05.28.2010 06:39 AM

Coalition analysis – from a Harper Conservative

There are thoughtful Conservatives! It’s true!

One of them – a guy/gal who is a good friend and is indeed what the media call a “senior” Harper Conservative – has written to me to critique the notion of a Liberal/NDP coalition/merger/arrangement.

His/her critique is fair and well-constructed.  But what interested me wasn’t so much the substance of the analysis – it was the fact that it was offered, gratis.

I showed it to a former Ignatieff staffer yesterday afternoon.  Reaction: “The Harper guys are watching the coalition speculation because they are concerned that this might actually happen. They know it’s a threat.”

Yep.  And it’s therefore dumb to rule it out.

***

Some free political analysis and advice from a Tory…

Never assume that 1 + 1 = 2 in the world of political mergers/coalitions.

Following the merger of the CA and PC Party in 2003 the new CPC’s popular support was lower than the combined support of the two legacy parties.  In fact, the CPC’s vote share in both the 2004 and 2006 elections was lower than the combined vote share of the CA and PC Party in the 2000 election.  It wasn’t until the 2008 election that the CPC won a vote share that (approximately) equaled the 2000 CA-PC Party combined total (albeit with a very different electoral coalition).

Following the merger many former PC Party voters (Red Tories) went to the Liberals and many former Reform Party/Canadian Alliance voters went to the NDP (anti-establishment protest voters).  Similarly you should expect that a new Liberal-NDP coalition/merger/arrangement would lose the support of many “Business Liberals” as well as large numbers of current, anti-establishment NDP voters who previously voted for Preston Manning and Stockwell Day.  I also suspect that most NDP voters in QC would vote for the Bloc rather than a Liberal-NDP ticket and many radicalized, anti-establishment New Democrats in English Canada would move to the Greens.

As you can see it’s not as simple as there are “3 million” extra NDP votes on the table.  You would still need the Bloc.  (In fact you would be even more reliant on the Bloc if the new “Liberal Democrats” were less popular than the two centre-left legacy parties standing on their own).

In the end the merger gamble worked out for us.  But that doesn’t mean it will work out for you guys – particularly if there is a formalized role/process for the Bloc as there was in 2008.  And the brand legacy of Laurier, Mackenzie King, Trudeau and Chretien hangs in the balance.  Have fun.

23 Comments

  1. Sandra says:

    “never negotiate out of fear and never fear to negotiate” – John F. Kennedy

  2. e says:

    that is not quite the facts:

    what happened is that those that the CPC lost in the merger mostly stopped voting… some went to the NDP, some to the Greens, some stayed with the merged parties, but most stopped voting; that is why their vote count dropped… which hasn’t changed that much. Harper has never impressed but about 1/5 of the populuation.

    and that is why the LPC must do more than merge (which will help), they must relearn how to talk to Canadians because at the end of the day it’s Canadians voting that make change

  3. Joseph says:

    Iggy’s against it. So what’s the point of discussing it?

    • Abigail T says:

      Because Ignatieff is becoming increasingly irrelevant in this discussion. And in general, it would seem.

  4. Greg says:

    This is assuming a merger of the two parties. A coalition of two separate parties, based on a set of common policy goals, would lessen the leakage of votes to other parties. The trick is to sit down and hammer out an agreement both parties can live with. It isn’t impossible, just hard.

  5. Sandra says:

    The Cons are the ones yapping and yapping about it – makes it look like they’re scared doesn’t it?

  6. I say,go for it.A two party system would go a long ways towards ending the idiocy in parliament.I could/would accept this new party……knowing full well it would be eastern influenced and controlled(probably).Hopefully, not by the old boys club from Quebec.
    Have the new party come up with “national” policies…….and implement them if elected.Convince us out here in the west that you have our interests at heart,as well.
    One thing……Bob Rae is a non starter,out here in the west.
    To be brutally honest,we would have trouble with a coalition leader from Quebec,as well.

