Why I think an NDP-Liberal merger is stupid

Image by Sonja Kresowaty

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.

10 thoughts on “Why I think an NDP-Liberal merger is stupid

  1. In general I’m inclined to agree, but there’s this lingering discomfort…
    If it were true (and I’m not sure it is; you brought up some good reasons why it might not be) that an NDP-Liberal merger would be more successful at gaining power than either of the two parties on their own or through a coalition (I don’t know how, but the tories really succeeded in making a fuss over it last time it came up), then I might have to give them my blessing. I dislike the Liberals a fair bit and even voting for the NDP feels like a compromise for me, but I do think the two parties have more in common with each other than either do with the Conservatives. And I honestly believe the Conservatives are ruining our country. Neither the grits or the NDP would have sided on scrapping the long gun registry, backing out of Kyoto, the omnibus crime bill, and who knows what else we have in store for us. Certainly not on the more radical views of many backbencher conservative MPs.
    The long and short of it is I don’t think we have time to wait. If a merger means a commitment to the environment, it would be a necessary compromise. I can’t bear to see every Canadian value thrown away piece by piece, and the problems that a merger would pose seem much more manageable.
    Now, I think it’s important to consider that the idea of a merger might not be more successful. Perhaps that’s true.
    All this aside, I think the main problem is the electoral system. The conservatives have 100% of the power with a minority of Canadians behind them. If the house of commons looked like the popular vote we wouldn’t be in this mess.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion, James.

      Yes, proportional representation is a whole other kettle of fish which may have prevented the situation we now find ourselves in. Unfortunately, that kettle is not currently on the table, so I tried to work with what we’ve got.

      There used to be a time when I thought voting Liberal might be a good idea simply because I couldn’t stomach the idea of more Stephen Harper. Basically, I would have been voting where I thought the power was. The results of the last election, and the NDP’s absolutely phenomenal growth, has shown me that the power DOES rest with voters, and not in long-established parties we perceive to be more powerful. Yes, voters’ power is curtailed somewhat by the electoral system. But in the system we have, I don’t think the “right vs. left” model that would likely result from a merger of the NDP and Liberals would fix this.

      And let’s not forget that both the NDP and the Liberals are in brand new territory. The Liberals are broken and have a lot of work ahead of them to fix their party. The NDP is stronger than it has ever been. No election is on the horizon so I’m choosing to be optimistic and I’m curious to see what these parties will be able to do.

      Though I agree that I hope something does happen soon, and I hope whatever it is works–I don’t like the Canada we’re turning into.

  2. If Canada had proportional representation or some other more equitable form of democracy I might agree with you. As Stephen Harper turns Canada into the “unrecognizable” entity he talked about in his interview with Peter Mansbridge, I become less and less interested in being a part of this country any more. I think the arguments here are about the nuances of a desirable political system where as this isn’t about nuance but instead about preserving what it is “Canada”. With the Conservatives removing the per vote subsidy and adding riding generally favourable to their party, without drastic measures you can expect these guys in forever. These are desperate times for what it means and what it will mean in the future, to be Canadian.

    Taking a risk on another Conservative majority beyond 2016…now that is truly “stupid”

    • I see what you’re saying Greg, but I suppose I might not be quite as pessimistic as you. Yes, I am scared by the scrapping of the per-vote subsidy and the redrawing of federal riding lines, but I am disgusted as well because these tactics are evidence of a party that will do anything to win. It’s this revulsion of the system that turns people off politics.

      If a non-Conservative party is to have any hope, it needs support from non-Conservative voters. Support that translates into donation dollars for election campaigns, party memberships, etc. I simply see both the Liberals and the NDP as being able to obtain this support better if they are NOT one party. I recently became a member of the NDP so that I could be more involved in supporting the party and its fight against the Harper Government. I would not have wanted to become a member of a merged party, because the Liberal Party does not represent me. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but this is not a measure I support right now. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind, but today I think a merger would be stupid.

      That said, it could be me that’s being stupid, and it wouldn’t be the first time.

      • I believe that I’m being realistic as opposed to “pessimistic”. What I see is a party with a significant minority of the Canadian vote in a position of absolute authority on the direction this country is going in. While this has been the way of the Canadian parliamentary system since Canada’s inspection, this is the first time in my life anyway that the basic idea of what Canada is, is being fundamental changed. Maybe the idea of “Canada” can survive a single term of a Harper majority. Is it worth the risk that two progressive parties, the Liberals and the NDP should once again split the vote in 2016 to allow another Conservative majority?

        From a dyed in the wool Liberal to a new NDPer, I’d like to extend an olive branch. I have considered myself Liberal for most of my life but also for most of my life I have lived in ridings where I end up voting for the NDP because in my riding the liberals don’t have a chance. Ultimately these are both progressive parties. While their platforms are not identical, they share enough commonality that I don’t need to hold my nose when I put that check beside the NDPer on my ballot so I don’t waste my vote in our screwed up electoral system. I can be happy in a country that is governed by the NDP even though it would not be my first choice. Working together the progressives will have a strength that will not be possible working against each other.

        Anyway…I don’t know if I’ve swayed you at all but I think, if put in a room with each other, we’d think enough alike that we could work together. Put in a room with a Conservative I’d need to talk about the weather to get along. It’s time the Liberals and the NDP at least start talking about how they can work together and not allow the Conservatives to once again slip up the middle and get another majority. That would be the end of the idea of “Canada”. I’m not being pessimistic but hopeful but that hope hinges on these two parties working together in a very serious way.

      • Oh I’ve no problem with the NDP and the Liberal Party working together, of course not. I personally think if they are going to work together they’d do better in a coalition-type situation than they would as a merged party–a watered-down version, if you will, of the two separate and distinct parties they are now. I absolutely believe there is common ground and a lot of room for working together. I also believe strategic voting has its place as a viable option for preventing the election of a Conservative candidate, if someone wants to use their ballot that way.

        But a full-on merger? I think a lot of supporters of both parties would be mighty pissed off, and I don’t think either party can afford to lose any support right now.

  3. Pingback: Why an NDP-Liberal merger might NOT be stupid | niftynotcool

  4. Hello again Lauren
    The Conservatives have bought enough propaganda to make the idea of a coalition undesirable to a huge number of Canadian. If everyone voted strategically that might work but people somehow imagine that their vote for their party somehow makes a difference. Now with the per vote subsidy gone….if you put your mark on the wrong box, it means absolutely nothing. That’s the kind of democracy we have. Until there is electoral reform the NDP and the Liberals need to make some kind of dramatic move…maybe that’s not an all out merger but that is highly preferable over risking another Conservative majority beyond 2014. I think our differences on this is that you don’t feel that the Harper Conservatives are the same threat to this country as I do. I don’t know if I’m correct in that feeling but I’m really starting to not want to be Canadian and I don’t like that.

  5. Timely, Greg! Take a gander at my latest post “Why an NDP-Liberal merger might NOT be stupid”.

    Good point though, where’s the Canada for Canadians to escape to?

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