06.04.2010 04:03 PM

Coalition on The Current

I did CBC Radio’s The Current before I left for the cabin. I guess it’ll be on Monday morning. I’m not sure.

Anyway. They wanted to know why I favoured a Liberal-NDP merger or coalition or whatever. Three reasons, I said.

One, the Conservatives and Reform/Alliance did it, and it obviously kind of worked for them. Splitting your votes isn’t usually a path to success, conservatives concluded. They were right.

Two, it’s a characteristic of modern democracy everywhere – most notably, and most recently, in Britain. It’s not something that is for “losers” or is somehow undemocratic. It’s for winners. And it’s the very essence of democracy – cooperation, conciliation, compromise. Those are good things.

Thirdly, I told them, I had the privilege to work for Jean Chrétien. My experience is that, if he says something is a good idea politically, it always is. A Liberal-Democrat Party is a good idea. Trust the old guy. He knows.

So, CBC asked, is it all a repudiation of Liberal history?

No way, said I. The Liberal Party has been successful because we’ve never been doctrinaire – historically, we have been successful because we are flexible enough to attract red Tories as well as fiscally-responsible social democrats. That isn’t against our history, I said.

It is our history.


  1. Erik says:

    I am so torn on the idea of a merger.

    On the one hand, we would almost certainly be more competitive in elections. Harper would lose the election pretty handily. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

    On the other hand, the great thing about the Liberals is that when we can swing left or right, depending on the circumstances. we’re the party that brought health care to Canada AND the party that slew the deficit. If we permanently aligned ourselves to the centre-left we wouldn’t be as flexible to deal with future problems.

    My brain hurts now, Warren. Thanks.

  2. Michael Watkins says:

    Well said Warren.

  3. H Holmes says:

    It seems to me that we are still in a leadership race.
    Rae and Chretien for that matter shouldn’t be speaking about this stuff in public, unless they just want to undermine Ignatieff.
    Kind of the same way Dion was scuttled or Martin got in.
    At least under Chretien this consist undermining was put to rest until about 2002.
    If guys like Rae want a coalition and hope to lead it, propose it at the next biannual convention which happens to be Ottawa next year.

    I hope to be there to vote against it.

    Until that time get behind Ignatieff and start working on good policy.

    As long as this stuff goes on it will hurt the party.
    But then again there are many members that don’t care about party success
    and are more than willing to walk into merger with out realizing how many people will leave.
    I for one will have a very hard time staying in a Liberal-NDP party and for that matter I wouldn’t think the party would want me.

    I give you lots of credit for being one of the best minds in politics.
    I just wish you were more focused on moving the party forward and
    would focus on winning back the 905 and other suburban ridings.

    Finally I hope that we get a leader that is not tied to any of this.
    Hopefully we will have a whole new set of people up for leadership after the next election.

    • Warren says:

      Thanks, but no one sees this being anti-Iggy. He’d be the guy leading the new party, after all.

      He’d be PM, too.

      • Paul R. Martin says:

        Have you asked Jack Layton about this? He might want to be the leader or no deal. Jack seems to want the limelight more than Iggy.

      • H Holmes says:

        Wouldn’t that depend on negotiations.
        I think that there would be many NDPer’s who would not support Iggy running the joint.

        I think there would another leadership race, much like the PC-Alliance merger.

        The person that won that race was the person that proposed it.
        For that matter he was the one that proposed the first merger.

        My opinion is if there was a leadership race after a merged party.
        Which I think is the only way this moves forward, it would be lead by Trudeau because of the relative Youth and vigor of the NDP machine.
        However, I see Rae wanting to win this and this being his last big play to be PM.

        In the end, blue liberals and socially conservative NDPer’s will be smoked out of the new party.
        and we will still be a 4 party country, with many more left votes being bled to the greens which I see taking over from the NDP.

        • Ronald O'Dowd says:

          Paul R. Martin,

          Justin is not yet ready. He needs more time, and some seasoning, to possibly take on the leadership in the future.

  4. Steve T says:

    Most important thing you’d need to do under a coalition with the NDP: have the NDP themselves assure voters that the coalition won’t be hijacked by the far left of the party. That means no blind pandering to unions; no rabid anti-corporate policies; no “all rich people are bad” taxation policies, etc, etc.. People have listened to the likes of Pat Martin, Libby Davies, and even Jack Layton for long enough that they have a healthy caution about giving control to the NDP. The Liberals need to power-broker this coalition into a moderate (emphasis MODERATE) centre-left proposition, and then get the NDP to speak in calm, cool tones to the public.

