Jagmeet Singh insists that the New Democratic Party (NDP) has never had so much influence in the federal Parliament. The NDP leader ultimately holds the fate of Justin Trudeau’s minority government in his hands. If he withdrew his confidence in the Prime Minister, the latter could eventually fall in the wake of allegations of foreign interference. But this power, Mr. Singh obviously does not want to take advantage of it. A public inquiry, he wants it. But not at all costs.
The leader of the NDP has been insisting for a week that he will use “all the tools [sa] disposition to call for a public inquiry”. All but one.
The NDP presented a motion on Tuesday calling for such an inquiry to be held quickly and for the departure of the government’s special rapporteur, David Johnston. Mr. Singh, however, declines to jeopardize his alliance with the Liberal government, if Mr. Trudeau persists in refusing to listen to this demand hammered at him in unison by all the opposition parties.
Conservatives and Bloc members have been denouncing for two months the appointment of Mr. Johnston, who has just ruled that a public inquiry into allegations of interference by the Beijing regime would be useless. Jagmeet Singh now agrees, after it was revealed that an adviser to Mr Johnston, lawyer Sheila Block, has allegedly paid more than $7,500 to the Liberal Party since 2006.
However, he is not ready to brandish the ultimate threat and withdraw his support from the government. Yet his own MP, Jenny Kwan, has emerged as a target for Beijing, as have conservatives Michael Chong and Erin O’Toole. Mme Kwan even said she was “dismayed”, alongside her leader, that a public inquiry had not been launched.
Jagmeet Singh, he prefers to politely ask for one while protecting the collaboration agreement which provides that the Liberals implement a series of public policies dear to the NDP, such as dental insurance. New Democrats also say it would be illogical to call an election in the midst of a crisis over foreign interference threatening precisely this electoral process.
Mr Singh would not, however, be the one to plunge the country into an election campaign. It would simply force the minority government to govern in this way and take note of the pressure from the opposition parties.
Notwithstanding, the NDP refuses to see it as a risky gamble. Instead, he hopes to take advantage of the gains taken from the Liberals in the next election.
Because whatever Jagmeet Singh says, his position is not devoid of political considerations.
From partisanship to the NDP too
Behind the scenes, New Democrats believe that the issue of Chinese interference — although it has serious consequences for democracy — is not at the forefront of the concerns of its constituents. “There are so many worrisome things for Canadians right now that I don’t know if threatening to call an election is the right thing to do,” opined a New Democrat source this week, referring to the cost of living, the climate change or the war in Ukraine.
Yet Jagmeet Singh has already been threatening to tear up the deal for a year — eager for dental insurance and worried about the crisis afflicting provincial health care systems.
The covenant is therefore not sacrosanct. The NDP has also forced the Liberals to back down on the assault weapons ban.
“There are more profitable issues, if the NDP wanted to withdraw its support from the government,” explains Mr. Singh’s former director of communications, Mélanie Richer, who is now at Earnscliffe. “Issues that have more impact in the lives of New Democrat voters or on which these citizens already trust the NDP. The party has little chance, however, of converting voters by convincing them that it would be in the best position to crack down on China and counter the interference of foreign regimes.
The alliance also allows the NDP to try to correct its credibility deficit with the electorate. “There is a risk but also a benefit, beyond the gains for citizens. They are important. But from a political point of view, the agreement also serves to demonstrate that the NDP can govern,” underlines Mélanie Richer. All the more reason, therefore, for it to last as long as possible.
The polls also help to explain this balancing act in which Jagmeet Singh indulges.
New Democrats are the most divided on the need for a public inquiry (37% in favor, 39% in disagreement, according to an Angus Reid poll last week). And the most numerous, among the supporters of the four main federal parties, to have no opinion on the question (24%). They are also the least likely to be convinced that the Chinese regime tried to interfere in the Canadian elections (42%) and the most likely, again, to have no opinion.
“The math probably isn’t worth it for the NDP to tear up the deal for a public inquiry into an issue that a significant portion of their voter base doesn’t even know about,” said Angus’ president. Reid, Shachi Kurl. Especially since the question of electoral interference is more nuanced and less easy to grasp than previous scandals, she adds.
Jagmeet Singh is not wrong when he deplores that this crisis of confidence of Canadians in the electoral system is tinged with partisanship.
His counterparts Pierre Poilievre and Yves-François Blanchet refuse to consult Mr. Johnston’s confidential report and the secret documents accompanying it, saying that they refuse to be muzzled but ignoring by the very fact that the deputies targeted by the interference were able to continue to denounce these actions publicly. Justin Trudeau persists in relying on the Johnston report and criticizing the two opposition leaders for rejecting its recommendations.
But despite his toga effects, claiming to want to support citizens above all else, if the New Democrat leader does not tear his proverbial shirt and his alliance with the Trudeau government, it is because he too is ultimately guided by his partisan interests.