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NDP MPs gather in Edmonton to talk strategy and unfinished business in deal with the Liberals

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP candidate for Edmonton Centre Trisha Estabrooks meet with a supporter on the street while kicking off the NDP caucus retreat by knocking on doors in Edmonton, Alta. on Monday, January 22, 2024. (Jason Franson/THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP candidate for Edmonton Centre Trisha Estabrooks meet with a supporter on the street while kicking off the NDP caucus retreat by knocking on doors in Edmonton, Alta. on Monday, January 22, 2024. (Jason Franson/THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)

The NDP is going into the next sitting of Parliament looking to cross some more items off its legislative agenda — things like a landmark pharmacare bill, anti-scab legislation and help for fossil fuel workers facing the transition to a low-carbon economy.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his caucus are meeting in Edmonton from Tuesday to Thursday. They'll be discussing the coming spring budget and getting the Liberal government to fulfil its remaining commitments under the supply-and-confidence agreement with the New Democrats.

Singh described the three-day meeting on Tuesday as a strategic planning session. Taking a break to speak with the media, Singh sought to draw a hard contrast between himself, Trudeau and the Conservatives, especially on the cost of living crisis.

Singh said the New Democrats are the only party promising to take on grocery CEOs over food prices, something he blamed on "corporate greed" and lack of competition. The Liberals and Conservatives, he said, are unwilling to acknowledge this.

"When it comes to affordability, you can't trust the Liberals. They had nine years and things have gotten worse," Singh told reporters. "You can't trust the Conservatives because they are going to cut and make things worse.

"New Democrats are going to take on the real problem and make sure life is more affordable."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to media while kicking off the NDP caucus retreat in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday January 22, 2024.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to media while kicking off the NDP caucus retreat in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday January 22, 2024.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to media while kicking off the NDP caucus retreat in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday January 22, 2024. (Jason Franson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

With Conservatives under leader Pierre Poilievre leading in the polls, Singh spent much of his remarks focused on the Tories.

Singh said the "corporate controlled Conservatives" and right-of-centre politicians want to cut programs like health care and pensions.

Singh seemed to be alluding to Conservative politicians who have supported some private delivery of public health care services and a recent report Alberta Premier Danielle Smith released on the Canada Pension Plan. That report claimed that if Alberta pulled out of the CPP, it would be entitled to $334 billion — more than half of the fund's assets.

"We believe we are better off when we care for each other," Singh said. "The conservatives want to leave you on your own."

New Democrats focusing on deal with the Liberals

While Singh is focused drawing a contrast between New Democrats and their rivals, behind the scenes the NDP is showing no signs of walking away from its deal with the Liberals.

A recent shakeup among top party brass appeared to be aimed at focusing the party's attention on those remaining commitments under the supply-and-confidence agreement.

The party's former national director, Anne McGrath, has taken on a new job focused solely on negotiating the completion of the supply and confidence agreement (which New Democrats call "SACA" for short) with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government.

"We have things that we want to get done, and those things are really important to Canadians," said McGrath, more than a week after she was named Singh's principal secretary.

In March 2022, the NDP agreed to support the minority Liberal government on confidence votes in the House of Commons in exchange for action on New Democrats' policy priorities. According to the terms of that deal, which is set to expire in 2025, the Liberals still owe the NDP legislation — including pharmacare legislation that could lay the groundwork for extending drug coverage to more Canadians.

"We're in the lead-up to an election … and we need to get a few things across the finish line, pharmacare being one of them, but also sustainable jobs and the anti-scab legislation," said McGrath.

"There's a lot in that agreement that needs some attention … Having another person there is … a good idea."

McGrath will be in Edmonton for the caucus retreat as MPs meet behind closed doors and hold various public events to engage with local political issues in Edmonton and Alberta.

It's no secret the federal New Democrats see the Alberta capital as one of their key battlegrounds. The provincial New Democrats have demonstrated that the party can make inroads in Edmonton.

One of the federal party's Edmonton MPs, Blake Desjarlais, defeated a Conservative incumbent in 2021. Desjarlais said the meeting in Edmonton is a chance for the NDP to reconnect with its Prairie roots.

He said the party's MPs will be in non-stop meetings over three days with labour stakeholders, health-care professionals and voters from all backgrounds. The sessions, Desjarlais said, will help refine the party's strategy over the next few months.

NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, Edmonton Griesbach, speaks during a  showcase question and answer session with the NDP caucus moderated by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday, October 13, 2023.
NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, Edmonton Griesbach, speaks during a showcase question and answer session with the NDP caucus moderated by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday, October 13, 2023.

NDP MP Blake Desjarlais speaks during a showcase question and answer session with the NDP caucus moderated by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday, October 13, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power)

Desjarlais, who is also vice-chair of the NDP caucus, said he wants to see the party focus on its preferred solutions to the housing crisis. He said his party needs to concentrate on how much housing speculation and investment have distorted home prices.

"When I think about our Liberal and Conservative friends, when they debate this topic, they often never want to talk about the market. They talk about supply and they talk about demand, and they talk about why we're in the crisis," he said. "But they often never talk about the market."