Photo By: Yusuf Belek from Unsplash
The latest news out of the federal political scene is all about the Liberal and NDP governance agreement, and rightfully so.
This is one of, if not the largest agreement of this kind ever signed on the federal stage. Even though the agreement itself is not my main focus today, I wanted to take a quick second to address some arguments from right wing reactionaries about this whole thing. Specifically, how it’s so anti-democratic and a sign of the end times as the communists take over.
While historically we may be an exception to the rule, the fact of the matter is that most comparable countries with parliamentary systems have taken on a far more cooperative approach to governing than we do. Given that many of them have a more democratically representative voting system, they very rarely see majority governments, and so they govern through the formation of grand coalitions, as well as some more subtle supply and confidence agreements like in this case. So when we look at the range of options available on how to form a stable government with a minority, this is one of the least transformative ways to go about that. In other words, it’s a very mild approach, about the furthest thing from a “communist takeover”.
Second, by no stretch of the imagination is this anti-democratic. In fact, it’s far more democratic than the alternative. From 2019 to 2021, the Liberals governed the country independently, despite not actually having a majority. While that job was made harder by that reality, the fact of the matter is that they went at it alone. What this means is that the party that received 33 per cent of the vote held virtually all of the power.
Now tell me, how is that more democratic than this agreement, wherein they will be working with another party that received nearly 18 per cent of the vote in the last election? Between the two of them, they represent just over 50 per cent of the voting public. To have the interests of a majority of the voting public represented by the government will make this one of the most democratically representative governments we’ve had in decades.
With all of that said, my response to all of these critiques from the right wing boils down to this: whether it’s about COVID-19 mandates or supply and confidence agreements, just because you don’t agree with what the government is doing, doesn’t make it evil, dictatorial, or communist.
Now, with that out of the way, my point; I’m hopeful (though not optimistic) that this agreement will last, as that would be a really promising sign that our political parties are finally looking to fight against our hyper partisan political culture rather than continue contributing to it. Instead of hammering home all of the minute differences between them, I find it incredibly refreshing to see them instead focus on delivering on actual policies and programs that the Canadian people want and that will be helpful to them.
The main program that excites me coming out of their negotiations is dental care. Expansion of our public healthcare system is critically important, especially given how much stress the pandemic put on our already strained resources. This appears to me to be a positive sign that the pandemic has woken some people up to the dangers caused by our slow march towards healthcare privatization and cost cutting.
At the same time as I heap praise on the Liberals and NDP for this proposed dental coverage plan, I do also think there is value in pointing out that it does not go far enough. Means-tested social programs are divisive by design, which undercuts their legitimacy in the eyes of the middle and upper classes who hold the lion’s share of political power, which ultimately leads to their underfunding and, in some instances, their cancellation. If we eliminated the need for private insurance to access dental care entirely, then opposing this proposal would be as taboo as attacking any other part of our universal healthcare system.
However, it’s also important not to slip into the popular left wing trope, where perfect is the enemy of good. The fact of the matter is that universal dental care was not on the table, from either party. In the political arena, ideological purity can quite often get in the way of progress. Sure, posting about how the Liberals and NDP are the same “neoliberal shills” might win you brownie points on Twitter, but that won’t get 6.5 million people dental coverage by 2025.
There’s a balance that needs to be struck when talking about these sorts of things. It does no good to lie and say that this plan will provide universal dental coverage, that simply isn’t true. Means-testing may make social programs more targeted, but we know that when the government narrows its scope that people in need fall through the cracks, no matter how well the public servants have crunched the Statistics Canada numbers.
At the same time, denying the value of such a program, especially in such a tumultuous and precarious political time that we are in, does no good either. I’d much rather this deal be made now then wait until the timing is exactly right for universal dental care to pass, as there really is no promise when the political landscape would be amenable to such a program.
Context matters, no matter what your personal thoughts are as to what the absolute best path forward may be on a particular issue. If we’re looking at the real world, and what’s possible at a given time, then we have to put the abstractions aside and recognize a win when we get one, even if it isn’t perfect.