IN THE NEWS: Hill Times - NDP caucus members angling to be 'adults in the room' as House resumes

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) said the difference between her party and Poilievre’s Conservatives is the NDP is focused on “real solutions.”
She said Poilievre’s politics is “the politics of division” and about trying to “rev people up.”
“From our perspective, we’re going to focus on the people, with real solutions, meaningful solutions. We’re not just there for the sake of politics, we’re there to actually get things done. And that’s the difference between us and the Conservatives,” she said.  

NDP caucus members angling to be ‘adults in the room’ as House resumes
By CHELSEA NASH      SEPTEMBER 19, 2022
While new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre appeals to the working class, the NDP say they're not threatened, and are focused on what they can deliver for people by leveraging the supply-and-confidence agreement.
Senior NDP MPs say they’re going to rise above whatever mud-slinging might take place between the Liberals and Conservatives, and will be heavily focused on pressuring the Liberals to deliver on the promises made in their supply-and-confidence agreement—but, experts say they can’t ignore the newly minted Conservative leader altogether, as he is cutting into their working-class base of support.

“I think the NDP needs to be worried about that,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alta. “And we saw this in the 1990s when a large number of people switched their votes from the NDP to the Reform Party, because they felt that the NDP had lost the way.”
 Bratt said it was his impression that something similar was happening now, with new Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.) peeling away some of the NDP’s traditional base of support: the working class.


But as far as three NDP MPs are concerned, their focus is on the Liberals and “getting things done.”

NDP House leader Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) said his party will be the “adults in the room” when the House reconvenes on Sept. 20, leaving the Liberals and Conservatives to get down and dirty. Poilievre’s presence as Conservative leader is expected to raise the heat in the House of Commons, given he is well-known for his abrasive style of questioning the government, and shows no signs of softening his approach.  

“The NDP is focused on actions and making a difference. And we’ve also proven to be often the adults in the room when there’s the sort of chippiness back and forth,” said Julian.

NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) also indicated his party’s intention to stay above the anticipated fray.

“I think one of the things that I’ve seen over my many years in Parliament is the Liberals and Conservatives love culture wars, and they love to paint each other as diabolical and outrageous,” said Angus.

People are tired, frustrated, and even angry, he said. “But I think what people want is someone to actually deliver.”

Former NDP staffer and current lobbyist Cam Holmstrom hinted the NDP’s strategy going into the fall would be to focus on what they can push the Liberals on and achieve through the supply-and-confidence agreement.

“As things may get a little punchy at the start of the fall here in Parliament, I don’t think anyone wants to do an election right away anytime soon—well, except for the Conservatives,” he said.

“In the moment we’re in, there’s a lot of anger. There’s a lot of people who are upset, who are frustrated, which is kind of what Mr. Poilievre is feeding off of, and stoking himself. And the best way to cut that off at the knees, is to actually deliver for people, to actually deal with people’s concerns,” he said.  

“It’s not enough to say, ‘I feel your pain,’ and rant and rave at the wall. If you’re actually able to deliver and actually address those concerns, that then helps you move forward. I think for the NDP, that’s where a big part of the focus is going to be.”

The New Democrats have the balance of power in the House of Commons, and leveraged that balance to create a supply-and-confidence deal with the Liberals on March 22. That’s the party’s main item on the agenda now, said Angus.

“Our focus is pushing this government to get action on some key areas to make life more affordable. Obviously, the number one priority for us is hammering out this dental care plan for people and to make this a reality and get this to people as soon as possible,” said Angus.

The deal sees the NDP providing support for the Liberal government on confidence issues, in exchange for progress on key policy areas. Currently, the NDP is pressuring the Liberal government to live up to the first major milestone in the agreement: to make dental care free for children under age 12 whose families earn $90,000 or less. The Liberals, having been given a deadline to deliver this program before the end of the year, delivered a stop-gap measure in the form of issuing $650 annually to families in that income bracket to pay for their children’s dental care for the next two years.

