Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Should the federal Liberals join the NDP?

All federal political parties had a historic night on the 2nd of May, 2011. The Bloc was nearly wiped out, and it's Leader lost his seat. The Green Party elected it's first member of Parliament - it's Leader. The Harper Conservatives finally were awarded with a majority after several minority governments. The NDP reached historic new heights with 102 seats, and were able to secure the Office of the Official Opposition - also for  the first time. The Liberals suffered their worst loss ever, including the loss of their Leader's seat, and Official opposition status. Historical night all around.

The question immediately came to the fore: Should the Liberals amalgamate with the NDP to form a new unified left? The pundits all seemed to fall in line with that idea. The night of the loss they called for a new "Liberal Democratic Party" as it were. Bob Rae came on TV that night and seemed to endorse the idea of giving it at least some consideration. I believe, however, that entire idea, including it's premises, is completely wrong.

First of all, Liberals are not socialists. If they were socialists they would already be in the NDP or some such movement. They are traditionally the menders of conflict between Quebec and the rest of the country. It is in this way they really earned their title " Natural Governing Party". At times it required them to take a tough, and politically unpopular stand in Quebec, like the Clarity Act. They wrapped themselves in the flag, and were proud to declare they were not the "waiters to the provinces". They championed social justice and the "Just Society" - enshrining such in our Constitution. At the same time they were a Party of business ensuring Canada remained a player in the world. Jean Chretien, by way of example, led many trade missions throughout the world and signed free trade agreements. His Minister of Finance, Paul Martin, made tough and unpopular decisions to eradicate the deficit that was a main stay point of contention with the then populist Reform Party. In general, they were viewed as the Party of balance. The national interest was safe in their hands.

Contrast that with the NDP. They share in some ways a social justice message with the Liberals, but beyond that a common thread is hard to find. Proponents of a Liberal Democrat merger argue it would end vote splitting as if this were the reason for the Liberals loss. That the two Parties shared the same constituency, and their individual existence doomed them to split their own vote forever. They argue it represents the same problem the Reform and the Progressive Conservatives faced a decade ago. This logic is flawed.

Firstly, the Reform and PCs were from the same family. It was not so much a unification as it was a reunification - a burying of the axe if you will. A marriage of the Harris Ontario Tories and the Harper Reformers. The fallout was directly related to the historic PC loss that resulted in going from the largest majority ever to two seats nationally. A catastrophic loss that wiped out the PC base from coast to coast - despite the efforts of Jean Charest to reverse it's effects.

Secondly, and far more importantly, the NDP are not here to stay in these numbers. Their victory in Quebec centered around their leader Jack Layton. A man who has committed not to run in another campaign, and who's advancing years and poor health would seem to rule out another run. They have a caucus that is now dominated by Quebec. Many of these Quebecers are dedicated to Quebec sovereignty. The Party born of prairie populism is now dominated by people who wish to see the destruction of the country. Their own long term MPs, and some new ones like Ryan Cleary, will find themselves in a Party they can no longer recognize. The new Quebec wing will dominate the NDP. The NDP itself is actually in danger of a catastrophic split. If all these new MPs, 60% of all MPs in the NDP now, decide to leave they would form the Official Opposition. In terms of power politics you can be sure that fact has not escaped their French lieutenants. A new, and powerful position for separatists within a federal party. At the very least, inexperience and separatist leanings are bound to create ongoing political chaos for these folks.

It's time for the Liberal Party of Canada to take a deep breath. What they suffered was a political loss. Bad to be sure, but not fatal. Every Party suffers a loss from time to time. They need to take time to see why they have failed. I, for one, believe the answer is fairly obvious. The big losses started happening with poor leadership choices. Sorry, but that is the history. If you want to be real then you have to get real. Poor leadership choices resulted in loss of political discipline. Loss of political discipline created a perception of weakness, which resulted in a massive loss of credibility. At a time of choice people are going to turn to the Leader who they perceive has credibility. They consider the perception of the Leader as the primary factor in their decision. Just look at Duceppe vs Layton in 2011. It was Jack mania and Gilles is a dinosaur. The key for any Party is that their Leader is not perceived as yesterday's man. That is the political reality facing the Liberal Party of Canada. It needs to choose the Leader of tomorrow, and not an appendage of the past. Then it needs to rally around that Leader and exercise sound Party discipline around it's founding principles. The ship of sensibility in the stormy waters of right or left fanaticism. The Canadian people will look to them again for prudence in the not too distant future.

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