Odd man out - The Orca

Odd man out

Rob Shaw 2

Rob Shaw: The bromance of NDP Premier John Horgan and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau puts federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in an awkward – and lonely – spot.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh might have expected some political love and support from BC NDP leader John Horgan on Thursday as he went mainstreeting in Duncan, just 45 minutes from the premier’s home.

But Horgan was nowhere to be found.

Instead, the premier was over in Coquitlam, eating celebratory cheeseburgers with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the duo announced $3.2 billion in federal funding to supercharge B.C.’s $10-a-day childcare program.

Cameras captured them sharing laughs and a meal at a White Spot restaurant picnic table.

The bromance between Trudeau and Horgan must be infuriating for federal New Democrats who’d hoped to capitalize on Horgan’s sky-high public popularity in B.C. in case of an early election.

The federal NDP would dearly love to point to the successful four-year term of the provincial New Democrats as an example of the kinds of things voters could expect if they vote NDP MPs into office in Ottawa.

But Trudeau appears to have beaten them to the punch.

The prime minister locked up Horgan as his own ally by coming to the table with an enormous amount of money over two days of announcements in B.C.

The cash for $10-a-day childcare not only allows Horgan to unfurl the “mission accomplished” banner on a marquee election promise that had otherwise stalled, but it frees up much-needed funds that can now be used for new post-COVID political machinations.

True, Horgan had to leave Singh hanging to get the money. But if you are going to stiff your own federal colleagues, $3.2 billion is a pretty good payout.

It’s not necessarily that Trudeau and Horgan see eye-to-eye politically, or have a deep personal connection. It’s more that the two both see the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship.

In Horgan, Trudeau sees a politician who has a stranglehold on vote-rich Metro Vancouver and whose high popularity amongst urban voters – but also, increasingly, across the province – could help grow the federal Liberals from 10 current B.C. seats into a larger share of the province’s 42 ridings.

The prime minister also realizes that the kind of centrist B.C. voters he needs to attract in the Lower Mainland are, at this point, more likely provincial BC NDP supporters than any other party.

In Trudeau, Horgan sees the cash and cooperation necessary to implement his plans – mainly child care but also expensive transit projects.

The prime minister stood with Horgan again on Friday to offer $1.3 billion towards an expanded SkyTrain line to Surrey and Langley – battleground regions the BC NDP have seized recently and hope to keep by enticing voters with megaprojects such as public transit.

In both cases – child care and SkyTrain – the projects weren’t viable for B.C. without federal support. The province is currently cash-strapped, running an almost $9 billion deficit due to COVID-19 and facing two credit ratings downgrades for its deficit and debt. Ottawa, meanwhile, has a seemingly unending supply of borrowing power to lend British Columbia.

Trudeau happily shelled out $4.5 billion over two days if it meant boosting his fortunes in an important province like B.C.

Watching Horgan and Trudeau together, you’d almost forget they used to be at loggerheads, with Horgan’s legal and extralegal efforts to scuttle the TransMountain oil pipeline, forcing Trudeau to step in and buy the $7.4 billion megaproject before it collapsed.

The federal and provincial NDP leaders don’t see eye-to-eye on everything either. Singh opposes the $40 billion LNG Canada project near Kitimat, which Horgan offered tax breaks and incentives to lure into reality as stimulus for the B.C. economy.

Singh and Horgan did briefly meet up late Friday, after Horgan had finished two tours of duty with Trudeau and returned to Victoria. The premier posed for a picture and posted it on social media.

It was literally the least he could do.

“Great to catch up with my friend @theJagmeetSingh  while he was in Victoria!” read the Tweet.

“One of the many values we share is a commitment to making sure all orders of government work together to deliver the services people need. That’s how we make sure a strong recovery benefits everyone.”

Interesting phrasing. In this case, “all orders of government” do appear to be working together in the form of Trudeau and Horgan, just not to the federal NDP’s benefit.

Singh deserved better than to watch the uber-popular NDP premier sail off into the sunset with the chequebook-on-two-legs that is Justin Trudeau.

After all, he did campaign for Horgan during the snap October B.C. election, contorting himself into a pretzel publicly to support Horgan’s early trip to the polls while simultaneously arguing it would be too dangerous for a federal election due to COVID-19.

But loyalty is fleeting in politics. And it can be bought, apparently, on the eve of a federal election for $4.5 billion.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.