Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is the Green Party Ready for a Shot-Gun Wedding of the Liberals and the NDP?

It’s beginning to look like something serious really is going on behind-the-scenes with the Liberals and NDP. Today, CBC News is reporting that talks are on regarding a possible merger: Liberal-NDP Insiders Talk Merger. Liberal insider Warren Kinsella, former advisor to Jean Chretien, is reported by CBC as saying, "The reality is that we (the Liberals) are in a bad position. Serious people are involved in discussions at a serious level." So, it really does look like the potential of a merger is being investigaed, as per Chretien’s "If it’s doable, do it" sentiment expressed last week.

The merger talks appear to be on, despite the apparent denial by both the Liberal Party and the NDP that talks are taking place. Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Leader, apparently had slammed the door shut on the possibility of a coalition with the NDP, not to mention to a merger. Why should Ignatieff be honest with Canadians about what’s going on behind closed doors? These parties have never been truly honest with Canadians about what they would do if they formed government, so why start now?

I’m not certain that a merger between the Liberals and NDP would be in the interests of Canadians, but I’m leaving the door open to the possibility that it might be. Certainly, any party being led by Michael "Tar Sands Forever" Ignatieff is, in my books, a non-starter. The Liberal Party of Canada, as currently constituted, has nothing of value to add to the Canadian conversation about the future which we need to engage in...other than to pipe up and say, "We’re not the Stephen Harper Conservatives!", which might be the single valid point they bring to the conversation. Still, that’s not enough.

The NDP, however, occupies a bit of a different location on the spectrum of addressing many of the issues the Liberals and Conservatives both fail to acknowledge as important issues. Certainly the NDP have been far more pro-active on climate change; it was an NDP private-members bill which eventually became the Climate Change Accountability Act, which while still a very flawed piece of legislation (it says little about how Canada will actually achieve the ambitious CO2 reduction targets it sets), is still a step in the right direction. From a policy perspective, the NDP has a lot to offer in terms of framing a conversation about the future.

From an implementation perspective, however, the NDP has traditionally proven itself to be another woeful example of how a mainstream party talks the talk while in opposition, but once in power, all of its ambition goes out of the window. Now, I know that the Federal NDP has never been in power, however it’s Provincial Partners have formed governments in B.C., Ontario, Saskatchewan, and most recently in Nova Scotia. By way of example, all of these Provincial NDP parties say that they believe in democratic renewal and the need to assess changes to our electoral systems, some with a bent towards implementing proportional representation to better elect a parliament which reflects the true will of voters. However, in power, none of these parties have done anything to actually address the democratic deficit (Liberal parties in both B.C. and Ontario held lop-sided referendums, but the NDP hasn’t ever walked their talk).

Further, the NDP continues to be mired in the politics of yesterday. It continues to view our political reality as carefully segmented into discrete issues: the economy; the environment; housing; etc. Although it has started to move in a direction of addressing all issues holistically through interconnected policy proposals (linking housing and poverty, for example, to building better communities), the NDP can’t seem to adequately wrap its head around why it’s important for local solutions to be discussed and implemented around matters which affect individuals. Truly, the NDP remains a party of "big government", looking for big solutions to problems which might better be served by more local initiatives. In the year 2010, to me, this is further evidence that the NDP remains stuck in the politics of the brown economy.

And finally, the NDP is very good with production value. They are a slick political machine, excellent at staying on message. I’m not sure that any government run by Jack Layton would be all that different than Stephen Harper’s in terms of command and control from the centre. The NDP have invested heavily in the sound-bite politics of spin. While one can argue that they’ve also experiences some real electoral successes from such investment, I would suggest that this is not the sort of politics that Canada needs to address the very real issues facing us in the next several decades. Partisan rhetoric and politicking will do little to lay the necessary groundwork to move Canada from a fossil fuel-based economy to a green economy.

If the NDP and the Liberals get their collective acts together before the next election or not remains to be seen. I strongly suspect that they won’t, and I don’t even think that they will have a riding-by-riding agreement not to oppose each other. I do, however, suspect that if the numbers work out after the next election, we could be in for a Liberal-NDP government, likely supported by the Bloc, and potentially by other parties (like the Greens) on an issue-by-issue basis.

However, what might happen if a merger proves to be successful? And how might that impact the Green Party? Of course, the answer to these questions would depend on the resolution of two big issues: what sorts of policies would the "Liberal Democrats" adopt, and who would lead the Party.

Regarding policies, given issues related to timing, the new Liberal Democrats might have to ask Canadians to trust them, while putting out a hasty and vaguely worded platform which would appeal to centre-left voters. Details likely would be filled in later. In many respects, this is where the Liberal Party seems to be headed today anyway: "Trust us, we’ll do well by you. Oh, and we’re not the Harper Conservatives". The Liberal Democrats, however, would be able to add the post-script, "We’ll get our act together in short order, when there’s a little more time, after the election when we form government". Essentially, voters will be asked to cast their ballots based on hope, rather than ideas. Since it’s already been suggested that elections are notoriously poor times to have policy discussions anyway, the Liberal Democrats could certainly pull off winning without saying much about what, exactly, they might do with the power they’re asking Canadians to give to them.

The Leader question is much more relevant. A recent poll has suggested that Jack Layton, or even Bob Rae, would be a much better leader of a united Liberal/NDP government than Ignatieff. Since many Libs want to dump the underperforming Iggy anyway, I just could not see Ignatieff leading a new party. So...what about Jack Layton? I admire Layton, although I wish that he weren’t so slick and would actually address real issues rather than grandstanding. But I would have to think that as part of the Liberal concession, a leader would have to come from their ranks. So, what about Bob?

