Martyn Brown: A progressive coalition government, as Jagmeet Singh suggests? Fat chance, Canada

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      "We're going to fight a Conservative government, gonna fight it all the way,"  the NDP’s would-be prime minister, Jagmeet Singh vowed again on Sunday, in Surrey. "So we're ready to do whatever it takes."

      A progressive coalition government, perhaps, comprising the Liberals, the Greens, his party, and maybe others?

      "Oh absolutely, because we're not going to support a Conservative government."

      So many questions, so little time.

      What power would Singh have to even “negotiate” such an arrangement, in any scenario where the Liberals win the most seats, but not a majority?

      Trudeau already knows that he can take the NDP’s support for granted, given Singh’s commitment to do “whatever it takes” to keep the Tories out of power.

      If Trudeau wins a plurality, but not a majority, he won’t have any interest or need to negotiate power-sharing with any party, save and except if Yves-François Blanchet’s Bloc Québécois holds the balance of power.

      A chess player Singh never was nor will be—however likable and inspiring he surely otherwise is as a vintage party leader in upstart “new deal” appeal. 

      Clearly, the only scenario that now remotely invites the prospect of a progressive coalition government is one that finds Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives holding the most seats, but not a majority. 

      What concessions might Trudeau be prepared to make to desperately cling to power in that instance, similar to Christy Clark’s failed efforts to form a minority government with the support of the three B.C. Green MLAs?

      After all, she was prepared to sell out virtually everything her party ran on and stood for in her pathetic bid to remain in power. If anything, Trudeau is even less principled, if that’s possible, and I wouldn’t put anything past him in selling out his party to keep his job.

      Therein lies the intuitive appeal to progressives of Singh’s coalition conjecture—and equally, the innate danger it poses to right-leaning Liberals who now have new cause for concern.

      What impact will Singh’s coalition speculation gambit have on all those soft Liberal supporters, who are actually scared to death of the NDP/Green/Bloc tails wagging the government dog?

      I’m betting that Scheer couldn’t be happier, hoping that the NDP leader’s “ABC” (anything but Conservatives) coalition mission might be just what he needs to put his party over the top.

      Surely, his message in this last week of the campaign to all those parked-Liberal voters whose second choice is actually the Conservatives will be to vote for his party, to prevent the one thing those voters maybe fear the most. 

      Which is a coalition government that is even farther left than the government that Trudeau is now trying to buy with their tax dollars. A government that is already out-of-step with much of its traditional support base for being too keen to get in-step with the far-left that it can never win over for long as a centrist party.

      If Justin Trudeau agrees to a coalition government with the NDP, he'll chase so-called Blue Liberals into the arms of the Conservatives.
      Justin Trudeau

      Liberal economic values far from NDP's

      Never forget: the Liberals are Canada’s ultimate elitist “blueblood” party.

      It is the “ethically flexible” and “safe” haven for the semiprogressive urban wealthy types who want no truck or trade with the “fringe” parties that hope to target their privilege and capital.

      Their economic and fiscal values are more closely aligned with the Conservatives’, insofar as their own pocketbooks, personal, and corporate assets, and privilege dependent on the current distribution of wealth are concerned.

      And their support for social democratic values in respect of most environmental and societal concerns is “Liberal”—which is to say, “conservative” with less resistance to change and “progressive” with a decidedly small-p and more self-righteous delusion.

      Please, tell us more about your imagined progressive coalition, Mr. Singh. Inquiring minds want to know how it might work. 

      Might it just be some form of “confidence and supply agreement”, as the GreeNDP have in B.C., that formalizes the third parties’ time-stamped fealty to the Trudeau government, in exchange for delivering on some of their promised election goodies?

      If so, what would that entail?

      What are Singh’s “bottom lines” in addressing his six “urgent” priorities in throwing the NDP’s support to the Liberals, keeping Trudeau in power at all costs? 

      We know that electoral reform isn’t on that list, or stopping the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, or even the words “climate action”, as such.

      Not deal-breakers, apparently, in any of those imperatives.

      Confusing and disheartening, at the very least, for anyone hoping that some tangible action on those fronts might be central to the NDP’s demands in wielding the balance of power in some type of coalition arrangement. 

