06.04.2010 06:39 AM

Hebert: Liberals should consider a coalition


Former prime minister Jean Chrétien feels a Liberal/NDP coalition is a concept worth exploring. “If it’s doable, let’s do it” he told CBC television last week. Former NDP premier Roy Romanow agrees. In an interview on the same network this week, he said the two parties should at least be “bold” enough to discuss the notion.

In his own days as a minority premier in Saskatchewan, Romanow experimented with a governing coalition and found it a constructive experience. In a recent op-ed piece, Bob Rae – who as an Ontario NDP leader signed on to a pact that allowed David Peterson’s minority Liberals to govern the province from 1985 to 1987 – used the 25th anniversary of the event to write it up as a worthwhile exercise.

Among the three of them, Rae, Chrétien and Romanow command a larger audience than current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

That may explain why, despite efforts on the part of Ignatieff and his palace guard, the idea of coalition-building will not go away.

The forces of the status quo, however, are reduced to personally attacking the likes of Jean Chretien, which tells you all you need about them and the quality of their argument: “…the few Liberal advocates of such an alliance are most at fault…Those who would sacrifice [the Liberal] legacy with so little spirit should be greeted with skepticism. Or worse.”

Get that? “Or worse.” Perhaps they plan to tar and feather us.

Meanwhile, I hear that Bob Richardson – the influential and respected head of Red Leaf – was on CBC national radio last night to say we should look at what Chretien and others have to say, and not ever dismiss it out of hand.

Better get a lot more tar and feathers, tough guy.


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    Sandra says:

    Chretien, Romanow, Broadbent were very different people than Layton. If this is a game to get Rae in, I’m done with the Liberal Party who I have supported all my life. And, Layton is a real problem for me.

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      Michael Watkins says:

      (apologies for the essay in advance, think I’ll make this my last for a while)

      Sandra: “all my life” – I’m sure you aren’t nearly old enough to have witnessed the full spectrum of change, often radical change, that every political party or movement in Canada has been subject to over the history of our country. It is a mistake to look at our relatively recent experiences and assume that things will continue to play out as they have over the course of our short period of observation.

      Parties and political alliances evolve and change and have changed dramatically in Canada over the past two hundred years. If it were not for a coalition of interests in the 1800’s between between a number of groups, many of whom were seen as radicals by the entrenched establishment, the Liberal Party of Canada might not have taken form until decades later.

      Back then it was a group or “reformers” who wanted to change many policies that were imposed upon pre-confederation Canada by order of the Queen or through the hugely powerful political control maintained by the dominant churches of the time. The Reformers would join forces with the Clear Grits and in time draw in important alliances from Quebec which were critical in dislodging the ruling Conservatives. Some elements of support from rural Canada also joined forces with the Grits even though many of these areas would in time become regions of support for what became the CCF (and later the NDP). One could argue that Liberals and the NDP (CCF) of today are something of a mirror image of what happened to the PC’s and Reform who broke violently in the 1990’s, only the split wasn’t as pronounced and has been on-going for far longer.

      Would Canadians support some form of cooperation? Would they see benefit to an arrangement or think of it as political opportunism? History suggests that the benefits can be explained and again one need look no further back than 2003 when the CA-PC merger was completed.

      If you do look farther back you’ll recognize that a number of the the more durable and loved by Canadians examples of Liberal policy adoption were either influenced by the left, or were obtained by the CCF/NDP in exchange for their support. Old age pensions are one example that has stood the test of time from MacKenzie King’s day, thanks to agreement between King’s Liberals and the CCF. Pearson introduced CPP, a form of inter-provincial equalization, and universal health care which of course had its roots in Tommy Douglas’s Saskatchewan.

      One thing that has remained constant for a very long time is that Canadians have always tended to gravitate towards the centre, but with a strong preference for looking after one another. Some call that tendency “left”, but I think we should call it simply Canadian. This is ground that the Conservatives, when led by someone like Harper, are horribly uncomfortable walking on, yet both the NDP and Liberals have a history of treading on this territory comfortably and successfully.