Now, I understand that Bob Rae has a lot of baggage, both with voters and in his own Party. He might even carry more baggage as a result of a Liberal/NDP merger, as I understand that there are many in the NDP who see him as a turncoat traitor (I wonder why). I don’t know if he would be palatable to a new party, but I think a Liberal Democrat party would be well-served.

Of course, outsiders should also be considered: how about Roy Romanow, or even Dalton McGuinty? McGuinty, in particular, would be well-suited to lead, given his more fiscally-conservative leanings.

Now, what about the Green Party? A Liberal-NDP merger would present both an opportunity and a threat to the Green Party. The threat comes from the notion that the "left" is uniting in an effort to dump Harper, so why should voters turn to the Green Party when the goal is to oust the Conservatives? Don’t discount this threat, as it’s very real. However, I believe that the opportunities for our Party are far greater.

Greens would be able to benefit by making a clear impression with Canadians that our Party offers an even more real alternative between a new form of science and policy-led democracy on the one hand, and partisan politicking on the other. With a platform which outlines what, exactly, voters could expect if they elected Greens, we would likely be ahead of an airy-fairy "vote for us, we’ll figure these things out later" Liberal-NDP merged Party. Further, we could use this opportunity to play up our fiscally-responsible approach to budgeting, including putting a price on carbon (and set out how, exactly, we would do that). Canadians, I would hope, would be able to compare our approaches to that of the other Parties: where we’ve given some thought to doing things, and doing them well and differently, the other parties continue to offer vague promises with little or nothing tangible attached.

Greens need to start thinking about how we would strategically place ourselves should the federal political landscape suddenly shift. As a first priority, we should engage in significant outreach to disenchanted NDP and Liberals, especially those currently in parliament. I’m not suggesting that Stephane Dion would be one of the disenchanted, but his personal politics have always appeared to me to be much closer with our party’s ideology than that of his own. At the very least, we should start courting him and others. And then there are the "blue Liberals" who might not feel at home in a merger with the NDP, and who could see the financially sound policies our Party has on offer.

To take advantage, though, we’ll need to have our Leader do the bulk of the work with sitting MP’s. We need to start outreach at lower levels right now, including at the EDA level in those areas like Sudbury where one or the other of the Liberal or NDP currently have an MP. If those two parties merge, there will be a few upset locals, including some currently nominated candidates, who may have to give up their dreams of parliament in favour of an incumbent from the "other side". Nominated NDP candidates with an environmental bent in particular might make excellent acquisitions. We need to start thinking ahead.

Now, some in the Green Party might think that ending up in bed with the Liberals and NDP would benefit Canada and the environmental movement. They may rationalize that if we added our 10% of the vote share to a United Left movement, the anticipated benefits from ousting Harper would outweigh our lack of involvement, so let’s jump on the bandwagon. To those Greens, I really want to point out that a united Liberal-NDP party would still represent the old way of thinking about politics, and more importantly, thinking about "big government" solutions to the many issues facing Canada today.

A Liberal-Democrat Party would surely remain beholden to the interests of corporate Canada at the expense of being able to move forward with real reform in areas where its needed. The "environment" (whatever that is) would remain a secondary afterthought, while the "economy" (whatever that is) would continue to be placed at the fore-front of policy and legislative initiatives. Instead of looking at the environment and the economy as parts of a wider system, the political culture of both of these to-be-merged parties would continue to lead Canada in a direction which is ultimately not beneficial for Canadians.

In short, if Greens want a green government, we need to encourage voters to cast their ballots for a Green Party. And right now, that’d be us: the Green Party of Canada. It won’t be the Liberal-Democrats.

While I agree that getting rid of the Conservatives would be a wonderful, liberating, and sublime experience, I’m not sure that there is a lot of real benefit with believing that a merged Liberal/NDP would take the real step which need to be taken to address the many issues Canada is facing. Both the Liberals and the NDP are part of the current problem with democracy in this country. I just don’t see how a shot-gun wedding of these two parties could truly be part of a solution.

(originally posted at Green Party of Canada blogsite)


Ken Summers said...

Forget it Steve. There are no talks.

As Andrew Potter said:

"I've been thinking of writing something on the whole Liberal-NDP coalition/merger stuff for a while, but I've been putting it off because life is short and there are, at any given moment, probably five hundred more interesting things to write about, read about, talk about, or think about than about yet another Big Plan to save the Liberal Party of Canada from itself. But this whole "secret mergers" story, which appears to be somewhere between 98 and 100 percent bullshit, puts it into the top fifty."

Kinsella has always been a really big bullshitter. But now he's really gone off the deep end.

Usually I know the purpose of his bullshit lines. All I know about this one is that its for consumption in the Liberal Party, and/or what the reverbs do to the inside of the LPC.

What his end game is- who knows. Some brutal way to do in Iggy. But how its suppossed to play out... ???

For what its worth- in the hypothetical case of a merger, it could only be an opportunity for the GPC.

Unknown said...

You make it clear, the coalition is the same old, same old. Do we seriously want to get involved with them? Greens support a new way of doing politics.

Also I think its a strong assumption that all Greens are left leaning. Some are 'teals', that is centre to centre-right greens, who would not feel comfortable with the extremism of the NDP or the politics of power of the Liberals.