NDP and Liberals: The not-so-crazy coalition
By Chris Selley, National Post, February 1, 2013
The top-line items in the Liberals’ 2011 platform were as follows: $1-billion each for home care and post-secondary students; a $400-million green renovation tax credit; expand the Canada Pension Plan; quick deficit reduction; roll back corporate tax cuts; a tax incentive to hire young people; more renewable energy, action on climate change and a “cleaner oil sands”; a national “affordable housing framework”; universal broadband for rural communities, and student debt forgiveness for rural medical professionals; a tax credit for volunteer firefighters; stable funding for the CBC and more for the Canada Council for the Arts; open government, restoring the mandatory long-form census and limits on prorogation; three cheers for official bilingualism; a more dynamic relationship with India and China; leadership in the Arctic; re-embracing Africa; and committing the military primarily to “peace operations.”
Almost every single one of these items, right down to the volunteer firefighters’ tax credit, also appeared in the New Democrats’ platform in a form similar enough to make the idea of total incompatibility — at least from a Liberal standpoint — laughably absurd.
There is an element of intellectual detachment to Mr. Salutin's piece. Certainly, I agree with his obvious premise, that there are many reasons for the NDP and Liberals to "merge" to defeat Harper.
Yet, the real question is what are the reasons in opposition to a merger?
And this is where the rubber meets the road.
There are compelling and restraining forces that would have the historic and formerly formidable Liberal Party of Canada restore itself to its former "glory" under many Prime Ministers. Those forces hold fast to the belief that no political party in Canada's history has developed or could develop the combination of policies, personalities and coalitions that would equal or surmount the proven demonstrations by the Liberal Party of Canada to comprehend, even to analyze and to dissect the Canadian zeitgeist and then to give it voice.
First, the Liberals claim the most comprehensive and most profound grasp of the historic equation of the relations between Canadians of French origin and those of English origin.
Next, the Liberals claim to have fostered a special relationship to immigrants from practically every other country on the planet, as one of the feathers in its headdress.
Third, Liberals were in on the ground floor of the social safety net that is under threat from the right in all countries.
Fourth, Liberals were able to lay claim to a kind of regional-federalism, incarnated in the scheme of sharing wealth from the "have provinces" with the current "have not provinces".
Fifth, Liberals were able, previously, to balance a military capacity with a peace-keeping focus, through the work of people like Lester Pearson.
Sixth, Liberals were able and willing to pivot from a history of church-state enmeshment to a claim that, in Trudeau's words, "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation!"
Seventh, through a myriad of foreign and domestic storms, there was a perception among many Canadians that the Liberals were able to make just enough "cuts" and "dives" like a running back avoiding tackles, to keep the Canadian economy fiscally sound, somewhat fairly distributed and at least socially conscious of the plight of Canadians who struggled with their lot.
Eighth, the Liberal Party was normally able to attract people of some character and substance, not to ignore their public appeal, in order to restore confidence in their 'front bench' even if Trudeau called members of parliament "nobodies 100 miles from Ottawa."
