Michael Ignatieff’s ever-wavering stance on cooperation with the NDP is increasingly annoying for me. Sometimes, he seems to think some sort of coalition (with or without support from the Bloc) could be a possibility, at other times he denouces the idea as ‘ridiculous.’ Regardless of which Canadian political parties a person supports, this sort of vacillation seems both muddled and opportunistic (since the coalition looks best when it seems most plausibly in reach). Regardless of political affiliation, it also seems increasingly clear that Ignatieff doesn’t really understand the fix his party is in, or how to get out of it.
I think it should be obvious enough to Canadians that the idea of a merger or coalition between the Liberals and NDP is not ridiculous, from the perspective of those who want there to be a serious opposition challenge to the current government. The effort to ‘unite the right’ by merging the Conservative and Alliance parties has been successful. Now, even though they have a minority of support, the Conservatives are consistently able to scrape together a plurality and govern as a minority.
Admittedly, there is a big difference between a merger and a coalition (and a lesser difference between a Liberal-NDP coalition and a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition). Some of the apparent vacillation mentioned above comes down to Liberals feeling more comfortable with a series of temporary Parliamentary alliances than with the actual melting down and recombination of major parties. That said, it may be a basic strategic reality that a united right in a first-past-the-post Parliamentary democracy produces the necessity for a united left, if there is to an opposition that can credibly and effectively hold the government to account. It is worth mentioning that Canadian democracy is also dysfunctional in circumstances where the centre-left has such an unchallenged hold on power as to not face any serious risk of being replaced in government.
With Parliament split between the Liberals, NDP, Bloc, and Conservatives, a fall election would probably just produce yet another Conservative minority, followed by a Liberal leadership race. I doubt anyone would be too sad to see Ignatieff go (at least Dion had some original ideas), but this outcome would just be a perpetuation of the status quo.
The two ways out of gridlock seem to be a Liberal-NDP merger/coalition, or electoral reform that introduces some significant measure of proportional representation.