    • Geo says:

      Hey Steve haven’t you notice all the far (old) lefties are slowly “leaving” the NDP, and they have a strong push to get fresh faces in. The face of that party is changing, and Layton is doing everything he can to hurry it along.

  5. ishmael daro says:

    As a sometime NDP voter, I wouldn’t want to see this happen, at least not a merger. A post-election coalition akin to how many European governments are formed is another matter.

    But a merger would try to blend the Liberals’ and NDP’s different traditions and ideologies and ultimately fail. The NDP has a labour/farmer history and social-democratic ideology. Liberals, meanwhile, are big-tent party that may be largely socially progressive but probably still too business-friendly for many Dippers. As commenter Erik said, the Liberals have the ability, as a big-tent party, to swing left or right but they would probably lose that flexibility in a merger.

    Maybe this horse has been beaten to death, but if we had proportional representation a) the Conservative seat count would shrink to be more in line with their vote total and b) the Liberals and New Democrats (not to mention the Greens) would gain more seats. This would make reasonable left-of-centre coalitions more probable, if not inevitable.

    Lastly, I fear that if our multi-party electorate is squeezed into a two-party system, partisanship would increase and politics would soon resemble the United States.

    • Reality.Bites says:

      While it might be true that would happen if we had proportional representation, we don’t have it and we’re not going to have it. So what you’re saying is the equivalent of saying “If Canada was located on the equator, our entire snow removal budget could be spent on other things.”

      I also really can’t imagine how a two-party system could possibly be more partisan than the one we have right now.

      • ishmael daro says:

        “I also really can’t imagine how a two-party system could possibly be more partisan than the one we have right now.”

        At least in Canada, it’s only a relatively small political class that gives a shit about the political parties and their leaders. In the states the Democrats and Republicans often serve as an all-purpose left-right way to divide citizens. At least with three (maybe four?) major federal parties it’s not as easy for a culture war to develop along party lines.

    • Pat Heron says:

      Post-election coalition following pre-election discussions would likely be most attractive to Liberal, NDP and Green members. Each party would retain its ideological basis but agreement would be possible on very broad policy issues and direction. Perhaps there could be agreement on supporting specific candidates likely to win in certain ridings. Let’s talk.

  6. James Bow says:

    You need to be clear about what’s on the table, here. Electoral cooperation, coalition and merger are three very different things, each with wholly different implications for Canadian voters.

    I have nothing against coalitions; indeed, I think you have to be an utter fool to rule them out if an election looks like it’s going to produce unclear results. In a minority parliament, no party has a clear mandate to do anything, other than to try to represent the interests of their ridings to the best of their abilities, and to compromise and negotiate with the duly elected representatives of the other ridings in the House. If a Conservative government falls because it was not able to reach out and compromise with at least one of the other opposition parties in parliament, and the opposition parties are able to forge a workable coalition, the Conservatives are the ones at fault for being inflexible. Politics and democracy is all about negotiation and compromise; to suggest otherwise is pure lunacy.

    I am not opposed to the idea of some electoral cooperation, either, if only to wise up the various parties when they start to call for supporters of other parties to “vote strategically”. Consider the 2004 election, where the Conservatives looked like they were on the verge of winning, and Paul Martin sounded the alarm to NDP supporters. “Come to us to stop a Conservative government” he called (paraphrasing). And while the last week of the campaign showed signs of a dip in Conservative support, the comments of Martin and other Liberals may have been counterproductive. The 2004 election produced a House that was almost unworkable, with the combined seat totals of the Liberals and the NDP tied with that of the Conservatives and the Bloc (and the Bloc were NOT interested in playing ball with the Liberals as they are, now). But because NDP support dropped throughout the country, it cost the NDP seats that the Conservatives won. The Liberals had no realistic hope of winning seats in Saskatchewan, or in the riding of Oshawa. Had the NDP supporters there continued to support the NDP, those wouldn’t have been Conservative seats, and the Liberals and the NDP together could have commanded a workable majority in parliament.