    • Reality.Bites says:

      I wouldn’t worry, Tim. I suspect Bob Rae is a non-starter for many hard-core NDPers. Even if they come around to the idea of co-operation/coalition/merger themselves, they won’t forgive him for doing it prematurely.

      On the other hand, Tim… have you ever voted Liberal or NDP in the past? It sounds like you haven’t and I doubt you would in future. You might keep in mind though, that apart from Alberta, combined support for the Liberals and NDP was nearly as high as that for the Conservatives in the last election, and considerably higher in the 2004 and 2006 elections. You might want to ponder who Westerners really think has their interests at heart. And you might also want to consider not conflating Alberta with the West. My understanding is that a lot of folks in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC don’t particularly appreciate that.

      • I have always supported Conservative government.
        We westerners KNOW who has our interests at heart….WE DO!!!!!!!
        I suggest that the west is BC,AB. and Sask.Manitoba seems to be more “eastern” than western.
        Most of us out here know what the eastern provinces think of us.We hear and read the words redneck,knuckledragger,uneducated and unsophisticated,that come from eastern posters and media.
        We do,however, have money and resources.That is really all eastern Canada wants from us.To relocate money from here to there is very high on their priority list. all done,of course,in the name of sharing and confederation.
        Political and financial power(along with population)is starting to shift west……that is a huge concern to many from the east.
        The last time it seemed to be occurring we got the NEP…..again in the name of fairness and sharing.
        I don’t think it should be tried again.

        • Winnipegger says:

          Though, I’d say that us Manitoban’s feel a stronger connection and have more in common with Saskatchewan than Ontario. If you asked it in a poll here in MB, I’d guess the results would show that we feel more like Western Canadians than “eastern.” Remember, MB sent a handful or more Reform MPs to Ottawa back in those days, “the west wants in!” was a sentiment that many here felt.

        • robert says:

          Tim,
          like hard core conservatives throughout the province of Alberta you believe that a poisoned debate, a patronizing press, illegal constituency construction and a 40% turn out at the polls represents 100% Conservative support. I’d suggest you listen carefully; the squeaks you hear in the background are footsteps coming up and over your back…it’s just a matter of time.

      • Riley says:

        Agreed. Alberta isn’t like Saskatchewan, Manitoba and BC. This is one of the reasons why Harper’s Alberta-centric cabinet is so out of touch. They just keep doing dumb stuff like spending too much money on all the wrong things (a $1 billion for 72 hours worth of security? That money would make a substantial dent in our dismal child poverty and now infant mortality stats). Alberta has lived in an oil-fueled fantasy land for the last 40 years. They forget that they used to get more in equalization payments than Manitoba. They forgot how to run a real provincial budget, with real money, so when the oil royalties slipped for awhile they went into steep deficit again. The faux economist Harper has managed to balloon our debt to almost a trillion dollars. They slashed taxes and jacked up spending on unproductive military assets and billions in subsidies for the tar sands. This is what we’ve gotten from the guy who urged Alberta to put up a firewall against the rest of Canada. The leader of a party in which 90% of delegates to their last convention voted to gut the human rights act. This kind of thinking has consequences. It causes harm, in real ways and it has to be challenged and attacked at every turn. Worse still, it doesn’t even fully represent Alberta. Nearly half the province votes NDP, Liberal and Green — but they get no say. None of thier priorities are addressed.

  7. Reality.Bites says:

    Of course in neither case would 1+1=2, more like 1+1= 1.5 to 1.75. That’s a given. Against that is the alternative, namely whether either party can grow enough on its own to eclipse the other.

    Over the last decade or so I’ve seen NDPers boast of taking over from the Liberals and Liberals dismiss the NDP. I’ve seen no signs, however, of it happening.

    The Conservatives have successfully made the last two elections be about Liberal leaders – and by and large, the NDP helped them in this. In the Chretien years, the Liberals made the elections be about PC/Reform/Canadian Alliance leaders – and by and large the NDP helped them in this.

