In March of this year the NDP agreed to prop up the minority Liberal government until the end of 2025. In exchange, the Liberals made vague commitments on dental care and pharmacare. While many people were hopeful that this would lead to concessions from the Liberals on these key issues, recent news has confirmed what Marxists argued at the time: that the NDP had sold their soul to the devil for almost nothing. 

According to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh: “We fought hard and have been demanding since the spring that the Liberal government step up and give people some respect, the dignity to be able to afford their own groceries.” He continued, “and we have won.” Regarding the dental care reforms, Don Davies, NDP MP and Health Critic bragged that it’s “the single biggest expansion of public healthcare in 60 years.”

But is this exuberance justified?

The confidence-and-supply deal signed back in March contained the following priority actions: dental care, pharma care, anti-scab legislation, housing, long-term care, and a pandemic excess profit tax. Most of the promises were vague, except for the plan for means-tested dental-care. 

Now, after six months of waiting, the promised reforms have begun to materialize. This has taken the form of a slate of measures to help low-income Canadians deal with the rising costs of living. Housing and dental are supposedly being addressed in Bill C-31. This bill provides “targeted support for households” by topping-up the $500 one-time Canada Housing Benefit. This benefit will be available to applicants with adjusted net incomes below $35,000 for families, or $20,000 for individuals who pay at least 30 per cent of their adjusted net income on rent and are paying rent for their own primary residence in Canada. These requirements are so stringent that what amounts to $41.67 a month will only go to a tiny minority of Canadian families who make less than $35,000/year. 

At the same time, the government announced Bill C-30 described as “targeted tax relief.” While the contents of Bill C-30 weren’t part of the confidence-and-supply agreement, the NDP is still taking credit for it. Bill C-30 will double the GST rebate for six months. What this amounts to is an extra $234 for childless singles, $467 for couples with two kids, and an average of $225 more for seniors. No one is complaining about a few extra hundred dollars, but at a time when food inflation is changing how Canadians eat, it hardly qualifies as “relief.” Not to mention, this meager “relief” won’t get into Canadians’ pockets until the end of the year. “It’s not helping people in real time afford their bills,” criticized Lindsay Tedds, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary. 

Where’s the dental plan?

The crowning achievement of the confidence and supply agreement is the dental plan. While Don Davies presents Bill C-31 as some sort of revolution in dental care, this is far from the truth. The fact is that the content of Bill C-31 is a huge retreat from what the NDP was hoping to get from the Liberals. The NDP had wanted a full dental plan in place by the end of the year, but according to the Liberals, eight months wasn’t enough time to accomplish that. So the benefit is a stop-gap measure that gives parents and guardians who do not have access to dental insurance up to $650 per child under the age of 12, if their net family income is below $90,000, through direct payments. 

The plan is for the program to expand to children 13-18, seniors, and those with disabilities by the end of 2023, and to all families with incomes below $90,000 by the end of 2025. But parents will have to jump through hoops to even get their hands on their money. They have to apply through the Canada Revenue Agency, attest that the child does not have access to private dental coverage, that they will have out-of-pocket dental care expenses, and provide receipts. The prospect of dealing with CRA red tape will certainly be a deterrent for some families.

As we explained previously, the money the government saves on not helping people they’ll spend on bureaucracy. Bill C-31 sets up a process for bureaucrats to check families’ attestations and impose penalties for those found to have submitted fraudulent claims. Maximum fines will reach $5000. 

Officials from Health Canada, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that the CRA can be lenient to those making honest mistakes, but why not just make it free on point of delivery, and avoid all the bureaucratic hassle and cost. Universal programs are more efficient and effective. 

That’s the opinion of the Coalition for Dentalcare (CFD), which argues that universal coverage is crucial for improving people’s health, and the most efficient way to deliver healthcare. Brandon Doucet, CFD co-founder, thinks the proposed federal dental care program doesn’t go far enough, and that it should be accessible to everyone, not just the most vulnerable. Accessible preventative care stops small health problems before they get worse and more costly. 