    But a full merger would be a mistake, in my opinion. It would effectively disenfranchise voters. Liberal supporters and NDP supporters have different aspirations, and both deserve to have a voice in parliament. Merging the two together removes a voice, and will increase the number of people who don’t see the value of voting in this country. Note that, it took four years before the current Conservative party won as high a percentage of the vote as the PCs and the Alliance were able to command together during the 1997 and 2000 elections. Even today, while Liberal numbers are down, Conservative numbers are down too, meaning that a number of old Tories (and possibly even old Reformers) do not see the Conservative Party as voicing their aspirations enough to gain their vote. Some of those voters have gone to the Liberals. Many, I think, have switched to the Greens, but more, I suspect, just don’t vote anymore, since they do not feel that there is a party out there who can speak for them in parliament, and that’s sad. Our parliament should represent our country in all of its diversity. As many voices as possible should at least be heard.

    The only solution to that is to institute a system of proportional representation. Then we don’t need to kill off political voices in order to force the voters to split along pre-ordained political fault lines. Then we move to real negotations, building real coalitions in this House, in the way that democracy should function.

    • Cam says:

      Who’s going to champion electoral reform?

      This idea, and more, was raised in a 2006 interview with Mr. Harper and kind of funny to read in context of our current discussion, http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/parliament39/interview.html

      Stephen Harper: In fairness, what Mr. Layton really raised with me was that he wanted to see some followup to the electoral reform study that was done in the last Parliament, which, by the way, was a three-party opposition motion that kind of got that whole thing going in the first place. He just wanted to see us get a little further ahead with that process. There’s no doubt that there will be some differences in view on that issue and on others, but as I say, Mr. Layton has taken the attitude at the outset that he wants to find some common ground. He wants to get some things done for the people who voted NDP. And, look, from our standpoint, we’re a minority party. I want to encourage the government to reach beyond its own partisan stripe and if we can find common ground on the things that it ran on, that’s what I’m going to do.

      But in hindsight now, do you think Mr. Harper, the Champion Proroguer he is, will ever produce a bill for proportional representation? After they Conservatives switched gears to focus on Senate reform, remember Mr. Harper said he’d never appoint a Senator either, he eventually flip-flopped on that too and managed justify the appoint 33 new Senators like Mike Duffy.

      Federal Liberals have crafted progressive legislation, where those ideas were independently championed by people like Tommy Douglas. Deep down, I don’t think our aspirations are still all that different. Liberals had the capacity to bring about change but the CCF-NDP had a social conscience that was ahead of it’s time. To me, that heritage is worth a lot more than the petty sniping taken at their more recent leaders. One day we’ll look back at the things that need to change today, thinks like an environment policy for the tar sands, electoral reform and civil liberties and view them in the same way we now view Medicare and labour reform: what took so long?

  7. MCBellecourt says:

    I would welcome a coalition, and was also receptive to the idea when Stephane Dion was leader, because, long before Harper became prime minister, I ‘pinged’ him big-time, researching him to death. I had never done that with a political leader before, but something about him raised the red flags.

    Sometimes I hate being right. Canada is swiftly heading towards bankruptcy under Harper, and our children and grandchildren will pay the heaviest price.

  8. Francesco says:

    I have been thinking of this notion all week, and the final conclusion is that the NDP and Libeals would not merge as the ideas that come from the NDP on the free trade, the oil sands, environment, taxation, foreign policy, free trade, would be incompatible with a mainstream party. finally, the numbers just don’t add up, see Calgary Grit for his analysis on this. We would lose a huge portion of the centre of the liberal party. Also, Harper would realize that in order to expand his base he would just have to use the “economy card” against us and that would destroy us. Also, the liberal party has been declining for a number of years and those looking for some water in the desert to quench their thirst through a merger with the NDP, at this moment I think are surely mistaken. Maybe my mind change as others have on this issue but as a red tory and fiscally responsible one at that it would be difficult to vote and donate to party that no longer will follow its fiscally responsible and socially progressive history. We would lose a lot of liberals, particularly those outside of the GTA.

  9. JH says:

    I don’t see where Ignatieff would necessarily be the leader Warren. Rae’s obviously positioning himself for the job and Jack can read the polls too. Personally I think the Count would be out on his keister.

  10. robert says:

    I’ve believed a ‘merger’, was necessary for more than 2 decades.
    Either that or, the formation of another right wing party.