      Despite this history of compromise and common purpose in important areas of policy, the centre / center-left have for decades continue to hive off support which has become quite pronounced on a regional basis. This has led to the situation *today* where the NDP and Liberal camps might win some battles but won’t win the war any time soon.

      We’ve seen this movie before folks. The split among Canadians who did not vote for the Progressive Conservatives in 1988 allowed Brian Mulroney to regain a second majority and seal the deal on the Free Trade Agreement. (Ironically, early Grits had *always* favoured free trade with the United States, and while a simple comparison of yea vs nay would not do that topic justice, it is just another example of how dramatically political parties and policies change over time.)

      The center / center-left split will accomplish only one thing – delivering to Harper a majority. Then both parties will have plenty of time to play the blame game and eventually come to grips with doing what should have been done years ago.

      If sensible minds came together, a NDP-Liberal, or Liberal-NDP coalition, or even a merger if bold hearts and minds can get behind that, could bring back much needed support from Quebec that has been lost by both Conservative and Liberal parties and gained by the Bloc which is certainly a pro-socially progressive party.

      Following some sort of union I believe you would find increased interest again from urban areas that are currently under threat of going Conservative Blue rather than to Orange or Red and surely there is a way to tap into rural Canada’s issues. Holding the centrist/left support in the West from further erosion, and gaining in Quebec and probably too in Atlantic Canada could make for a very different outcome than Stephen Harper would like to see.

      As for Scott Reid, while he certainly is no John Crosbie, he’s strumming the same guitar that Crosbie was holding back in 2002 when he declared “no truck nor trade with the morticians of the Alliance”. A year later Crosbie would meekly come out in support of the merger.

      Shrill voices will denounce any attempt at coming together, joining in Harper’s polemics painting a cooperative venture of any sort as a one-way ticket to massive government spending and a debt sink hole. Such talk is crap, of course. Even the NDP have recognized that financial management is key to arriving at the objectives they’d like to see. To that end they even ran a highly respected former vice president of the Royal Bank as a candidate and I can tell you he was one fellow I had time for. No one on either side of the house wants to plunge the country deep in to painful debt, and see us return to the days where a third of every tax dollar merely went to interest payments.

      Both the NDP and Liberals understand the objective is to represent Canadians and Canadians are largely in the centre/centre left. The difference between them and the Conservatives is the Conservative leadership hates both the centre and the centre left but are willing to pretend to occupy that space until they have the power to actually force a mindset change down the throats of Canadians.

      I was a progressive “Tory”, involved primarily because I felt strongly that democracy was not being well served by one strong party and no national alternative. In the end a strong party was only achieved with reunification of a much stronger right wing element with the bare remnants of a more middle of the road PC party, thus I had no home as I was part of Canada’s beloved mushy middle, and an environmentalist to boot. The Conservative Party hates the mushy middle and the environment, and given their current leadership their stand on either isn’t likely to change soon, so where else could I turn? In 2003, or 2006, or 2008, why not turn to the Liberals or the NDP as stand alone entities?

      While some former PC’s did turn to the Liberals immediately or over time as the new party revealed itself, I couldn’t bring myself to join a party which was embroiled in a civil war, even if I had applauded (probably for the first time in a while) what Jean Chretien did to keep Canada out of Iraq in 2002/2003. From the outside looking in I didn’t know what to make of Paul Martin. Even to this day I wonder if the party has moved all the way past an armistice to a peace treaty. Just looking at results is easier and with Liberal party fortunes on a steady decline, particularly in the west where I sit, I was not willing to repeat the same grinding and ultimately fruitless experience we western Progressive Conservative activists toiled through over the many dark final days of that party.

      I wasn’t willing to join the NDP, even though I have many friends in that party too, and find agreement with them on a number of social and environmental issues as do I’m sure many Canadians and Liberals alike, simply because being supportive of similar objectives doesn’t mean I agree with their path to achieving them. They need help, as much as they would like to continue to influence the agenda.

