Let me begin by saying I have no problem with the idea of a coalition between two political parties in government. Coalitions (at least in theory) mean distinct parties, representing different demographics, who view the world from different angles, working together and combining their different experiences, values, and perspectives to solve problems in government. At its best, it would mean working with the “two heads are better than one” philosophy. That sounds civil, and cooperative, and democratic, and very Canadian. If, after some future election, a coalition between the NDP and Liberal parties of Canada seemed like a prudent choice to best serve Canadians, I would be all for that. I’d probably, as the kids say, “lose my shit” with joy.
But the next election is a long ways away. The Conservative Party has a majority government. They can do just about anything they want, and providing a more immediate opportunity for Canadians to potentially choose not to continue with them is probably not among the list of Things the Conservative Party Wants To Do. So instead of picking up whispers of an NDP-Liberal coalition, lately, I’ve been picking up whispers of a merger (usually in Macleans).
And, as you can probably tell from the title of my post, I think this is stupid.
I do understand that many feel Canada’s “divided left” is much to blame for allowing the Conservative Party to become so strong, and I understand that our years of a “divided right” contributed to our being able to go so long without a right-wing government in Canada. I also understand that many people would rather see just about any party in government than the Conservatives, and see a merged NDP-Liberal party as a potentially useful tool that hasn’t yet been tried. But I still think the idea is stupid.
The people crying over a divided left seem to forget that the Liberal party is a centrist party, not a left-wing party (by Canadian standards). Far from unifying Canada’s political left into a strong and solid entity, merging the centrist Liberals and the leftist NDP would scare rightist Liberals towards the Conservatives (not good), and would potentially send more leftist NDP voters running either towards the Green Party or to another leftist Fringe party that will seem to reflect their views better than a watered down NDP-Liberal party would (also not good). It’s like smushing two things together and having each end fall off. [Of course, I did not come up with this prediction myself. This sentiment has been echoed by several writers and columnists since this merger idea was just a twinkle in Canada’s eye. And it makes sense to me.]
Besides the aforementioned smushing and breaking, there are two more good reasons I think the idea of a merger is stupid.
Reason One: A merger would not be good for either party.
With the exception of the incredibly tragic and unfortunate death of NDP leader Jack Layton (and I agree that is a BIG exception to make), the NDP has never been in a stronger position in the House of Commons. While the Liberal and Bloc parties faltered in the May 2011 election, the NDP grew its ranks. Where Ignatieff waffled and flip-flopped, Layton stood his ground (albeit with his now-iconic cane). While the NDP clearly did not believe that the Conservative Party should form the government, they did not believe that the Liberal Party should either. A large number of Canadians made a choice in May, and they chose the New Democratic Party as the alternative to the Conservative Party. Why the NDP would want to compromise their new-found strength, and let down their voters (not to mention the memory of a leader who refused to compromise his ideals), is a mystery.
And then there is the Liberal Party. They took quite a beating in the last election. They went from being “the natural governing party” to a party that has lost its way. They have been handed a bittersweet but golden opportunity to take some time to find themselves again and define what it really means to be the Liberal Party of Canada. With the Liberals’ long history in Canadian politics, I somehow don’t think the outcome of their soul-searching will be deciding that what it means to be the Liberal Party is to be the NDP.
Reason Two: Uniting the left will essentially result in a two-party system (this is only a good reason to think a merger is stupid if you don’t believe a two-party system would be a good thing, which I don’t).
The NDP and Liberal Party are not the same party. If they were, the NDP would never have been founded in the first place. These two parties address different Canadians, with different needs and values. Not every non-Conservative voter would be content with the leftward shimmy that would be a Liberal government. Not every non-Conservative voter wants to move all the way to the NDP.
When people say it would be more useful to have a two-party system “like the States” I want to ask them if they’re crazy. I haven’t done that yet, so I will now. Are you crazy? Look at the state of US politics! You have one party (the Republicans) that seems, at this moment, like it is going to be led by total wingnuts (though we’ll see, I guess, once they choose a presidential candidate), and a second party that is SUPPOSED to be different, and is a little more palatable to the leftist voter, but is still forced to kowtow to the wingnuts in Congress on important traditional leftist issues like the environment, reproductive rights, and marriage equality. The current US President is a Democrat, and do you see a many wins for the Stateside left-wing voter right now? I certainly don’t. If I could use only one word to sum up Obama’s presidency so far, I would choose “disappointing”. Given the opportunity to add a second word, I wouldn’t, because I’m too disappointed. Bogged down by its own system and by a frighteningly vitriolic attitude between the parties, it seems to me the US government is doing nothing, and representing nobody.
Though our parliamentary system here in Canada is far from perfect, the availability of more than two choices ensures that Canadians have a better chance of being able to vote for the candidate and party that best represents them. That’s democracy. Voting for one of only two parties and then having whichever party wins have their hands entirely tied by the inability of the two parties to cooperate with each other, resulting in bills that do practically nothing, or require massive compromises in order to pass, is not democracy. That’s just politics. And let’s not forget that in the event of a merger, half-measures, compromises, and ass-kissing would be occurring between two sides of the new “left” party, before the party could even think of taking on the other. More politics.
There are people all over the world who are willing to fight, and to sacrifice their lives, in the pursuit of democracy for their country. No one ever died so they could have the privilege of politics in their lives.
The inevitable frustrations and disappointments of watching governments produce nothing but hot air is what turns people off politics in the first place. The more people are turned off by politics, the less they will be politically involved. The less people involved in politics, the less democracy can truly represent us. The people who elected Liberal candidates in May believed something different than I did. Despite this, I respect their decision to vote for a party that, while it is not the Conservative Party, does not best represent me or my values. I expect the same respect from Liberal supporters.
This is democracy. I want my voice to be represented, even if my voice doesn’t win. Winning will mean nothing if all I have won is the chance to watch the party I voted for compromise everything I hold dear, everything that made me vote for them in the first place. I want to see a party that cooperates with other parties (when appropriate) and conducts itself civilly, but that will be able to honour the choice I made when I voted. It’s a tall order, but anyone who thinks they belong in the House of Commons should be prepared to face that challenge.
On the flip side, anyone who is comfortable throwing the values I voted for out the window and hopping in bed with another party just to win does not deserve my vote. Because I don’t want to vote for stupid ideas, even if they win and get to form a stupid government.