scheer’s beliefs and be prime minister of Canada.”