Liberal-NDP cooperation

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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

13 thoughts on “Liberal-NDP cooperation”

  1. My fantasy scenario is that, after Ignatieff is deposed and the Liberals finally scrape together a minority government. After a term or three dealing with an obstructionist and obnoxious Conservative opposition and Senate, whoever their leader is, is sane enough to realize that a majority is no longer a reasonable goal. Knowing they have permanently lost the West and Quebec, fearing another decade of Conservative minorities (the third decade of near-total legislative paralysis), they abolish the first-past-the-post system in favour of proportional representation. A golden age of centre-left coalitions begins, with the NDP and Greens finally attaining meaningful representation.

    It’s not going to happen for a while, but hopefully we’ll get there.

  2. Thursday, June 10, 2010 10:57 AM
    Conservatives would lose 23 seats in election: poll

    Jane Taber

    Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would lose 23 seats – mostly from Ontario and British Columbia – and only be holding on to government by their fingernails, under new seat projections by EKOS Research.

    EKOS pollster Frank Graves describes the Harper government under his scenario as a “borderline legitimate government.”

    Not only that, Mr. Graves says “the numbers are just at the cusp of where both Harper and Ignatieff (Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff) would have a difficult time maintaining leadership of their parties.”

    Under the EKOS scenario, the Tories would win only 121 seats compared to the 144 they have now in the 308-seat House of Commons; the Liberals would move from 77 to 90 seats; the NDP would see their seat count increase, too, from 36 to 39. And the Bloc would win 53 of the 75 seats in Quebec; they now have 48 seats.

  3. “An increasingly irreconcilable difference of opinion between Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and his most successful living predecessor, Jean Chrétien, is at the root of the spreading turmoil within the federal Liberal party.

    While the two men share a strong belief that a Harper majority victory in the next election would have profound and—from their perspective—tragic consequences for the country, Chrétien is convinced that little short of a pre-election recasting of the progressive side of the federal landscape can ensure that Conservative rule does not become the new normal in Canada.

    The former prime minister has come to the view that the future success of the Liberal brand and the maintenance of the central place of its values in the country’s political life rest with a more co-operative relationship with the NDP.

    On that score, a merger is only one of a variety of options at hand and hardly the preferred one. Alternatives include the softer approach of an electoral coalition or even just a non-aggression pact between the two parties for the next campaign.”

  4. “All the reports, columns, and rumours flying around this week about a coalition or merger between the federal Liberal Party and the New Democrats created one winner and one loser.

    The loser is Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. All that talk confirmed how shaky his leadership, like his party’s support in the polls, has become.

    When the most influential of his predecessors, Jean Chretien, brought up the idea of a possible revisiting of the attempted Liberal-NDP coalition of late 2008, knowing full well that Iggy wants none of it, one thing became crystal clear: Ignatieff -himself a product of the Paul Martin clan -now has to watch his back against the Chretien clan, just as much as Stephane Dion had to watch his when Iggy was waiting to succeed him.

    Some say Chretien is showing himself to be a bit of a “nervous Nelly” these days by talking up the coalition idea. His sorties certainly signal to Ignatieff that if Harper wins the election, again, Ignatieff’s days as Liberal leader might be counted on the fingers of one hand, if Chretien has anything to do with it.

    Chretien’s message to Iggy: if you don’t get that coalition math, we’ll find someone else at some point who does.

  5. “I can point to several formative compromises across Canadian history. But two signature compromises in modern Canadian politics include, first, the late great Pierre Trudeau’s bold compromise with provincial premiers in the design of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and second, the momentous compromise between then-Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper and then-PC Party leader Peter MacKay in merging their two parties into the now dominant Conservative Party.

    Those were principled compromises founded on principled bases in the service of laudable purposes.

    But in order to make a principled compromise, a leader must first possess principles to begin with. And I wonder whether the current Liberal Party leader possesses any core principles on coalitions beyond simply ascending to power. His latest pronouncements on a possible coalition with the NDP suggest the answer may perhaps be no.”

  6. “But any concord between the Liberals and NDP would have to be a partnership of equals. The Liberals have lost more than half their seats over the last three elections; the NDP have almost tripled theirs. The NDP, in short, has the momentum — and therefore more to lose.

    Jack Layton is likely playing the long game, hoping either to replace the Liberal party as the dominant party of the centre-left or to merge with and substantially control it.

