Liberal NDP deal: What does it mean for British Columbia?

The new deal makes many promises, including introducing a new dental care program for low-income Canadians. But those savings are likely to be “eaten up” by higher housing costs, according to one BC university professor.

An agreement between the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party to maintain a minority Liberal government through to 2025 may impact British Columbians in many ways.

According to experts Glacier Media approached, the agreement will provide stability toward Indigenous reconciliation, assist low-income households and give the provincial government some cover to continue to independently engage in international trade with the Asia-Pacific region.

But while the “Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement” signed Tuesday is peppered with promises for “affordability,” commitments to reign in the number one cost — housing — remains “vague” and “aspirational,” says political scientist Stewart Prest, of Simon Fraser University (SFU).

“The lack of more definitive solutions on housing is notable,” said Prest.

Liberal-NDP pact unclear on addressing housing prices

The agreement calls for a “rental construction financing initiative,” launching a so-called “housing accelerator fund,” implementing a “homebuyer’s bill of rights” and “tackling the financialization of the housing market.”

Details are scant and there are, notably, no specific calls to implement a ban on foreign buyers, as promised by the Liberals during the 2021 campaign. The agreement also falls short of mentioning monetary policy as low interest rates fuel borrowing and bidding wars.

Perst says there are no details on funding federal social housing, such as co-operatives and subsidized rental units. He said such measures were largely abandoned in the early 1990s as successive Conservative and Liberal governments reigned in deficit spending. And this, he says, has led to more Canadians seeking the private housing market, adding demand to it and contributing to price increases.

Prest tells Glacier Media it’s likely by design the two parties are mute on such matters: they don’t want to lower people’s home equity.

“A lot of Canadians benefit from high housing prices… So every government has to be careful how they approach the housing crisis, so they don’t instigate a significant correction, for fear of losing that portion of the general public,” said the SFU prof.

Even the NDP, Prest said, appears unwilling to touch home prices, which are impacting lower income earners from accumulating assets.

“I don’t think any party seems willing to propose policies that propose a significant price correction,” said Prest.

The professor said proposed dental and pharmaceutical plans (free essential medicines and bulk purchasing to lower other costs) will provide some savings to low-income households (under $90,000 annually for dental) but those savings are likely to be “eaten up” by higher housing costs.

Since the Liberals took control of government in 2015, the benchmark price of homes in Canada has doubled, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.

The agreement calls for making a “significant additional investment” in Indigenous housing in 2022.

“It will be up to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to determine how housing investments are designed and delivered,” the agreement states.

Stable government can foster Indigenous reconciliation: Grand Chief

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, is cautiously optimistic, commending the agreement for bringing stability to government to implement such policies.

Phillip said federal funding for communities impacted by climate change (unprecedented wildfires and flooding) is much needed, as is First Nations autonomy.

“I believe this agreement lays a foundation for the Government of Canada to be more responsive to these needs. We need to move beyond the annoying partisan rhetoric that doesn’t provide immediate resource relief to those communities in crisis,” he said.

“We need some mechanism — such as referenda — for those decisions to be made to reflect full measures of free, prior and informed consent,” said Phillip.

To that end, he says government needs to empower the Wet’suwet’en people, among others, who he says are mostly against gas developments — as opposed to some band councils, who have signed agreements.

“I think the agenda for the joint agreement for the federal Liberals and NDP reflects a socially responsible agenda that will enjoy the broad support of the base majority of Canadians, certainly with homelessness and the opioid crisis,” said Phillip.

Indigenous people are over-represented among those who are homeless and those dying from a toxic drug supply in BC There’s no specific mention of the opioid crisis in the agreement.

No foreign policy measures

The Liberal-NDP deal does not mention foreign policy, which does not surprise Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director and senior fellow of the Indo-Pacific Program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

“Liberals don’t feel much of a sense of challenge or need to compromise. They see foreign policy as their prerogative and don’t need to consult with the NDP much. And there’s not much of a push back from them that the NDP has taken to force them to compromise,” Miller explained.

BC is an international trade route to Asia and sells about 15% of its exports to China — more than any other province.

And the BC NDP continues to maintain diplomatic ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) here in BC But since the Vancouver extradition trial of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, pressure has formed to diversify trade, after significant links were tied by the former BC Liberal Party with China.

“I think there’s deep skepticism on certain economies, such as China,” said Miller.

Polling suggests that skepticism is strongest in BC where the fewest portion of residents hold a favorable view of China, according to Angus Reid.

Foreign policy, said Miller, comes across as a “luxury item basket” and the NDP is rather disinterested in it; Miller notes, for example, New Democrats have labeled NATO as irrelevant, at least prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite this, foreign affairs remain prominent in BC The province has a large Hong Kong diaspora opposed to China’s rising authoritarian actions against the autonomous government. And BC’s large Sikh community has also taken to Metro Vancouver streets since 2000, to protest the Indian government’s policies against farmers in Punjab.

A laissez-faire attitude on foreign affairs by the federal government until 2025 and no development of a renewed China policy or counter-acting Indo-Pacific policy to address increased foreign influence activity by the CCP could provide “cover and a bit of camouflage” for BC to stay the course with its trade ties, says Miller.

Climate change measures another balancing act

The agreement also makes several broad commitments to climate change, Prest notes.

In BC, the provincial government is both committed to reducing carbon emissions while at the same time expanding its liquified natural gas production. The BC NDP and federal NDP are at odds with LNG expansion.

“It seems like,” said Prest, “as much as anything the language in the environmental and climate change section is trying to find ways to bridge the gap between the focus on reducing emissions but also doing so in a way to ensure the transition is done in a way that’s equitable so there’s support for workers who are transitioning,”

He said the agreement’s language echoes the “New Green Deal” in the United States. It states government will “move forward with Just Transition legislation, guided by the feedback we receive from workers, unions, Indigenous peoples, communities, and provinces and territories.”

Politics at play in BC ridings

Eventually, said Prest, should the agreement stand to the 2025 election, parties will need to separate themselves.

Prest said the Conservatives will paint the NDP and Liberals as one and issues such as housing affordability will likely be prominent. Prest said whereas the NDP and Liberals are silent on inflation and monetary policy, a door is open for the likes of Conservative front-runner Pierre Poilievre, who seems to be the only one discussing the matter.

BC is an NDP stronghold and Prest said he’s not convinced by doomsday predictions that Singh has made his party irrelevant. In fact, it’s the opposite, for Prest, who sees the New Democrats being able to sell tangible policy reforms to voters.

“They can say a vote for us is a meaningful vote. We can do things,” said Prest.

He said swing ridings in Surrey and Vancouver will be a battle ground for the Liberals, who will wage a “two-front war.”

gwood@glaciermedia.ca

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