Rex Murphy: Should we be calling him Deputy Prime Minister Singh?

Rex Murphy: Should we be calling him Deputy Prime Minister Singh?

There is a question to be asked: Is the NDP formally allied with the Trudeau Liberals? Or is there merely an unsigned pact?

Just to be clear. The deal the government made with WE’s Kielburger brothers was and is a mess. Everyone realizes this. And everyone includes the government itself. For that is why the Liberals took the extraordinary step of proroguing Parliament. It was not to do a “reset” as they piously claimed. It was to terminate the various inquiries into their various ties with WE, and how it came to be that nearly a billion dollars of public money was, for a while, entirely under the administration of a troubled charity.

The story, familiar to most Canadians by now, has more filaments than a light bulb factory. Connections and associations with the highest members of the Trudeau cabinet; a full familial connection with the Trudeau family. High speaking fees to the PM’s mother; sponsorship and attendance from his wife; speaking engagements with his brother. It accounted for the removal of a finance minister. And it involved a wasp swarm of WE personnel, not registered as lobbyists, crowding Parliament Hill, the offices of ministers and civil servants.

And the crown element of them all was the prime minister’s long and starring role at WE Days. Justin Trudeau’s celebrity patronage of WE without a doubt gave it precious standing both with the general public, and even more crucially, with the various school boards across the nation who over the years paid for attendance at WE Days.

The story … has more filaments than a light bulb factory

There was and is then, much to look into.

So now that there is a Parliament, broken-backed as it is, and the Conservatives rightly wish to pick up where they left off, looking into this cosiest of deals, what does NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his 24-member caucus do? Why they stand (perhaps kneel is the better verb) with the Liberals in shutting those efforts down. And then offer embarrassing explanations, exotic procedural points, to disguise their capitulation.

In an interview, NDP House Leader Peter Julian described the Conservative motion, calling for a probe of the WE affair, a “dog’s breakfast.” Well to that I’d say that Mr. Julian is far more familiar with canines’ first meal of the day than the rest of us. Though what a dog’s diet (breakfast or supper) has to do with a dubious billion-dollar contract with Craig and Marc Kielburger is a question better left to veterinarians than members of Parliament.

There is a question to be asked: Is the NDP formally allied with the Trudeau Liberals? Or is there merely an unsigned agreement, a tacit understanding, which by not being formalized, not on record to be viewed and understood by the public, permits both parties to conduct a charade of their independence, one from the other?

On full consideration of all the accommodations we have witnessed since the Liberals went to minority, and their untroubled cohabitation with Mr. Singh and the NDP from election night to the present day, the logical and reasonable conclusion is that there is an agreement, that they have worked out a pact, which Canadians are barred from knowing.

Time was, from the days of David Lewis as leader on through Ed Broadbent and Jack Layton, the NDP was the sharpest and most telling critic of the dominating Liberal party. It provoked, criticized, and challenged the Liberals — and in the opinion of many observers, by its sturdy opposition did them a necessary service. It held them off from their genetic tendency to arrogance and high-handedness when unchecked. Principled and intelligent opposition was also a boon to the NDP itself, from which it not undeservedly earned the sobriquet “the conscience of Parliament.”

I wonder how that looks after Tuesday’s clumsy, shamelesspas de deux. We have been led to believe that Chrystia Freeland is the deputy prime minister of Canada. That indeed may be the case technically. But if the guarantor of the minority Liberals’ hold on power lies with the elegantly suited Jagmeet Singh, then perhaps the better understanding is that it is he, not she, who is de facto the holder of that eminent title.

Shutting down the WE investigations also sends a signal that the historic expenditures the government is making will not get the detailed scrutiny they cry out for. Ignore the fresh news that the NDP is seeking to “create a special Parliamentary committee that will look into all federal government spending during the COVID pandemic.” That’s a bald case of Wednesday’s spin masters trying to put a blanket on Tuesday’s ruse.

Should the NDP be serious, they could long since have used their leverage to fight ever so much harder for extra Parliamentary time, opposed much more strenuously the huge daily handouts announced by the prime minister, not acceded so easily to prorogation, and emphatically, not handed out the free pass to the Liberals on WE.

On one particular alone they could have demonstrated their seriousness. It is absolutely inexplicable that while the current government has blasted to nearly $400 billion in deficit spending — $400 billion — it has resolutely denied the Auditor General of Canada both the extra funds and extra staff needed for just an attempt to keep track of this tsunami of expenditure. Surely, it was in Singh’s authority and competence to provide the public’s parliamentary-endowed watchdog with the means to do the work of that high office.

Did he? Of course he didn’t. Might have put some strains on the (silent) concordat. But then again, you can’t have an unofficial deputy PM bringing unwelcome burdens to the official PM.