    I think that if a party manages to make an election be about their main opponent’s leader (or even their former leader), they will win, regardless of whether they’re government or opposition.

    • Riley says:

      Which is why the campaign has to be made about conservative core voters. Who they are, what they say, what they do, and what they would to to us if they got total power with a phony majority. Harper knows this is still the party’s weak spot which is why he is so strict about controlling everything. He doesn’t trust anyone to keep their mouth shut. This is why the cons went so ballistic when Gritgirl put together her video about the Dean Delmaestros standing up for bigots in the house of commons. It stung.

  8. Jim says:

    There are a lot of comments (in this and the previous thread) that compare the “unite the left” campaign with the “unite the right” campaign which resulted in the current CPC. A key factor that seems to get overlooked is the formation of the CPC was more of a “reunification”, whereas a “Liberal Democratic” party would be an entirely new kettle of fish. Using Ontario as an example, most Reform/Alliance members, volunteers, candidates, and executives had started their political lives as Conservatives. They also remained Conservatives provincially. Those existing relationships were absolutely critical on the ground. Remember, the “new” party was barely six months old when Paul Martin called the 2004 election but managed to increase their seat totals from 78 to 99.

    Being able to conduct cohesive local campaigns is absolutely critical electoral success. Most core members of the Liberal and NDP parties have spent their entire lives (and even their parents’ lives) campaigning against each other. This is particularly the case in the larger urban centres where the Tories have been ghosts for almost 20 years. Dealing with such long-term rivalries would be a huge challenge for any new LD party.

    In my opinion, the only palatable solution is a low key “coalition if necessary, but not necessarily coalition” approach. Do not, like Dion did, rule out the possibility of a coalition and then try to force one on Canadians after the fact. Do not, as some of the more left-wing posters here do, presume that the typical Liberal VOTER detests Harper as a fascist ideologue who should be removed at any price. Present Canadians with a viable, interesting alternative to the government that we have and, if you fall short of achieving a majority mandate, review the political landscape and determine if there are viable governing options that do not involve sacrificing your values or thumbing your noses at the electorate.

  9. H Holmes says:

    I happen to be one of those Reformers that now vote and is active in the Liberal party.

    I won’t switch parties but there are lots of blue liberals that will.

    My prediction if this is brought up during a campaign.
    Conservative majority.

    Also it kind of bugs me that there are many smart liberals working on a coalition,
    its almost like they want the left to join at any cost including losing the purpose of the party, by casting out centre and centre right votes.
    When we should be hammering the conservatives on wasteful spending and coming up with a winning plan.
    Lets focus on winning, not figuring out how to be second place and using political manoeuvrings to win.

  10. Michael Watkins says:

    There is a big difference between membership support, and popular support. I would argue that if you are successful in retaining and building upon the membership base in a combined entity, your path to the future has been upgraded. Maybe it takes an election or two, or a new leader at the helm, or buffing up the current leader, but if you have solid membership growth and fund raising growth, the future is going to look brighter than the past.

    That was certainly the case for the CA-PC. I do not agree for a moment with WK’s correspondent that it was a gamble. No one involved thought for a minute that the reunification of the “right” (really it was a reunification of the West and Eastern conservative blocks) would not become again a powerful political force in the country. Even if one didn’t agree with it, you could feel the energy and excitement as the merger moved forward to conclusion.

    Besides, we all knew we were to face Paul Martin at the polls, and a country which seemed to finally believe the Liberals needed to sit on the bench for a while.

    What the CA-PC merger really had going for it was deep support within the membership, with the only significant (in numbers, not quality of argument) opposition was the large block of David Orchard supporters in the PCPC. While some real right wing nutbars in the CA probably burst a blood vessel or two in their eyes, and some of us PC’s vomited for days, the bottom line is most wanted it to happen. They were tired of being out of power and saw this, correctly, as the one way to achieve their objective after a decade in the wilderness.

