Hope and optimism shines through the grey fog of Ottawa politics

March 30, 2022

By Bea Bruske, as published in The Hill Times

We saw a refreshing ray of hope shine through the grey fog of Ottawa politics this week.

Watching Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau announce their Confidence-and-Supply agreement this week was a welcome antidote to the noxious partisan rhetoric of recent weeks and months.

I felt like I could almost see Jack Layton smiling down on them.

Jack Layton raised the bar on what Canadians could expect from political leaders. Not that he wasn’t a partisan actor and game for a fight. But he was always on the lookout for opportunities to get things done. During a time of intensely growing divisions and partisanship, Jack remained committed to delivering for people, even when it put the NDP’s electoral prospects at risk.

It was in that spirit the NDP worked with the Liberal government of Paul Martin, at some political risk, because they had an opportunity to get $4.5 billion investments in affordable housing, education and support for Indigenous communities into the 2005 budget.

While Jack may have introduced this collaborative approach to politics to a new generation, making minority parliaments work to achieve major positive change has long been a proud Canadian tradition. Historically, New Democrats worked with Liberal governments to create Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, the 40-hour workweek, affordable housing and equal marriage.

In the 1920’s, J.S. Woodworth pushed Mackenzie King to establish a public pension plan and began building Canada’s social safety net. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Tommy Douglas and David Lewis worked with Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau on establishing CPP, national affordable housing and, of course, Canada’s cherished public health care system. Today’s confidence-and-supply agreement has the potential to produce similar historic results and help build a fairer and more equal Canada.

While corrosive Conservative partisanship looks to frustrate Parliamentary progress at every turn, Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau really did something surprising last week. They chose hope over cynicism, and optimism over distrust. They showed the strength of our democracy.

Between them, they earned 50.4% of the popular vote and hold 54.4% of the seats in the House of Commons. They have taken the mandates Canadians handed them and worked to find common ground on policies to get through Parliament.

While I am sure Ottawa pundits will debate the political winners and losers of this for years to come, let’s think about what this agreement really means for Canadians.

Low-income kids under 12, who are not now covered, will have access to Dentalcare – this year. By 2025, Canada’s new dentalcare program will cover everyone making less than $90,000 a year. Millions of people will benefit.

By 2025, Canada will have pharmacare with a national formulary for essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan in place. Many Canadians will no longer be forced to choose between buying food or paying for their medicines.

An immediate increase health funding will mean more nurses and doctors, better mental health support, and improved health outcomes.

With budgets stretched by the rising cost of living, vital progress on affordable housing, helping renters and new home buyers, delivers real relief for families that need it now more than ever.

Enshrining national Early Learning and Childcare will protect long-term funding for affordable public child care spaces. For parents, and especially women who were pushed to the economic sidelines by the pandemic, this is critical.

For Canada’s unions, this agreement means a better deal for workers with long fought for anti-scab legislation, the implementation of paid sick days for federally regulated workers and Just Transition legislation, so we can tackle change while leaving no workers behind.

Jagmeet Singh is not naïve. I’m sure he knows his political future now rests on getting the government to implement these policies. Some see that as a risky proposition politically.

Fortunately, Mr. Singh and Mr. Trudeau chose to put people before politics and, in true Canadian style, refused to let go of an opportunity to deliver help to people who need it.

We have a generational opportunity in front of us and we must ensure the parties implement the commitments in this agreement. Canadians, sick of the toxic politics of obstruction, will welcome the sight of our political leaders working together to deliver something positive, for a change.

Bea Bruske is president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow her on Twitter @PresidentCLC

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