Tory outrage at Liberal-NDP agreement is predictable and dangerous

Article originally published in The Star

On Monday night, CBC’s Vassy Kapelos broke the news that the Liberals and the NDP had come to a confidence-and-supply agreement, basically guaranteeing a functioning Parliament until 2025. Almost instantly, the full gamut of pearl-clutching, hyperbolic reactions from the Conservatives were on display.

Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen put out a statement referring to the agreement as being “backdoor socialism” and an “NDP-Liberal coalition,” while Conservative leadership candidates referred to the agreement as a “nightmare” and a “subversion of our democracy” (Patrick Brown), an “attack on our freedom” (Pierre Poilievre), and “anti-democratic” (Jean Charest).

“Nightmare” and “backdoor socialism” are both qualitative descriptors that don’t really mean anything tangible. But a coalition government means something very specific, and would mean New Democrats in cabinet along with Liberals, serving as one government.

There are of course no New Democrats in cabinet because this is not a coalition. It is a confidence-and-supply agreement, which means the NDP have agreed to support the Liberal government on matters of confidence in exchange for legislative priorities.

Given that we are a parliamentary democracy, this agreement is not in any way undemocratic or out of line with our principles.

On its own, none of this is alarming. Taken in isolation and given its most charitable interpretation, the Conservatives who are decrying the co-operation between the NDP and the Liberals suffer from nothing more than civic illiteracy, patently unaware of the basic underpinnings of how a parliamentary democracy works.

Trying to fearmonger regarding the prospect of parliamentary co-operation isn’t exactly new for the Conservatives either. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were quite successful at it back in 2008. In hindsight, Harper’s demonization of a coalition government was almost quaint and cute.

But this isn’t 2008 anymore. When you make claims about undemocratic power grabs amidst a cacophony of conspiracy theories, mis- and disinformation, all which can be spread with the ease of smashing a share button, it can lead us to some very dark places.

And arguably, it already has. A man smashed through the gates of Rideau Hall with loaded weapons and multiple rounds of ammunition. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was followed down the street and threatened with a “citizen’s arrest.” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner regularly faces harassment and threats connected to conspiracy theories related to the World Economic Forum.

The so-called “freedom convoy” came to Ottawa with the express intent to overthrow the federal government. Instead of being roundly rejected by all members of Parliament for attempting to be an actual subversion of our democracy, it was actively and vociferously lauded by a majority of the Conservative caucus, including the interim leader, the two previous leaders and the presumptive front-runner for future leader.

It’s easy to take democracy, as well as the general safe political environment in Canada, for granted. A peaceful transition of power is a given in the country, and our elected leaders readily mill about amidst the public with little to no security presence.

But we have no reason to credibly believe that this will always be the case. In fact, the overwhelming evidence from all over the world, including right to the south of us, demonstrates the danger of what happens when major political parties abandon the responsibility to be truthful and start to mainstream misinformation and conspiracy theories.

We are in the middle of multiple crises: climate change, a continually evolving virus, trying to avoid nuclear war. We need good faith co-operation from our politicians on issues where they can find common ground. It’s a good thing the NDP and the Liberals realized this. It’s not too late for the Conservatives to come around as well.

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