While Ottawa was abuzz last week with conversation about Poilievre and his new job, the word of the week for NDP MPs was “people.”

“I think Jagmeet Singh [Burnaby South, B.C.] is solid in terms of being relentlessly focused on people. And the NDP caucus will be doing the same thing as well—focused on people,” said Julian.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) said the difference between her party and Poilievre’s Conservatives is the NDP is focused on “real solutions.”

She said Poilievre’s politics is “the politics of division” and about trying to “rev people up.”

“From our perspective, we’re going to focus on the people, with real solutions, meaningful solutions. We’re not just there for the sake of politics, we’re there to actually get things done. And that’s the difference between us and the Conservatives,” she said.

Who represents the working class?

Carleton University political scientist Jonathan Malloy said that Poilievre’s efforts to connect with working-class voters—particularly those who feel disenfranchised—”triggers the basic existential problem of the New Democrats.”

“Are they the party of the working class? Are they a party of intellectuals? Or a party of social movements? Are they a party of, sort of, the big state?”

To Malloy, Poilievre “has got the strongest working-class affordability message in a long time from non-New Democrats.”

He said the NDP are going “to struggle to figure out how to keep up with Poilievre.”

Angus, Kwan, and Julian dismissed this concern.

Kwan called out Poilievre’s record during his time in prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.

“It’s interesting, the notion that the Conservatives are somehow an ally of the working-class and of labour. Look at their track record,” she said, pointing out the Harper government’s regular enactment of back-to-work legislation for rail workers in 2007 and 2012, Air Canada workers in 2012, and postal workers in 2011, and other legislation that undermined trade unions.

“Action speaks louder than words,” she said.

Julian said he was not concerned about Poilievre going after the support of working-class people.

“No, because in the same way, we have been able to expose the difference between the pretty words of the Liberal government and Mr. Trudeau, and the actual concrete reality of what they’ve actually not done. We’ve been able to force them over the last few months to start to put into place actions that will actually help people, and it’s the same way with Mr. Poilievre. History has been the same thing: pretty words for working class people for working families, but his actions have been—as part of the Harper government—exactly the contrary, very detrimental to working people,” he said.

Angus said fighting for the working class is about more than rhetoric.

“The big issue is the fight for the working class, it cannot be a trope, the way Poilievre uses them,” Angus said.

Angus said he spent his summer in Alberta meeting with energy workers and talking to them about “a new clean economy.”

Asked if he was there to work on building up NDP’s ties to the working class in that province, he said “the Conservatives would burn Alberta to the ground if it meant spiting Justin Trudeau for an extra two inches on the playing field. And the Liberals have been ignoring the potential in Alberta.”

“If we’re going to move forward on a clean energy economy, Alberta has to be at the table,” he said.

The energy workers he was speaking with were talking about alternatives to oil and gas, like geothermal, critical minerals and lithium, and hydrogen. He said there’s potential for developing these industries, but doesn’t yet see a plan—or at least one that’s good enough to ease the transition to cleaner energy.

“Let’s drop the culture war on the climate crisis, and talk about solutions, and that’s why I was in Alberta, and I’ll be back there soon,” said the Ontario MP.

Bratt said Angus is one of a few remaining NDP MPs with working-class roots, who are the caucus members the NDP ought to be leveraging to solidify their working-class supporters. “The issue is they don’t have many of them,” Bratt said, meaning MPs with longstanding experience with labour and trade unions.

“That’s the challenge that they’ve got, because they have an existing leader [Singh] who doesn’t seem to do a very good job of [speaking to the working class], and every time he does, people will point out his nice suits, and his watch, and meanwhile, Poilievre doesn’t take the same criticism, even though he’s never really been in the private sector. And so, you know, once you’ve been branded in that fashion, as Singh has, it’s tough to switch over,” he said.
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