At the same time, the NDP has a different but equally honourable history including:
- the design and delivery of the National Health Care program, first in Saskatchewan, and later across the country
- the identification of ordinary working Canadians as the backbone and the enduring sine qua non of the communities, towns, villages and cities in all provinces
- the recognition of the contribution of the Labour Movement whose struggles for workers' rights has blessed all Canadians with both safety and security measures envied around the world
- the recognition of the plight of First Nations people as the underbelly of the Canadian culture and society
- the confrontation of the 'establishment's' penchant to support and favour the corporate elite through tax and incentive policies, dubbed by then NDP leader David Lewis and Ed Broadbent as corporate welfare
- the courage and tenacity to continuously pound the "eliminate poverty" key on the nation's keyboard, never quite bringing it to the forefront of the government's agenda, yet never relenting on its importance to the worldview of the party
- the voice for turning weapons into ploughshares, as a determined and honourable position against military intervention, especially unless and until all other avenues have been exhausted, and a corollary, to continue to seek and to find those other approaches long after most other political entities had grown weary
- the lingering and recently amplified voice on behalf of ordinary Canadians whose dependence on the social safety net is well documented, yet the 'net' itself is under increasing pressure to survive
- the voice for the electoral option of proportional representation, as opposed to the "first-past-the-post methodology currently employed in Canada
- the energized voice for the need to pay close attention to the signs of significant decay in the global environment, through the excessive discharge of carbon dioxide, and the need for public attention to the potential ravages of climate change
- the capacity to attract outsiders, including young people to the political process, as the party that clearly could not and would not be identified as part of the establishment
And there is no better or more pressing issue, as the Liberals seek a new leader, and the NDP continues on its path to recruit new candidates and new members, in preparation for the election of 2015, than for the thought leaders, and that will have to include those who consider themselves custodians of the sacred 'tabernacle' of each party, to begin to review their opposition to merger, to begin formal and informal talks that go beyond the proposals from Nathan Cohen, the NP leadership candidate who proposed an agreement not to run opposing candidates in 2015 to include the proposition that Canada is, indeed, a left-of-centre population, that Harper is an aberration (not to mention an irritant to all left-leaning Canadians) and that Canada needs a liberal-democratic government to clean up the mess left by too many years of the Harper regime.
And Canadians are ready, eager and waiting for the Liberal leadership candidates to offer their approach to this question...even though to do so will cost whoever takes such a step some or all of the backroom votes of current and past Liberal insiders at the leadership convention.
Can the Liberals and the NDP get it together to get rid of Harper?
By Rick Salutin, rabble.ca January 4, 2013
What a difference third-party status makes. The last time the Liberals held an all-out leadership race, in 2006, it was about replacing Stephen Harper's frail minority and wielding power. Now even Justin Trudeau says, "This is about who's going to be leader of the third party." (An impressively long view from somebody who's supposed to lack maturity.) But what are the real stakes? It's about who will be the future Liberal Party of Canada.
At the moment, oddly, that’s not the Liberals, it’s the NDP, under former Liberal Thomas Mulcair. Both parties are battling over roughly the same voters. In policy terms, they're similar. Both are neo-liberal parties, like the Harper Conservatives or U.S. Republicans, but with a heart (assume some irony in the tone), like the Obama Democrats or Labour in the U.K.
Together, they command a strong majority of votes; that's been true since the mid-20th century, with two exceptions (the Progressive Conservative wins of John Diefenbaker in 1958 and Brian Mulroney in 1984). Otherwise, combined they average around 60 per cent of votes -- or more with the addition of the Greens and Bloc Québécois in the past 20 years. The conservatives, progressive or not, hang in the 30-40 per cent range.
The obvious question is: Why don’t they unite and both get to be the Liberal party? Lotsa luck. I heard someone who isn't old enough to vote yet, say: "It's like a game of chicken where they're driving toward each other and you're waiting to see which one gets off the road first for the sake of Canada!" It's even more irritating since if one of them did chicken out (for the greater good), forgoing power, the impact on Canadians would be about the same.
So I don't buy the suggestion of McGill political scientist Antonia Maioni, quoted by Michael Valpy here this week, that Stephen Harper is creating a "new normal" in Canadian politics. The voting stats going back 50-plus years don't show that. In fact, if you factor in declining voter turnout during those years (from 75 or 80 per cent to around 60 per cent), and assume that those who dropped out are far more likely to vote on the "left" of the spectrum, then the old normal may well have been reinforced, at least potentially, rather being supplanted by a new normal. This is also reflected in attitudinal polling on things like the role of government or the Canadian military.
I, too, have wondered if Stephen Harper is managing to change Canada incrementally and by stealth. But I don't think the evidence bears that out. Although some of his followers may think so, I suspect Harper himself doesn't. He knows he isn't transforming Canadians but he can still make a lot of changes in their society due to that split between Liberals and the NDP. It's entirely understandable for him to take the advantage, as long as he's offered it.