      I could not join the Green Party, not under Harris nor under May, because like Suzuki I believe that the cause of moving Canada towards a more environmentally sustainable path has actually been set back hard by the Green Party. Like Suzuki I would applaud their demise.

      I’d like to have seen Dion rise above his personal communication challenges, rise above the ongoing feud within the LPC, rise above the Conservative attacks, and become a strong unifying voice for change that resonated across the country. Clearly that wasn’t the case and wasn’t going to happen and despite having affinity for the man for due to his obvious concern over environmental issues, I could not wait to see him go even if there was no white knight in the wings and still is no heir apparent with the ability to address the core problem our country faces, regionalism.

      Regionalism in our country’s politics has made it impossible for a national leader to make strides on our thornier environmental issues. There has to be a strong national party or political alliance with the stability to last in order that sufficient time be granted to a process of intense but respectful dialogue to lead to a workable consensus on how we go about managing resource and the environment. Maybe if Harper were a real leader he could achieve this, but his objectives do not lie upon that road.

      Ditto for other pressing national issues. Less division, less regionalism, more unity is needed.

      The logical conclusion to all this? Where could someone like me turn to?

      As a proud mushy-middle social safety net loving environmentally and socially/fiscally responsible capitalist I would have absolutely no excuse standing in my way of picking up a membership card for a hopefully not forever mythical Liberal Democratic Party.

      If a Liberal-NDP merger were to come about, or have a chance of coming about, for sure I will step off the political fence and join in to help make it happen, I believe there would be a great many Canadians who wake up in surprise at such a development and want to pitch in to return to Canada a choice with national scope that appeals to where most of us hang our hearts and minds.

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        Michael Watkins says:

        PS: In another WK musing I believe I commented on the possibility of a snap election call by Harper sometime between the G20 and fall, needing only a catalyst event to get the ball rolling. Brewing over the past few weeks has been just such a catalyst.

        The “loaded gun” given to Greece to stop its implosion has ended up shooting them in the foot. Instead of PIIGS we have PHIIGS as other countries start to see their credit spreads widen unsustainably. The Euro is continuing to implode today, the Swiss have given up for now the currency intervention operations they were engaged in, and the euro will fall much further in the weeks to come. All the intervention in the world can only slow down, not reverse course, what is happening overseas and at the same time China is having hiccups too.

        Plunging stock markets not connected to anyone’s fat fingers will be the unhappy accompaniment to this upheaval again widening its reach across the world.

        If you are a minority PM looking for an angle to gain a majority, what could be more fertile ground than *external* turmoil pared with a recent track record of relatively calm waters domestically?

        One can almost count on Harper running to the Governor General to claim that the government is dysfunctional, again, and that he needs a new mandate in order to bring home policies to protect Canada from the ravages of the world financial meltdown, part II (coming). Someone better start watching her travel schedule for unexpected returns or cancellations.

        Harper’s sales pitch to Canadians? “I’m a strong leader and I protected you last time and I’ll do it again. You can’t possibly trust the other guys to do this, on their own, or together.”

        A bogus claim, specious even, but eminently saleable.

        Given the opposition track record over the past two years of world wide financial turmoil, and lack of current opposition cooperation, I rank the chances of a Harper majority under such conditions as all but certain.

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    BK says:

    WE should remember Romanow’s coallition basically killed the small resurgence the Liberal Party in Saskatchewan was enjoying at that time.

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      Sandra says:

      Much like the Lib/NDP coalition of Rae and Peterson – it killed the NDP in Ontario. I’m not so sure the the Ontario NDP would appreciate Rae at the helm, nor would seniors who are the bulk of the voters.

      The only sort of coalition to me that really worked was the Pearson/Douglas one. They respected each other and Tommy Douglas was more concerned Canada and what the Cons would do to it than himself.

      Pearson considered a weak leader, only ever had a minority, but boy what those two did together for Canada.