Speaking to The Breach, Doucet also explained how the targeted, piecemeal approach the government is taking is in the interest of the private dental industry, because it makes programs “politically unstable and easy to undermine.” He adds, “Organized dentistry has been opposed to universal dental care because they worry the fees paid out will not be high enough and that they will lose autonomy over the profession.” 

If the private dental industry is holding back a national dental plan, surely the same thing will happen to pharmacare, one of the other “priorities” named in the confidence-and-supply agreement. 

Not worth it

So this is what the NDP sold-out for. A few hundred dollars for a fraction of Canadians and an inaccessible, piecemeal dental plan that may not ever be fully implemented. In doing so the NDP leaders have tied themselves to the status-quo. The NDP’s price was supporting the next four Liberal budgets, the first of which included a massive increase in military spending for NATO—which should be a deal-breaker for any principled socialist. While the CRA will be penalizing poor families for not submitting the proper receipts to claim dental expenses, the Canadian government will spend billions fueling imperialist conflict, killing Russian and Ukrainian workers. 

Additionally, while the NDP leaders are attempting to take credit for these small reforms the Liberals are implementing, it’s dubious whether or not the NDP’s political pressure is even really to thank. With inflation reaching historic highs nearly all provincial governments, regardless of party affiliation, have introduced policies to appease hard-hit voters. Saskatchewan, under the regime of the right-wing Saskatchewan Party, for example, is giving $500 to all its residents. Ontario and Alberta, meanwhile, have both slashed gas prices. There’s no reason to think the federal government wouldn’t have followed suit if left to its own devices. The NDP could very well have gotten more out of the Liberals by pressuring them from the outside rather than laying down their arms and collaborating. 

According to Don Davies, if the new deadline isn’t met, “we will walk from the confidence-and-supply agreement and we won’t even hesitate.” The threat would be more convincing if they hadn’t compromised already. 

In March when the deal was struck, we wrote, “If the NDP becomes complicit in the status quo this will be a godsend to the Pierre Poilievres and Maxime Berniers of this world. They will rail against the system, and blame these non-reforms for inflation that erodes the standard of living of workers. This deal potentially prepares a victory for the right in the coming years.”

Poilievre’s reaction is exactly as we predicted, labeling the Liberals and NDP a “radical woke coalition.” As humourous as his phrasing may be, the Conservatives may succeed in blaming the NDP for the failures of this government as the NDP is afterall propping them up. He also highlighted the insufficiency of the Liberal/NDP “targeted relief”, complaining that the government “still doesn’t have a plan to fix inflation.” While Poilievre’s own cure for inflation would surely be worse than the disease, he’s not wrong that the Liberals and NDP don’t have a solution. He’s able to channel the frustration of ordinary Canadians at the rising cost of living—he’s doing what should be the NDP’s job. But they’ve capitulated their role as the working class opposition and chosen class collaboration, so while Poilievre rails against the status-quo, the NDP sadly crows over crumbs. 

Fight the right with socialism

The Conservatives are currently leading in the polls. They have 37 per cent support, while the NDP trail in third place with 20 per cent. The top issue for voters is the cost of living crisis. The anemic, means-tested, attestation-based reforms of Bills C-30 and C-31 weren’t enough to win over voters, but Poilievre’s attacks on the status-quo are connecting. If the NDP broke from the Liberals they could attack them from the left and cut across the Conservative’s support. 

The confidence-and-supply agreement was a mistake. It did more to disarm the NDP than it did to wring concessions from the Liberals. If the NDP were an actual threat to the Liberals they could squeeze more out of them than they can through polite collaboration. Rather than taking responsibility for government policies (including military spending), the NDP should be supporting only bills that help the working class, and pushing for more. Universal, free dental care now; universal, free pharmacare now—these are policies that would substantially help people, and galvanize support against the right wing. 

There is no honour in holding up a deal when the price of it is abandoning the field of battle and leaving the only opposition force to be the Conservatives. The NDP needs to break with the Liberals and go on the offensive. The working class needs a party that fights for socialist policies.