Justin Trudeau to meet opposition leaders amid signs he plans to govern from the centre right

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced plans to meet opposition party leaders one-on-one on the week of November 11, amid signs he will continue governing from the centre-right after campaigning on the centre-left.

The goal of the meetings, Liberal strategist David Zimmer told CTV, is to help Trudeau figure out "what they (other party leaders) want from him to ensure their cooperation."

As conditions for any kind of agreement with the Liberals, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh indicated his party will demand action on introducing national pharmacare and that the government drop its legal challenge of Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's decision ordering Ottawa to pay compensation to Indigenous children and their families.

However, although some early reactions to last month's election results expressed excitement about the possibility of the NDP and Greens winning meaningful concessions from a weakened Liberal party, that prospect was quickly tempered by Trudeau's first policy announcements.

Two days after losing his majority, Trudeau said his first priorities were to proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and to introduce what he calls "lower taxes for the middle class."

As economist Andrew Jackson wrote in National Newswatch, people earning as much as $150,000 per year will enjoy the full benefit of the tax cut, while those making less than $15,000 will receive no benefit. 

Plus, the plan will reduce poverty by barely 0.1 per cent, and create a $6-billion loss in public revenue -- funds that could be spent on social programs.

"Most progressives would prefer the Liberals to abandon their tax cut, and use it to fund other priorities such as investment in affordable housing, clean and renewable energy, public transit, public health care, child care, or post secondary education," Jackson wrote. 

"$6 billion added to seriously inadequate Liberal promises to fund a national pharmacare program would be sufficient to make the promise a reality."

Others pointed out that the Liberals' tax cut is similar to the one Andrew Scheer offered in the Conservative party platform. 

"While the Liberal plan is slightly more progressive than the Conservative proposal which provides the biggest benefit to the top decile," wrote Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist David Macdonald during the election campaign, "it's still not terribly progressive on the whole."

Looking ahead to the leader-to-leader talks, Conservative strategist Neil Brodie told CTV that in order to avoid an early election, Trudeau might rely on the NDP and Greens only to pass legislation on social issues, while counting on the Tories to support fiscal measures.

"Trudeau has enough dance partners in the House of Commons to move an agenda forward," said Brodie.

If Trudeau governs in such a cynical and opportunistic way, it's unlikely the NDP and Greens will be in a position to force many significant concessions from the Liberals. This reality has led to calls from some, such as Michal Rozworski, for a focus on mobilizing social movements outside of Parliament.

"The task now is to build up campaigns, organizations, and movements around demands that open up the left's newfound breathing space," he wrote on Ricochet.

In the meantime, an online Leger poll found that one-third of Canadians voted strategically in the election to stop another party from winning. Of those who voted Liberal on election day, 46 per cent said they considered voting NDP at some point during the campaign.

If Trudeau courts Tory votes for centre-right fiscal packages, then the Liberals' claim that they offer a real alternative to the Conservatives will become increasingly hard to sell to progressive voters -- perhaps even to those who weren't already turned off by the last four years of Trudeau's doublespeak and policy flip flops.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

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