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        James Smith says:

        Respectfully, your memory is not correct:

        – While you may not like Mr Peterson he won at 95 of 130 seats in 1987 and was seen at the time as charismatic
        – His ill-advised election call with no theme 3 years later saw the election of a certain Mr Rae (& many of my friends to loose good jobs!)
        – The recession & some daffy NDP policies, a too thoughtful Liberal Leader, & a well run & packaged Tory campaign sunk the NDP (& Ontario is still poorer as a result of those 8 mean years of neo-con rule).

        While I still have an autographed Red Tie from Mr Peterson, I still carry something of a grudge for the stupidity of that election call & the pals who lost their jobs.

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    Janet Anderson says:

    I have always thought, the idea, the 2 parties should form one party or at least be able to form a coalition.
    Less than, 33% of the population are running the country. Time to give us a party that can at least get over 40% of the population to vote for them.
    Just my opinion and many of the people I speak to,agree. There are To many parties,that split up the vote, that is a problem. Time to move on and keep up with today’s views and changes. No matter the decision, staying the way we are is getting us no where. People will leave each party, if we keep going on like this or if we join together-better to deal with it now and try and win them back.
    Time for some real changes.

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    Cam says:

    The Liberal tradition of fiscal management is not going to dissolve into thin air overnight. I don?t see a merger as the precursor to the Liberal Party losing it?s soul at all and so why should we negate good ideas from the NDP, especially those that champion social justice? Who wants to side with the (the former) Nortel?s management and creditors vs. the workers left out in the cold by its bankruptcy? Anyone??

    Yes, I?d like to hear something that addresses the 21st century reality about how to secure workers? pensions and I find Mr. Reid?s piece to be self-serving and confirms our suspicions about what many elected members and consultants really value, i.e. *their* jobs. I really try to give my kids the guidance to work hard and succeed on their own but I’d feel a lot better if I knew some corporate giant couldn’t legally maneuver them behind the eight ball. For all of their bluster, there’s really no alternatives from the Cons, who are following corporate America’s game plan completely. Self monitoring and regulations designed by and for Food Inc., Big Oil and Media are the norm in Ottawa now.

    ?A so-called coalition would hardly be worth the effort unless it attempted to collapse the anti-Conservative vote around fewer opposition candidates. The practical consequence is crystal clear: Liberal and NDP officials would need to carve up the electoral map and agree together which candidates would run in what ridings. No longer would the Liberal Party ? which since the days of Laurier has embodied the principle of national reconciliation ? stand as a truly national institution. Clearly, it would have to vacate some yet-to-be arbitrated number of constituencies. Would the NDP insist that they pose the greater threat to Conservatives in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia? Would the Liberals seriously contemplate such a concession??

    I say let the grassroots members decide the best candidate for each riding.

    Way back when the CAW/UAW and Lee Iacocca were resurrecting Chrysler in the early ?80?s, Iacocca was fond of saying one thing, ?Lead, follow or get out of the way.?

    Mr. Reid – you?re in the way.

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      Cam says:

      sorry for the formatting issue – i won’t use Apple ‘Pages’ to edit the posts….

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    JH says:

    Layton for PM! And then we’re all back in power where we belong!

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      parnel says:

      BOO!!!! Bad stuff

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    Adam says:

    Instead of a coalition, why not just dump Ignatieff and replace him with someone with more presence who can captivate the country? The Conservatives have been ripe for a beatdown for a while now and if Iggy hasn’t done it yet, I don’t think it will happen. All the brains in the world won’t make you a leader if you haven’t got the it factor. It’s unfortunate because I came into this as a big supporter of Ignatieff, but I’m also a realist.

    I think two excellent choices to replace Ignatieff are Frank McKenna and Gerard Kennedy (young and dynamic with a flair for speaking). Sorry Bob Rae, too much baggage to hold off Tory attacks.

    No coalition required, but I do concede that splitting the left vote is all that’s keeping Harper afloat at this point.