    • Reality.Bites says:

      That’s the ticket! A stealth coalition of Liberals and NDP supporters should form a dummy right-wing party

  11. I’ve supported the NDP for over 20 yrs. and would bet most other New Democrats would want this country’s course corrected and if it takes a coalition, vote pairing, or any other configuration to rid the country of the Conservatives so be it. What happens in four years? Who knows but the way this things going we’ll have Harper forever.

  12. Sean says:

    “We can’t afford to isolate the *perfect* from the *good*.”

    President William Jefferson Clinton

  13. Juan says:

    I think that any merger supporters need to engage with this post by Calgary Grit: http://calgarygrit.blogspot.com/2010/05/come-together-right-now.html

    (The tl;dr, most libs don’t have the NDP as their 2nd choice and vice versa: even if 80% of each joined the new party, the tories would still win).

    I’m not saying this post is the end of the debate, but I think it needs to be the beginning: the issues it raises need to be engaged.

    • Michael Watkins says:

      That post bases much of its conclusion on the 2008 election results. One would expect a better performance from whoever is the the leader(s) of the coalition or merged entity or after the fact coalition.

      Myself I would favour whatever the best possible approach (coalition or merger) that can be set up prior to an election rather than the default “let’s wait for the vote results and then decide”.

      If Canadians are yearning for an alternative to Harper and the CPC, one that can win, not just win more than 08’s dismal outcome, then they need to know what that is going to look like in advance otherwise there is nothing for them to get excited about.

      • Juan says:

        The fundamental core of the post: that most libs don’t have NDP as their 2nd choice and vice versa is from a 2010 poll.

        Additionally, as soon as the new leadership race starts you know that Harper is going to force an election.

        • Michael Watkins says:

          I’ll raise you another comparison: 2003, party second choices:
          PC – only 35% listed the CA as second choice, only 18% CA members listed the PC Party as their second choice. Remember, this was just three months before a merger would be announced and that merger was overwhelmingly supported by members. http://ekos.com/admin/articles/18July2003.pdf

          By contrast the second choice intentions for Lib/NDP members are positively, well, positive!

          I’m not saying bringing these groups together would be easy, only that history shows it is more possible than most here seem willing to believe.

  14. Anne Peterson says:

    The real answer is proportional representation, but in the mean time getting rid of Harper is a must. He is a man who will do anything to win and that’s not what Canada needs. It doesn’t have to be a marriage for life, does it, where you have to consider and settle all the little differences? And as for the person who suggests all the old time NDPers would leave, where do you suggest we would go anyway? Conservative? Fat chance.

  15. Bill Templeman says:

    Warren, you are right on the money about a merger. I would also be open to a strategic voting agreement. But a coalition after an election runs the substantial risk of being stillborn. If Harper gets his majority or another strong minority, a coalition between the Libs and NDP won’t matter, ergo it won’t happen.

    Sadly, if you asked me to bet my house on this issue, I would say that the merger will not happen, because the elite levels of decision making with the Liberal Party will say, in effect, “Michael deserves a shot at an election as the leader of an independent LPC, full stop. No mergers, no strategic voting, no deals period. Case closed.” And with that brilliantly shortsighted burst of bluster, the country will be condemned to 4 more years of Harper’s radical partisanship and bullying. Please convince me to the contrary, but that’s how the facts look right now.

    • Warren says:

      It’s worse than that. Harper plans to offer a platform that removes the Election Canada subsidy. If he wins, the LPC is in big, big trouble.

  16. Namesake says:

    Given that minority govt’s are now going to be a way of life unless or until the Bloc dissolves, maybe the solution to this impasse is to craft an electoral accord with both the NDP & the Greens to only run the best-chance non-Con. in each riding, on a joint platform to devise and pass a good proportional representation system ASAP, or, say, within 2 years, at which point it will vote to dissolve itself to have the first election on that scheme.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Well, I have not been in favour of a coalition, but I trust the people who are in favour of a coalition; that they’re going to do whatever is best for Canada. That was brought home to me when I watched Coyne vs Kinsella. I thought I liked Coyne up until then, but I just don’t trust him.
    Personalities don’t matter at this point. The most important thing is the future of Canada, and Canadians.

    I have often wished that we had a less confrontational style of government, that people could work together instead of undermining each other all the time.

    Remember that old typing test? “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the Party.”

  18. Elizabeth says:

    So, go for it. Go for the gusto. 🙂

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