    It was clear during the merger process that the *vast* majority of PC supporters – both current and dormant – were in favour of the merger. Despite my own misgivings and feelings about what MacKay had enabled, at the time of the merger announcement I was deeply involved in the PC B.C. organization and also on the national level, so I did swallow my own feelings, did what my peers in the party asked, and worked for the merger. When the majority wants something, they should get it, provided it’s legal and fundamentally moral of course.

    So I worked the phones side by side people who were absolutely gung ho for the merger, and other than the significant Orchard contingent within the PC membership at that time, the **vast majority** of those I spoke to were in favour of the merger and were keen to sign up as members if they had lapsed, in order to vote for the process. Some joined both parties just to be sure.

    Word I had from counterparts in the Canadian Alliance in B.C. told a similar story. The only angst among those generally in favour was over “who will lead”, but most were willing to set that aside to get the job done.

    On merger voting day, I visited a few of the polls in Vancouver and Burnaby and found a high level of interest and optimism from the membership that had turned out to make the merger happen. Many former Tories who had not participated in years post-Mulroney were back. I remember one old gent, wearing his war medals on his blazer, who told me he rarely left his home due to illness that had made an exception for this one task, as he felt so strongly that a national conservative party had to be back on the Canadian scene. I could not disagree with him, even if I had misgivings about who I thought would end up leading the party and in what direction.

    Not every one would follow the new CPC banner to some glorious future. Literally every single one of David Orchard’s very significant block of supporters would depart the CA-PC scene, as would his even bigger base of followers who were not actively involved in his attempt to take over the PC Party.

    Incidentally those supporters did not go to the NDP as one; some moved over to support the Liberals, and more would have done so when Orchard made clear his intentions to support the Liberals (to the dismay of some Liberals).

    Some Red Tories not involved in the Orchard group, as well as Tories not particularly enamoured with the prospect of hitching horses together with Stephen Harper (me for one) carried on with the new party, thinking that change from inside would be easier than from outside. A long shot to be sure. Some would later walk away when it was clear that even the most connected PC insiders in the new party couldn’t make a difference worth noting. Harper’s machinery had quite ruthlessly taken over.

    A small bunch never went along with the merger and started a new party, the Progressive Canadian Party — deliciously seen on ballots as the PC Party — and to this day I guarantee you that some voters who believe they are voting for Stephen Harper’s party are actually casting votes for the PC Party, or are sending them letters and such. But with only 5 – 10 thousand votes total in any given election, this isn’t a big factor except for perhaps in one or two specific ridings. What little benefit the PC Party gets from party identity confusion is now past its best before date.

    Contrary to what WK’s correspondent has noted, I would be surprised if a great many left the CA side of the merger family to join the NDP. Perhaps there were some “anti-establishment” votes which left the CA to join the NDP, but at the time the federal Liberals were seen as the establishment so why leave? Most of the time when you mention the NDP to a CA, or CPC, member/activist they do the Corner Gas “Wollerton Spit”. That sort of pavlovian reaction (like spotting mouthbreathers) helps you identify who not to bother asking opinions of.

    Maybe the correspondent is thinking of BC, where voters regardless of their intrinsic beliefs often switch between the conservative “BC Liberals/former Socreds”, and the NDP. We love to vote someone out here and that’s how we do it when the time is right. Probably if these voters exist in national elections, they are not a very big block.

    For CA-PC merger supporters, the result must have easily met or exceeded expectations. They got the lions share of the membership to stick with them, except for Orchard and his supporters which those who were really behind the merger of course never wanted in the first place.

    Keeping the crew together did not immediately translate into popular support gains, but who is to blame for that? Stephen Harper , version 2004. It wasn’t the seasoned Stephen Harper, it was Stephen Harper/The Hulk, whose angry streak and chair kicking was barely concealed and Canadians knew it. Maybe he was another Stockwell Day, they probably wondered. He was an untested Stephen Harper who still looked scary. He is still scary, but time has given the CPC the ability to partly paper over that problem.

