VANCOUVER — A new book that advocates a Liberal-NDP merger blames partisan pettiness and personal rivalries for the two parties’ refusal to play footsie.
“New Democrats and Liberals are caught in a power trap in which they seek to reach government, not by defeating the Conservatives, but by destroying their progressive rival,” writes Paul Adams, an associate professor of journalism at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
In power trap: how fear and loathing between the Liberals and NDP keep Harper in power, he predicts the two parties will keep duelling for at least another three elections before one or the other establishes supremacy.
In other words, opposition stubbornness will enable Stephen Harper to join the five-member club of Canadian prime ministers who’ve each ruled for a decade or more.
This, argues the veteran journalist, will be disastrous for Canada.
Adams asserts that growing inequality among Canadians, and climate change, make it imperative that the next government be run by “progressives.”
Many might object to using that label for the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens. That’s because it confers a halo on them while forcing a label of “regressive” on Conservatives.
But Adams’ book is a partisan work, strongly critical of the Conservatives, positing that their policies of smaller government, deficit reduction and environmental insouciance are not the right prescription for the times.
He believes a victory by co-operating progressives would be fairly certain, noting the three parties won 53 per cent of the vote in 2011.
And that was with a no-show from a large chunk of a voting constituency — youth — that the progressive par-ties potentially are best positioned to win over.
If the three parties were to undertake a campaign of outreach, using social media as U.S. President Barack Obama did in his 2008 “Yes We Can” presidential campaign, young people who previously haven’t voted could help put a merged Opposition force over the top in a vote expected in 2015.
While it’s true some right-leaning Liberals likely go over to the Conservatives in such a scenario, “blue Liberals” probably already have left the party, Adams writes.
At the moment, however, so-called progressives have “no agreed-upon platform or unifying vision, no leader who can claim undisputed primacy in the fight to dislodge the Conservatives.”
Also working against a near-term merger is a Liberal leadership contest set for next spring to replace interim leader Bob Rae.
Such contests tend to bring out the worst tribal instincts of a political party. On winning his NDP crown, Tom Mulcair unequivocally nixed a merger.
Adams acknowledges a merger may not happen before 2015, “because of a party tribalism and institutional self regard in which the interests of voters are barely considered.”
Yet, he says, the project remains doable, noting Liberal and NDP platforms in 2011 were “almost indistinguishable.”
And partisans need to remember that the voting public does not share their intense feelings of animosity toward other parties. They should also remember that, if the Liberals and New Democrats got together, they’d be something new with each party moderating the other.
Adams recalls the Jack Layton-led NDP and Stephane Dion’s Liberals negotiated a coalition arrangement with relative ease in late 2008, motivated by anger over Harper’s plan to cut public subsidies to political parties.
What will it take for another coalition try? Leadership by players in each of the two camps, says Adams. And a push from intellectuals, think tanks, fundraisers and party organizers.
Adams’ book makes an eminently logical case for a Liberal-NDP-Green merger.
But when it comes to politics, it’s too often passion that plays the bigger role.
» Barbara Yaffe is a national affairs columnist for the Vancouver Sun.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 25, 2012