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NDP is certain to tire of propping up Trudeau’s Liberals

To impose his will on the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mortgaged the life expectancy of his minority government.

And while he has had his way with the opposition majority in the short term, only time will tell whether the gamble was really worth it.

What is undeniable is that the minority government has put an uncommon amount of political capital on the line merely to avoid the scrutiny of a parliamentary committee.

It is not as if, by defeating a Conservative motion designed to create a special committee devoted to the alleged ethical breaches of the government, the Liberals had liberated themselves from the scrutiny of the opposition majority.

But as of now, the reservoir of opposition good will that a hung Parliament by necessity runs on is just about running on empty.

With nothing to show for having supported the government this week, the NDP will find it harder, going forward, to continue to step up to the Liberal plate.

It was the second time in a month that the New Democrats ensured the survival of the government.

But in sharp contrast with the previous vote that has seen Jagmeet Singh claim some wins on the policy front in exchange for his party’s support of the throne speech, the NDP leader emerged from the latest parliamentary cliffhanger empty-handed.

In essence, the Liberals put an election knife to the throat of the New Democrats.

Of all the parties in the House of Commons, there is no doubt that the NDP has the most reasons to avoid a quick return to the hustings. That’s not just because its coffers are far from full.

In an election held this week, the New Democrats would have been lucky to keep to the 24 seats they currently hold. And they might have lost whatever leverage the minority situation of the government affords them.

But be that as it may, there will come a time when extending the life of the current Parliament to avoid an election will become too much of a self-defeating proposition for Singh and his caucus.

As a result of this week’s episode, that time could be upon them sooner, rather than later. Even before the latest Liberal show of force, Singh’s co-operative approach was reaping diminishing returns for his party.

For the most part, the NDP decision to support the throne speech elicited positive reviews, but those did not translate into a much-needed boost in voting intentions.

According to the latest Nanos poll, the party has instead been leaking support to the Liberals since the House reopened last month.

The cohort of New Democrat sympathizers is also split almost down the middle on the notion of a snap federal election.

An Abacus poll published hours before the confidence vote reported that almost half of those who voted for the NDP last year would have wanted Singh to join the other parties in bringing down the government.

Singh’s predicament is one Jack Layton was familiar with. The last time the NDP held the balance of power across from a minority Liberal government, Paul Martin was prime minister.

In contrast with Trudeau this week, Martin bent over backwards to keep the NDP onside. He even rewrote the government’s 2005 budget to suit Layton.

But the NDP never had the opportunity to taste the fruits of its labour. Later that same year, Layton still joined with the other opposition leaders to defeat the Liberal government over the sponsorship scandal. That paved the way to a Conservative decade in power.

If history repeats itself and pressure on Singh to part ways with the government becomes irresistible, the rest of the life of this Parliament will be counted in months, not years.

That may suit the Liberals just fine. It is possible – as the opposition believes and most observers suspect – that Trudeau’s real end game is to provoke an election while the polls show the Liberals to be in a position of relative strength.

For all the talk about the pandemic standing in the way of an election campaign, sending their provinces to the polls so as to cash in the political chips accumulated over the management of the first COVID-19 phase worked out rather well for the incumbents in New Brunswick and British Columbia.

Canadians will not have to wait long before they are offered more insights into the Liberals’ electoral thinking.

It will be interesting to see how much effort the government puts into securing opposition support in general and NDP support in particular for a fiscal update expected next month.

Looking at that update and the confidence vote that will likely follow, it is far from certain that a replay of last week’s hardball Liberal tactics would result in the same outcome.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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