      What about the NDP’s pre-election posturing in support of an independent public inquiry on Trudeau’s illegal political interference with the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin?

      Not a key priority, let alone a sine qua non for NDP participation in a Liberal coalition government.

      Never mind that the guy who Singh apparently hopes to again crown as prime minister in preventing Scheer from holding that office is a confirmed liar, repeat law-breaker and ethical fraud. Set aside the fact that he is actively frustrating the RCMP’s examination into whether his own actions might constitute a criminal obstruction of justice.

      Not a priority for Singh, it seems—or for Elizabeth May, for that matter.

      Or perhaps Singh is imagining that a new Liberal leader might be part of the deal, in the unlikely event that Trudeau’s own party turns on him if Scheer wins the most seats.

      Is that open to negotiation, Jagmeet, many Liberals probably now want to know? And how might your own status factor into that equation, if at all?

      Perhaps you are dreaming that you might how somehow become the honest broker-prime minister that Scheer could never be?

      We have seen how third-party leaders in other countries have become their coalition governments’ saw-off choices in multi-party minority scenarios.

      Prime Minister Singh? Has a nice ring.

      But if not you, then who, save and except Prime Minister Blackface?

      Chrystia Freeland, perhaps? Someone chosen via secret ballots by the MPs of all the parties who hope to deliver such Responsible Government and control the balance of power?

      Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet like might to have a say in any negotiations over a coalition government.

      Bloc becomes big question mark

      Might that coalition include some seats at the cabinet table for Yves-François Blanchet’s Bloc Québécois, whose vision for a more “progressive” Canada starts with Quebec sovereignty?

      What concessions might Singh allow the separatists to squeeze out of his would-be Orange, Red, and Green rainbow allies, in conspiring to withhold power from Scheer’s Blue Meanies?

      A firm commitment to not challenge Quebec’s racist Bill 21 ever in court? A joint commitment by all of those progressive participants to not challenge any “values test” that Quebec might institute in determining who can immigrate to Canada through its borders? Some redesign of the equalization system, perhaps, as the Bloc proposes, tied to each province’s relative level of carbon emissions?

      Questions, questions. All now fairly put to Jagmeet Singh and his would-be coalition partners.

      What of Jody Wilson-Raybould and/or Jane Philpott? Would either of them be fit to be queened as Prime Minister in Jagmeet’s ABC coalition?

      And for that matter, why on Earth do none of Singh’s “urgent” priorities for a coalition include even a passing reference to Indigenous rights?

      When push comes to shove, Singh seems too willing to shove Indigenous voters’ imperatives aside.

      Enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples in law, as the NDP so strongly advocated in opposition? Not an urgent priority, it would appear.

      I could go on, but like so many other quantifiable concerns, it is not a deal-breaker in Singh’s newly stated openness to a progressive coalition government.

      Yet, his real goal is clear enough, as he said in this tweet.

      Funny, because at the same time as Singh is pleading with Canadians to not be scared into voting for the Liberals to avoid splitting the progressive vote and inadvertently electing a Conservative government, his party is using precisely that same argument to scare progressive voters away from casting their lots with the Greens. 

      The NDP has even called on former NDP star MP Nathan Cullen to use that ruse to frighten people away from abandoning the NDP in favour of the Greens on southern Vancouver Island. He probably would have been in Singh’s shoes now if he had run for the party leadership.

      All five seats from Victoria to Nanaimo are now in jeopardy of going Green, with Elizabeth May’s party now threatening to bump off the NDP, which won four of those seats in 2015. 

      Choose the orange door out of fear of the blue door, is Singh’s argument to those would-be Green voters in that region.

      Don’t split the progressive vote by going Green and electing the Conservatives, is the NDP’s rallying cry in the seats it holds.

      Never mentioning that in 2011, Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands) became Canada’s first elected Green MP only by defeating a guy who had held that seat since 1997 for the Conservatives, the Alliance Party, and the Reform Party, which also won that seat in 1993.

      Shudder the thought that the Greens could sweep aside the NDP’s previous stranglehold on Vancouver Island, as Paul Manley did, by defeating the NDP’s candidate in the Nanaimo byelection last spring.