    Other factors like the ascendency of strategic voting against Harper and the new party, increased concern about climate change, the Orchard diaspora finding new homes, and general public unease with this new monster called the Conservative Party which looked very much like a Canadian Alliance takeover (which it more or less was), helped drive the combined popular vote lower. Certainly it wasn’t Paul Martin’s campaigning in 2004 which did the trick.

    The bottom line: Stephen Harper, more than any other factor, is the reason the merged party did not emerge with a larger popular vote and he remains the reason why that party is still limited to a minority government.

    But I do fear that due to continued poor alternatives to Harper, one of these days he will engineer a majority win unless the opposition smartens up in a hurry.

    If we were discussing a merger, I would assume that the NDP and Liberals could probably make a go of it. The PC and CA membership hated each other in a way similar to some elements of the NDP and Liberals, although I think the NDP has probably a bigger hurdle to cross in joining forces in a permanent way than either the CA or the PC did. Surely the more hard core elements of the NDP would splinter off and they would be a much bigger new party than the tiny “PC Party” which still exists today.

    Since we are discussing a coalition, perhaps that’s an easier pill for all to swallow since it implies a future for any member party of the coalition.

    The real trick is to not need the Bloc in any formal way, and that means you’ve got to drag away swing voters from the Conservatives in numbers greater than you lose (from bluer Liberals) in this endeavour. That smells like a leadership talent is required and I am honestly not sure if that precondition is in place.

    • Robbie says:

      Michael
      Thank you for the past few posts. Very informative. I’m a conservative voter in BC. Know the pit and the pendulum drawn here. Pareto principle is at work in all parties: 80% complain about what the 20% do, sometimes behind their backs with the sharpest of knives drawn.
      The big question I ask here of WK, and the people who frequent his blogsite, is how are we, as a democracy, going to confront the elephant in the electoral room: the proverbially low voter turn out of the last 20 years or so?

      • Riley says:

        Electoral reform. Our system has got to change to something that delivers seats based on the actual vote. That is why nobody votes. Nobody gets the government they vote for. Our system is incapable of producing that. . Only some form of PR guarantees that if you vote for a party, you will get at least some representation in parliament. Right now 11% of Canadians say they’d vote green. They won’t get one seat because their support is a mile wide and an inch deep. but the Bloc will get 50 seats because they are geographically focussed. But Canada’s interests aren’t really based on geography that much anymore and much more split along social/cultural lines. Liberals and conservatives, environmentalists and social democrats live all over the country they are drawn by the views they hold about issues, very little about geography. our electoral system produces a phony dialogue about regions, when that is not the core axis around which our politics revolves.

  11. allegra fortissima says:

    “We must demonstrate that we are capable of devising institutional means which can realize goals of maximum human dignity. maximum maximum human welfare, maximum environmental quality, and minimum violence in human relationships. In short, we must be relevant. Our efforts must be directed not to the tasks for which government was thought to be designed at the beginning of the century, but for the tasks for which it must be designed at the conclusion of the century.” (Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Conversation with Canadians).

    In short, you must be relevant, Liberal Party. So be relevant! And if the NDP can contribute to the relevance, then go for it. My math skills aren’t the greatest, but for me one plus one equals two! Some things in math you have to go along with, it works!

  12. wilson says:

    Cons can so easily charactorize a Liberal-NDP coalition (of convenience) as
    Jack parachuting Ignatieff into 24 Sussex and serving himself up a half dozen cabinet seats for his efforts,
    because Canadians won’t do it.

  13. Albertosaurus says:

    In retrospect: shouldn’t the LPC & NDP have just formed a coalition together – excluded the Bloc – and forced the CPC to dance with the Bloc instead?

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