Liberals and the NDP

Written by  //  June 17, 2010  //  Canada, Politics  //  Comments Off on Liberals and the NDP

Two views on the proposal that the Liberals and NDP merge

Norman Spector: Why a Liberal-NDP merger makes sense
erusing the Toronto Star Wednesday, I noted that Chantal Hébert was again touting the advantages of a Liberal-NDP “non-aggression” pact for the next election. On Saturday in La Presse, on the other hand, we learned that “Jean Chrétien believes it’s in the interest of the Liberal Party to merge with the NDP and build a party that can defeat the Conservatives in the next election”— and that “merger is the only option” if the two parties decide to cooperate. An idea that Jeffrey Simpson dismissed in Wednesday’s Globe as “crazy to contemplate.”
Personally, I’m with Mr. Chrétien on this one. Who better than he—having run successfully three times against a divided right—to understand that the division of the opposition vote, if it continues, will likely mean the election of a third consecutive Conservative government?
Indeed, in the past few weeks, Michael Ignatieff has put the Liberal Party in an almost untenable position. By stating that coalitions are “perfectly legitimate” and that he’d be prepared to form a government with the NDP — while foreclosing the merger option–the Liberal leader has in effect done Stephen Harper’s job for him.
For some time it’s been clear that Mr. Harper has been eager to run his next election campaign against the prospect of the Liberals and NDP getting together again with the support of the Bloc Québécois. Conservative support in the polls has never been higher than it was during the coalition near-crisis of 2008. Yet, every time since then that the Prime Minister raised this spectre, he was accused by many in the media of “fear-mongering”—an accusation that he will no longer have to confront.
Having lived the same experience in the 1990’s as Mr. Chrétien but from the losing side — Mr. Harper knows exactly how to campaign against a divided opposition by playing off one party’s program policies against the other(s).
He understands that his Conservative Party is the second choice of nearly one in five Liberal voters, and that the prospect of a coalition with “socialists” will frighten many of them — particularly in Ontario, where memories of the Liberal-NDP accord, and the subsequent Rae government, have not altogether faded.
In British Columbia, Mr. Harper knows that about one in five NDP voters is protesting against “the system,” and that these voters move easily back and forth between parties of the left and the right. Many of these voters will not be thrilled with the prospect of a Liberal government—seen as the party of the establishment–and they will have the option of casting their ballot for the Green Party to register a protest vote, or not voting at all.
Some people will argue that there is not enough time between now and the next election to effect a merger of the Liberal Party and the NDP. Perhaps. But the prospect of a hanging in the morning should concentrate their minds wonderfully. Others will question the analogy with the formation of Stephen Harper’s new Conservative Party.
It’s true that the Liberals and NDP have always been separate parties, whereas Stephen Harper’s challenge was to re-unify two parties that recently had been one. But this does not change the electoral dynamics of vote splitting; it only means that the challenge on the left is more daunting. And while these dynamics would also apply if the Liberals and New Democrats were to merge, in that case there would at least be one party in a position to coalesce the anti-Harper vote on the basis of a common, moderate platform—if not in this election then in the next.
According to the La Presse report, Mr. Chrétien held informal merger discussions with Ed Broadbent “a few months ago,” but these discussions “led nowhere” and have been terminated. Having no mandate from Mr. Ignatieff, the former prime minister, we’re told, has decided not to “stir things up any more so as not to harm Liberal chances in the next election.” Unless someone else picks up the ball and runs with it, however, the prospect of a majority Conservative government after the next election should not be excluded.
16 June
Jeffrey Simpson: Desperate measures don’t have to be stupid measures
Liberals should forget the merger talk and dump-the-leader rumblings. There’s a better way
iberals have three options. They can fight among themselves, as they have been doing. They can dump their leader, Michael Ignatieff, by means not yet identified, on the necessarily unproven assumption that anyone would be better. Or they can shut up and work together, making the best of what they have.
What Liberals cannot do, and would be crazy to contemplate, is a merger with the New Democratic Party.