    Michael Ignatieff cannot be the leader of a merged party. He is perceived by many New Democrats as too right-wing, too tainted by his views on torture and Iraq, too elitist and patronizing. This likely explains why Ignatieff vehemently opposes the merger idea.

    To work, any merger agreement would have to address core values. The NDP, for instance, would likely seek commitments on human rights and foreign policy that disciples of Lester Pearson could easily accept, and others might find more difficult.

    But suggestions that the parties hold irreconcilable positions on economic policy are hogwash. Just look at the more than half a century of NDP fiscal responsibility in Saskatchewan, beginning with Tommy Douglas, or Gary Doer’s stellar record in Manitoba. No party has a monopoly on good or bad governments.”

  7. The Harper Conservatives would lose 28 seats if an election were called today, holding on to 116 ridings and likely unable to sustain even a minority government, according to a new EKOS poll.

    Released Thursday morning, the poll does not give much hope to any of the parties, none of which would break through to form anything near a majority government or even a “modestly stable” minority government.

    “What a mess!” says pollster Frank Graves. “An increasingly muddled landscape has few points of clarity. Perhaps the only clear conclusion we can draw … is that Canadians have no party which would come even close to achieving a plausible mandate from an ever more disgruntled and fragmented electorate.”

    It comes as the House of Commons is to preparing to rise today for its summer break; all parties may need this break to recalibrate – a word used by Stephen Harper when he controversially prorogued Parliament last winter.

  8. “But the striking thing about Mr Harper’s conservative revolution is the narrowness of its political base. The opinion polls still give the Conservatives just 31%, meaning that a parliamentary majority remains beyond their grasp. The prime minister has been masterful at extracting advantage from favourable circumstances and from small shifts in public opinion. But above all he has thrived on a shambolic opposition. It is far too early to conclude that he has remade his country.”

  9. Tuesday, July 13, 2010 6:08 PM
    Ignatieff’s bus breaks down

    John Ibbitson

    The bus carrying Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff broke down just outside the Eastern Ontario town of Hawkesbury Tuesday, just before 6 p.m.

    The breakdown occurred on the first day of the Liberal Leader’s six-week, cross-country excursion to promote Mr. Ignatieff’s and his party’s fortunes

    A similar malfunction on the first day of Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty’s 1999 election campaign was seen as emblematic of the party’s mismanagement and inexperience, leading to its defeat at the hands of Conservative leader Mike Harris.

  10. Ever find yourself wondering just what the Canadian left/centre-left needs to do in order to have a real impact once again on Canadian politics? Of course, the Opposition parties (and there may be some debate as to whether each meets the criteria of left/centre-left) continue to play an important role in critiquing the Conservative government. But there remain distinct times where I wonder just what their vision for the country is, apart from: not Stephen Harper’s vision.

    So I decided to ask some Canadian bloggers who are smarter than I am for their thoughts.

  11. Matt Gurney: Liberals and NDP need one more defeat before they’ll ally

    With the Liberal leadership race underway, there has been continued talk about whether there should be co-operation or perhaps even merger with the NDP. This talk isn’t new, of course — there have been grumblings about the s0-called progressive vote split since the Tories won their first minority in 2006. But with the Liberals crushed in the last election, and the NDP riding high in the polls, it’s no surprise that the Liberals are considering how best to move ahead in the future.

    And that includes at least one potential Liberal leadership candidate who openly favours an alliance of some kind with the NDP. There are different ways the parties could work together, from an outright merger to an agreement to not run candidates against each other, and David Merner, of the B.C. Liberals, wants to see those options explored. His whole leadership campaign would be based on that premise, he says.

    It will probably have to happen eventually. But will it happen before the next election? Probably not.

    Simply put, too many of the important Liberals who would have to support the notion still have a chance — maybe not a great chance, but a chance — of having good things come their way if they stay the course. If the Liberals can slowly rebuild their party, if the Tories badly drop the ball sometime in the next three years and if the NDP either proves that it’s not ready to prime time or simply fails to convince enough Canadians to vote for them, in theory, the Liberals could suddenly vault back into relevance. There’s a lot of ifs there, but it’s possible. And for Liberal bigshots, who’ve spent their careers working their way up the party’s ladder, it’s worth rolling the dice one more time and seeing if they can’t get something out of that investment in time and energy.

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