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    John says:

    You folks complaining that 35% of the country are running things never had a problem when Chretien won a majority with 37% support. But I suppose that was different as that was your guy and you guys don’t like the fact that you are losers this time around and have to accept that Canadians are done with your style of politics and “Canadian values” which just happen to coincide with the Liberal platform. Well those aren’t Canadian values, those are left-wing socialist values. Canadians stand for freedom, against terrorists, and for keeping our money and not stuffing it in brown envelopes for delivery to friends.

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      parnel says:

      John, please tell us the reformatorie values are. All we see is a CULTURE OF DECEIT AND LIES. If those are your Canadian values God help us.

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      Michael Watkins says:

      Envelopes? Who is talking about envelopes with cash again? Is Karl Heinz back in town? And were those envelopes handed to the former Prime Minister of Canada, the conservative Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney brown? I didn’t know that.

      There’s a place for folks who think that a few bad folks in one party indicts the entire party made up of hundreds of thousands of members and supporters and all the millions of Canadians that vote for them.

      That place is called the Right Wing Nutbar Ranch and the RWNR is currently run by less sane elements of the Conservative Party of Canada. Even they will eventually purge you, or someone there will get caught handing envelopes with cash or misappropriating public funds or the public trust and suddenly John will either grow very quiet, or will leave the CPC and vent his spleen through another vehicle.

      What John is really looking for as an outlet for the crazier denizens of political thinking is something like a “Tea Party North”. You need a charismatic person who has trouble with reality to endorse such a beast. Maybe if Sarah Palin is busy John could ask that paragon of right-wing politics Rachel Marsden to come back home from Paris. Just don’t start up a relationship with her.

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    billg says:

    I know very little about politics, but, for me its fun to see how the machine’s work, so, here goes.
    I’ve voted Liberal more times in my life then I’ve voted Conservative, but, its starting to catch up.
    Since I consider myself everyday normal my issue and I think a lot of Canadians issue is…I trust the Liberals to govern from the middle left / right after they are elected, I always have, I guess its why they were once called the Natural Governing Party. I’m not sure I can give them the same sort of trust if they take into the tent, and I’m sorry for the labels, but, socialists. I have always trusted Libs or Cons to do whats best for the country once elected, and, partisan rhetoric aside, most do. I would much rather see the Liberals take their lumps for a few more years, heal some wounds and come back a strong centre left party. But, thats just me.

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    Sandra says:

    Oh gawd, here we go again. The Libs attacking each other. This is just so tiresome. Nothing learned it seems.

    I can’t stand it anymore.

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    Paul R. Martin says:

    So who would lead the Liberal the proposed Liberal Democratic Party? The Leading candidates (Ignatieff, Rae and Layton) are all from Hogtown. My longshot candidate (a certain unidentified homeless person) is also from the Big Smoke. The last time a party with leader from Toronto won a federal election was during the decade when the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup. Harper does not count because he is an ex pat.

    What concessions would the NDP want? An increase in the GST? Higher corporate taxes? Higher taxes on everyone earning over $100,000? More power to unions? Layton as interim leader? I can envision a dream election scenario for the Conservatives if the NDP wants a lot in return for merging with the Liberals.

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    Jason Cherniak says:

    Warren, what exactly are you proposing? Is it a merger, a pre-election deal or the option of a post-election coalition?

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      Warren says:

      I’m flexible. Just a discussion, to start. Then we can get specific.

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        I’m relieved. Your words have reassured me: “Just a discussion, to start.” I will come on board if someone convinces me that we can both hold, expand and WIN the political center. Otherwise, count me out. (Not that that would be a very big loss if I took a powder.)

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    JStanton says:

    Having architected the destruction of the LPC, Mr. X has no credibility. Tarring and feathering is too good for him. His complete banishment from the party would be appropriate and just. And then, a focused campaign to ensure his utter professional ruin.

    That he has the temerity to write about Liberal values sickens me. While taking single-sourced contract money from Mr. Martin – ostensibly to consult on issues pertaining to the Ministry of Revenue, but, as we saw, in fact to connive and plot against Mr. Chr

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      JStanton says:

      oh… so that’s where the line is 🙂

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        Warren says:

        Yep. Sorry chief.

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