Conservative interim leader accuses Liberals of 'power grab' after Trudeau makes a deal with the NDP
Prime minister has secured NDP support for major government initiatives until 2025
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen came out swinging Tuesday against a new agreement that will see the NDP prop up the Liberal government until 2025, calling the pact a "desperate" attempt by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to "cling to power."
Speaking to reporters after Trudeau formally announced the confidence-and-supply agreement, Bergen said the deal effectively hands the reins of government to the "socialist" NDP. She warned that could mean a massive expansion of government and tax hikes to pay for billions of dollars in new spending on promised social programs.
Bergen also said a federal government with a more leftist bent could imperil some Canadian jobs in the natural resources sector.
Invoking the NDP's past opposition to major energy projects like crude oil pipelines, further expansion of the oilsands and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, Bergen said a Liberal government backed by the New Democrats will lead to the "decimation of Canadian oil and gas."
Trudeau sought to assure voters earlier Tuesday that the NDP will not have a "veto" over government priorities and that the agreement will be focused on areas where the two parties' policy proposals overlap. Bergen countered by saying "the NDP are in charge."
"We're fighting an NDP-Liberal majority government right now," she added. "The NDP and the Liberals were meeting in secret and they cooked up a backroom deal that will see Justin Trudeau get the majority power that he tried desperately to get last fall and failed to get."
WATCH: Opposition leader reacts to new NDP-Liberal agreement
The Liberal-NDP agreement is not a coalition — no NDP MP will be elevated to cabinet. Trudeau said there will be areas of disagreement and the two parties aren't necessarily expected to move in lockstep on every issue before Parliament.
The agreement will be similar to the one the NDP and Greens in B.C. negotiated after the 2017 provincial election returned a hung Parliament. The Greens promised stability in exchange for action on some of its priorities, such as climate change and rent relief.
According to the text of the agreement — Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement — the two parties say they are partnering now in "highly uncertain and difficult times" to get legislation through the House of Commons quickly and to tamp down on "hyper-partisanship."
The parties say that together they will implement some sort of national dental care program for impoverished children, youth and seniors, continue "progress toward a universal national pharmacare program," invest more money in primary health care services, tackle the housing affordability crisis by building more homes, and pursue aggressive action against climate change to "further accelerate the trajectory to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050."
The two parties also say they will pursue higher taxes on banks, introduce about 10 paid sick days a year for federally regulated workers and table legislation to ban "scabs" — replacement workers hired when a union employer locks out employees or when employees go on strike. The parties also said they're determined to make voting easier by expanding federal election voting to three days.
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirms agreement with NDP
Bergen said Trudeau secured this deal — which will see the NDP vote in favour of Liberal government confidence measures like budgets for three years — because he wants to reach the 10-year mark as prime minister. First elected in 2015, Trudeau will have been in office for a decade if the pact holds until the next planned election in October 2025.
"This is nothing more than a Justin Trudeau power grab. He is desperately clinging to power. He continues to put his personal pride before the interests of Canadians," she said.
Bergen said the 82 per cent of Canadians who didn't vote for the NDP in the last election should be worried now that some New Democrat policies are being prioritized by Ottawa.
"Some Liberals have told me they're very worried about the economic direction under the Justin Trudeau government," she said. "I can't imagine how they're feeling now that they have a Jagmeet Singh-led government in charge."
To secure the deal, Trudeau promised the NDP that his government would move forward on some sort of national dental care program.
The NDP's 2021 election platform called for the federal government to "incorporate universal dental care into Canada's public health system" and to "immediately deliver dental care coverage for people who don't have any private insurance." The platform was silent on how this program would be implemented. Trudeau said Tuesday the government will first work this year to expand access to dental care for children under the age of 12.
Bergen said the Conservatives have no interest in voting for such a program, arguing that most Canadians already have access to dental care through private workplace insurance plans. She said many provinces already have programs in place to cover the cost of dentistry for low-income families.
Conservative MP Gerard Deltell, who often speaks for the party in French on Quebec-related matters, said the NDP-Liberal pact will lead to "a more centralizing government and one that spends more" — raising red flags about a more activist government encroaching on provincial jurisdiction like health care.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the frontrunner in the race to replace Erin O'Toole as permanent leader of the party, was equally scathing in his criticism of the proposed Liberal-NDP agreement.
"Obviously, they have agreed to a radical and extreme agenda to expand the power of government by taking away the freedoms of the people," Poilievre said in a social media post. He urged his supporters to "take action" and "help me fight against the coalition."
Poilievre said that, if he's elected leader, he'd try to convince backbench Liberal MPs who may be opposed to this deal to bring forward a non-confidence motion to bring down the government before the confidence agreement expires in 2025.
Poilievre said that, as one of the few Conservative leadership contenders with a seat in the Commons, he's best placed to take the fight to Trudeau and Singh in Parliament.
"The news might seem terrible but I'm here today with a message of hope: with a strong Conservative leader who knows how to win the debate and the procedural contests on the floor of the House of Commons, we can push back hard on this coalition attack on our freedom and the country," he said.
Poilievre's main opponent, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, said this "coalition" is "further proof that the Trudeau Liberals govern for themselves — not for Canadians.
"They will stop at nothing to keep power, even if it means buying themselves a majority," Charest said in a statement. "Canadians deserve adult leadership, not juvenile political theatre."
The Liberal-NDP deal, which effectively pushes off the next election until mid-decade, could alter the dynamics of the Conservative leadership race.
Some of the entrants may have jumped into the race expecting an electoral contest in relatively short order: a minority government usually lasts no more than two years. The next Conservative leader likely will have to spend a longer period on the opposition benches before challenging the Liberals for power.
But a longer window also could give the new leader more time to connect with Canadians ahead of a federal vote. O'Toole had just one year between his leadership victory and a general election. A post-election report found most Canadians didn't really know the former RCAF navigator and lawyer all that well.
With the government's fate all but secured for the next three years, it may also be less important to Conservative Party members to pick a leader who already has a seat in the Commons.