Merger is constitutionally impossible for both parties, politically unwise and, more important, intellectually bankrupt. A coalition after the next election? To paraphrase a great Liberal leader: a coalition if necessary but not necessarily a coalition.
Were the Liberals to win more seats than the Conservatives, but fall short of a majority, they could reasonably turn to the NDP and try to work something out. But if the Conservatives won more seats, as the British Conservatives did, it would fall to that party to make the first move. Who knows what that would bring.
All chatter of postelection coalition is speculation, period. So, too, is the behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt – encouraged by such former NDP luminaries as Roy Romanow and a few idle Liberal minds in Toronto from the Jean Chrétien faction of the party – presumably born of the Liberals’ desperate straits.
Desperate times, it is said, lead to desperate measures, but they need not be stupid measures, which is what a merger would be. Fundamental differences separate federal Liberals and New Democrats, although not necessarily NDPers of the moderate, pragmatic Saskatchewan mould from which Mr. Romanow hails.
Liberals (usually) are for a strong central government, with no special status for Quebec; New Democrats believe in asymmetrical federalism, wherein Quebec is given the widest possible latitude to run things its way.
Liberals believe in the free market, although they will use the government to regulate the market; New Democrats are skeptical of the free market, especially under Jack Layton whose personal manifesto, titled Speaking Out, contains barely a positive word about the market.
Liberals believe (usually) in liberalized trade, be it bilateral or multilateral; New Democrats are instinctively protectionist and oppose almost every bilateral trade deal, preferring something called managed trade.
Liberals are (usually) not anti-American, although they sometimes want for political reasons to keep their distance from the United States; New Democrats are quite skeptical of the U.S., both in foreign policy and in how to run an economy.
Liberals don’t want to redistribute income, but rather round off the rough edges of inequality; New Democrats seek redistribution as part of their social democratic/socialist tradition.
Liberals used to be the preferred party of Big Business, at least when they were in power; New Democrats have established and generic links with the trade union movement that plays an important, ongoing role in the party and the selection of its leader.
The list of differences, therefore, is long (other differences could be added to the list) and fundamental. Of course, the two parties can agree from time to time, especially when they are both in opposition. But they are different parties, with different ideals and histories.
New Democrats really haven’t gone very far since the party was founded in 1961. The party, more or less, has remained in the same band of 13- to 18-per-cent of the national vote. The party has gained ground in Nova Scotia and won one seat each in Newfoundland and Quebec. It has gone back to being competitive in the industrial cities and hard rock communities of Ontario. It has gone backward in rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan, once part of the party’s heartland, and is not at all strong in most of the areas with new seats: suburban Toronto, Alberta and the B.C. Lower Mainland.
The Liberals (27- to 30-per-cent) have certainly lost ground, but even at their worst moment, such as now, they are considerably more popular than the NDP (15- to 18-per-cent). The Liberals’ long-term slide is certainly worth examining. It’s a slide that began a long time ago and has many explanations, central to which is the disinclination of French-speaking Quebeckers to want to play a role in the governing of Canada – a role they used to assign more often than not to the Liberals.
Also worth examining, although lost in the necessary and painful picking over the Liberal entrails, is why the NDP has essentially gone nowhere, yet is perceived, at least by some, to be the party of the future.
8 June
Liberal, NDP insiders talk merger
Senior insiders with the federal Liberals and New Democrats have been holding secret talks about the possibility of merging their parties to form a new entity to take on the Conservatives, CBC News has learned.
Many Liberal insiders confirmed that discussions between the two parties are not just focused on forming a coalition after an election or co-operation before one, but the creation of a new party.
The new party would possibly be named the Liberal Democrats and there has been tentative talk about what a shared platform would look like and an understanding that a race would be required to choose a new leader.

Comments are closed.