Friday, April 28, 2006

A United Left in Canada?

Decima Research reports that 25% of Canadians support uniting the left through a merger of the Liberals and NDP. I can certainly understand the attractiveness of asking the question. The federal Conservative party brought together the old PC party and the Canadian Alliance, and within 2 elections became government. Support for the conservatives is growing and solidifying, with a recent poll showing 41% for the Conservatives, the highest ever showing for the new party.

Adding up support for the Liberals and NDP, would still place the new parties ahead of the Conservatives by a few percentage points, and would have drastically changed the results of the last election. There's no need to fear a united left anytime soon however, with a large majority of Canadians either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the idea.

Even if the public did support the idea, joining two parties together is a long process. Joining the PC party and the Reform party took several aborted attempts before the new party took shape. First, both parties tried to reach out to each other's members. Then came the Winds of Change Conference and the United Alternative Effort. Next there was the bold experiment called the Canadian Alliance, which almost accomplished the task. Ultimately, it took a war of attrition that continued until both parties recognized that electoral success was impossible without uniting. Even during the first election the party had a difficult time defining itself, only after the March 2005 policy conference did a coherent party finally emerge.

Uniting the Liberals and NDP would be even harder. By holding on to some of the Reform Party's democratic reform tradition, the conservative party has the potential to remain a 'big tent' party where both party members and Members of Parliament are free to express their views.

Moderate MPs were already feeling uncomfortable in the Liberal caucus during the last Parliament, MP Pat O'Brien had to resign because of his party's intolerance on the marriage issue. Both the Liberal Party and the NDP give the party leader the right to appoint candidates, further limiting the possibility for new ideas to emerge in the party.

The last election was also not the disaster that Kim Campbell's PCs faced in 1993, the Liberals merely had their wings clipped; in 93 the PC's goose was cooked. The Liberal's relatively minor set back will be unlikely to change their self image of being Canada's natural governing party, and for this reason they would be unlikely to accept anything short of an outright takeover of the NDP.

Further challenges would come from within the NDP, a party filled with varying left wing special interest groups from trade unions to gay and lesbians, and from environmentalists to anti-poverty, anti-war, anti-everything groups. It's a major feat just trying to keep this party united with itself, let alone trying to merge this with a larger party that's closer to the mainstream.

Finally, even if the Liberals and NDP were able to somehow pull of this 'marriage' it would need to be of the polygamous variety that both parties support. The green party in BC is already threatening to displace the NDP as the favoured left wing protest party. A union of only the Liberals and NDP would likely see as much of the NDP's support move to the green party as the new unified party.

So don't lose any sleep about a new united left, it's not going to happen anytime soon. The Conservatives could be looking at a decade in power before the other side begins to sort things out. This is an opportunity to reshape the politics of our country, let's be sure to take advantage of it.

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