Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Matchmaker: Liberals and NDP finally go to the prom together?

There is a kind of dance of the adolescents going on between the two left of centre political parties in Canada. It is the kind of dance that says things like:
"Hi, how are you doin'? What's happening?"
"Oh, not much, how 'bout you?"
"Or I'm really busy getting ready for a major assignment, and it keeps taking up a lot of my time."
"That's interesting; we seem to be loaded with assignments these days too."
"I've been hearing talk about you and me maybe going to the prom; have you heard that stuff too?"
"Oh, yah, I've heard a lot of things, but I don't put much stock in street talk; you know people will say anything just to get attention."
"Yah I've noticed that too...but you know there might be something in this street talk, as you call it."
"Really, like what? You think maybe we, you and I, might be thinking about going to the prom together?...I don't think so. After all, we're just friends and classmates and neighbours from the same part of town, but not partners, are we?"
"Well, we do have a lot in common, and that can often lead to more time together, don't you think?"
"Oh, I don't know, I really haven't a whole lot of time to spend thinking about what might be because those assignments aren't going away and I've really got a whole lot of research to do to get them in on time."
"I know; hooking up, even for a prom, takes a lot of thought, and effort and planning and ...."
"And where are you going with this?"
"Oh, I don't know, I just thought maybe, for once, all that street talk might have some relevance....you know, I think it might be kind of fun to go to the prom together and who knows what might happen?"
"You mean, you think we might start to go out together if we started with going to the prom together?"
"Well......maybe...who knows?"
"You know, I've heard everything, now; it sounds like you might be asking me to go to the prom with you, but you don't know if you really want that, and if you do, you really don't know how to ask..maybe because you think I might say,'No'!"
"I'm not very good at having real conversations about real things, like taking someone to the prom....it seems to be such an important event and everyone talks about it for years after...and I'm not sure I  know how to dance well enough to feel comfortable dancing and ....."
"Oh, for crying out loud, if you're going to beat around the bush about, does that mean that I have to make your decision for you? Of course, I will go to the prom with you, and if you like, I'd be happy to have a few practice dance sessions before with you."
"Really, I didn't know I was thinking about even asking you, but now that you've made it so clear and so easy, I'd like to take you up on your offer....so we're going to the prom, right?"
"Well, I heard my parents talking about us going last night, and they said they had heard about it from their friends, and everyone thought it was a good idea....and the only people left out of the conversation were you and me..."
"So, let's not tell anyone about our secret decision, and let it be a surprise on prom night, OK?"
"OK....and now I've got to get back to those assignments....good luck on your's! Oh, and thanks for the invite! I thought you'd never ask."
Everyone knows that for political parties to merge takes a first step, formally introducing the idea, formalling taking the risk of rejection, formally taking the risk of ridicule, and formally taking the risk of the negotiations falling apart even after they have been formally opened. And, in politics, formally failing is not an option sought by many, in fact it is avoided at all costs by most. That's what makes politics so frustrating...it has to be a perfect performance every time, and no one can tell at the outset if the performance will be "perfect" and provide a winning combination of applause when it is over.
In this case, having watched the faltering attempts at unity between the Reform and the Progressive  Conservative parties, for the purpose of taking power from the Liberals, now the NDP have a large amount of leverage with their 103 seats, 59 from the province of Quebec. On the other hand, the Liberals are a pale imitation of their former selves, with a meagre 34 seats out of the total of 308. They have far less leverage than at any time in their history, and that just might be the best time for the NDP to consider joining.
On the surface, the Liberals would seem to have more to gain from merger than the NDP. However, there is a history of governing that comes with the Liberals into any merger and the NDP is short of that ingredient at the federal level. Just as Obama was short on gravitas when he won the nomination for the Democratic presidential ticket, and chose Joe Biden to fill out that missing piece in the puzzle, it may be that the NDP need the Liberals to help them over the top...from their perspective.
From the Liberal perspective, having been pummelled from the sponsorship scandal, and the ego-infighting of the last twenty years (Turner v. Chretien; then Chretien v. Martin; then....)not to mention the Conservative attack campaign against both Dion and Ignatieff, with a dimished war chest with which to strike back, the party is exhausted, virtually decimated and seriously in need of a shot of adrenalin.
It is that very shot that could come from the NDP with their youthful Quebec caucus, and their optimism and the Layton legacy to support that. Are they generous enough to put all that energy into a union that could see both parties effectively defeat the Harper neo-cons in 2015?
Chretien, Ignatieff, Coderre, Pat Martin have all come out publicly, along with Ed Broadbent prior to the last election in support of a merger of the left.
Those are not names to be blown off; they have deep and long histories of political experience and know what it takes to be successful in Ottawa.
Canadians being a reticent, small-c conservative people especially in forming relationships, are nervous of even dating, not to even consider partnering. However, it is time for both sides to risk the potential of the venture. Both are standing in a transition moment. Both have interim leaders. Both have time to merge their formal elections for a national leader who could bring their two parties together over the next three years, in time to fight a federal election. Justin Trudeau is right when he says that the Harper government will do much to defeat itself over the next few years. Their majority could ironcially turn out to be their greatest albatross, given their demonstrated preference for siloed exercise of power, without consultation, compromise or even listening to alternatives.
Update
By Adrian Morrow, Globe and Mail, September 2, 2011
One of Canada’s largest trade unions wants the NDP and the Liberal Party to explore the possibility of merging or co-operating in the interests of defeating the federal Conservative government.

The position of the Canadian Auto Workers was outlined in a letter from union president Ken Lewenza to Winnipeg MP Pat Martin Thursday evening and copied to the entire NDP caucus.
From the Letters to the Editor in Globe and Mail, September 2, 2011
I couldn’t disagree more with John Ibbitson’s take on a possible federal NDP-Liberal merger (Talk All You Want – These Pieces Just Don’t Fit – Aug. 31). Former prime minister Jean Chr├ętien, a serious proponent of the merger, understands full well that the Liberal brand – set aside questions about organization, candidate selection, and party finances – is severely damaged, perhaps beyond repair.
Add in the fact that the NDP, especially with the passing of Jack Layton, has precious little chance of getting the keys to 24 Sussex Dr. in 2015. While no one is suggesting that the marriage will be easy, the reality is that these two pieces have to be joined to flourish. Otherwise, card-carrying members of both parties can look forward to the long reign of the Harper Conservatives.

By Peter McKenna, professor, political studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown






Add in the fact that the NDP, especially with the passing of Jack Layton, has precious little chance of getting the keys to 24 Sussex Dr. in 2015. While no one is suggesting that the marriage will be easy, the reality is that these two pieces have to be joined to flourish. Otherwise, card-carrying members of both parties can look forward to the long reign of the Harper Conservatives.
Peter McKenna, professor, political studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown




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