      The point of that little history lesson, apart from highlighting Singh’s hypocrisy on vote-splitting?

      It is to remind all progressives of this basic truth: there’s dreaming big and there’s dreaming BIG “to demand better from Ottawa, not settle for less”, by breaking the mainstream parties’ lock on power.

      You might say, it’s Elizabeth May’s Greens who are really the BIG dreamers, in bold, block caps. Certainly their platform is the most ambitious in scope and content.

      Like Singh’s tweeted appeal, they, too, are asking progressives to vote out of confidence and conviction, not fear, for something different and better.

      But the fact is, the Greens are the only party that is demanding revolutionary action to combat the climate crisis as its ultimate line in the sand for forming a minority government.

      Elizabeth May's top priority is ensuring that Canada does what's necessary to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 C since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

      Will TMX be built under Singh's coalition?

      Only May’s Green party is resolutely against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which Singh now seems prepared to grudgingly accept in negotiating a minority coalition government with Trudeau’s Liberals.

      Not surprising, perhaps, however opposed to that project Singh might now be.

      Let’s remember, he refused to take a hard line against the TMX in running for the NDP leadership as some other candidates did. For months after his win, including in his 2018 party convention speech, he dared not stake his flag firmly against that pipeline, for fear of alienating then-Alberta NDP premier Rachel Notley.

      What are progressives to make of this? I mean, besides not placing too much stock in the unwavering depth of Singh’s commitments.

      What trade-offs would he entertain in respect of the NDP’s “commitments” on climate action, when that imperative barely made the cut in his oblique and vague reference to reducing emissions as one of his six “urgent” priorities for sharing power?

      Only the Green party has gone all-in on rapidly shifting Canada away from its reliance on fossil fuels as a critical component of its climate action plan.

      For May, that also means fighting fracking, stopping the massive Canada LNG project, and creating a climate “war cabinet” that is focused like a laser on replacing oil sands production with renewable energy.

      It means “passing a Climate Change Act requiring a 60 per cent cut in climate-changing emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, reaching net zero in 2050.” No ifs, ands, or buts.

      Whether that’s economically wise or politically doable is debatable. But it’s also non-negotiable, as her party’s price of power for any progressive government.

      For as far as May’s Greens are concerned, the only thing we should fear is fear itself, as it were, if we are to have any hope of saving our planet and life on Earth as we know it from catastrophic human-induced global warming.

      Fighting to advance that BIG dream in substance is the Greens’ top cause célèbre, in contrast to Singh's priorities.

      Would Singh accept May’s nonnegotiable climate targets and strategies to work “cooperatively” with her in forming a coalition government? Would Trudeau?

      Fat chance. Which is why all this talk about a coalition government is mostly hot air, if it extends to the Green party’s formal participation, if we can take May’s word at face value.

      Personally, I think that Singh likely got caught off-guard when he was asked about the prospect of a coalition government and he blurted out an answer without properly thinking through its strategic implications.

      It was a rookie error that speaks volumes about his tendency to say what he thinks might please, rather than what needs to be said. It’s a fundamental question that he should have anticipated from before he was even chosen to lead his party. 

      As I have previously written, Singh was strategically foolish to essentially stake his flag with Trudeau’s lot, come what may, and so surrender his negotiating leverage.

      However much that mistake ultimately comes back to haunt him and the NDP in the event of a minority government, it might well serve his immediate partisan interest in making a minority government more likely.

      Time will tell whether he put the greater progressive game in check—or worse, checkmate.

      The answer to that lies in the extent to which Singh’s progressive coalition gambit also serves to scare enough swing Liberals back into Scheer’s Conservative camp as the safest means to prevent it from ever materializing. 

      “Our focus is on electing a progressive government, not a progressive opposition, and ensuring that we stop Conservative cuts,” Trudeau has so far said in response.

      Right, Justin.

      But now that Singh’s cat is out of the bag, screeching like a demon and scratching with all its might to run loose, that answer won’t cut it.

      Nor will it contain that furious beast of uncertainty that Singh has unleashed on Canada’s progressives with such hypocritical indifference, seemingly oblivious to how it might ultimately serve to undermine his ostensible collective long-term mission.  

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at