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NDP and Libs: Join Up!

One man's plea for merging the federal NDP and Liberal parties.

John Ryan 3 Mar 2006TheTyee.ca

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[Editor's note: This is an abridged version of a letter the author sent to all Liberal and NDP members of parliament.]

As a long time supporter of progressive political policies in Canada, I was perplexed and dismayed by the results of our recent federal election. That election has set the stage for a possible dismantling of Canada's distinctive social and economic fabric. The newly evolved Conservative Party, in many respects a chilling echo of the USA's Republican Party, is poised for a two-stage attack to reshape Canada in line with its Canadian version of America's neoconservative ideology.

The purpose of this letter is to urge the NDP and the Liberals to begin the process of forming a coalition and, if this turns out favourably, to consider the prospect, under the right conditions, of eventually merging the two parties into a centre-left Liberal Democratic Party.

For years, the minority of Canadians on the political right languished in the wilderness because of a split in their political movement. However, after a series of misadventures, they finally coalesced into a single party - albeit with some alienation and disaffection in their ranks. Basically, their strategy worked - and although they received only 36 percent of the vote, they now form the government.

While in a minority position, we can rest assured that the Conservatives will not introduce any of the hardcore measures that form the basis of their raison d'etre -- measures that would change the face of Canada. For this, they require a majority. Their strategy will be to survive a few months in a non-controversial manner to gain the respect and confidence of the public to enable them to get a majority in the next election.

Curing dysfunction

At present, Canada has a dysfunctional political system in which the views of the majority of Canadians cannot be represented by a single political party. Although almost two-thirds of Canada's voters opposed the policies and platform of the Conservative party, it is the Conservatives who have formed the government. The majority vote was split amongst three parties, thereby thwarting the predominant will of the people and making a mockery of democracy. And this may very well continue into the future, especially if the Conservatives get a stronger foothold in Quebec. Furthermore, if the NDP should get progressively stronger, it will guarantee a split vote and we may have an unending series of Conservative governments - until there's nothing left of Canada except a northern tier of quasi-American states.

Of course, the majority of Canadians would abhor any such development - to have a minority right-wing faction force us to become part of the American Empire. But Tom d'Aquino's "deep integration" strategy would lead to just such a thing. And we already have Michael Wilson, a proponent of this policy, smugly in office on the front lines, as Canada's ambassador to the USA.

So what do we do? How do we prevent the Conservatives from forming a majority government? In the best interests of Canada, it's up to progressive-minded citizens to urge the NDP and the Liberals to form a coalition, and eventually, perhaps, a complete merger of the two parties. It's only then the progressive majority in Canada would be in a position to vote for a political entity that would reflect their views, values and interests.

Undoubtedly, there are going to be strong opponents in both parties to any such suggestion. However, in the long run, this would be in the best interests of both our country and the two parties. For the NDP, being the smaller entity, there's still the vivid memory of how the Progressive Conservatives were subsumed by the Reform/Alliance zealots. There's also the practical worry that such a political realignment might result in a horse and rabbit stew, strongly smelling of Liberal horse. However, at this stage, for either party to be an effective political force, they need one another. And stemming from this, both parties are in a position to exact compromises.

In a coalition, both parties would retain their individual identities, but would have to agree on a common platform or agenda, not necessarily on all matters, but on some basic, fundamental issues. They would also have to agree on an election strategy, whenever an election might be called. The strategy should be a straightforward matter, and once agreed upon, it could be the driving force to hammer out a platform and thereby create a coalition.

A proposed electoral strategy

A meaningful strategy, equally in the interest of both parties, would be an agreement to run all the incumbent candidates, Liberal and NDP, without opposition from the other party. Such a strategy would guarantee the reelection of every single member - surely this should be an enticement for a coalition! As for the seats held by the Conservatives, party strategists should be able to work out which party would have a better chance of winning, and then run just one candidate for that particular party. Such a maneuver would wipe out a great many Conservatives everywhere, except in Alberta, although, even there, they should lose some seats in Edmonton. Obviously, this would be a winning formula for a substantial majority government.

The issue of a common platform could be a major divisive matter and this could either make or break the prospects of a coalition. The resolve of a unified NDP could possibly create major strains within the Liberal party. The Liberals have never been a homogeneous party - many on the left were not much different from most NDPers, while many on the right were almost Conservative clones. In all likelihood, most progressive-minded small "l" Liberals would not be inherently opposed to an NDP coalition or even a merger. However, to accommodate some NDP basic positions, many on the right with strong corporate ties, would probably be prepared to bolt the party and join the Conservatives (like David Emerson), rather than agree to a coalition, let alone a merger.

Those on the political left of the Liberal party may be faced with a considerable dilemma - should they persevere in trying to form a centre-left coalition or merger and try to bring the less doctrinaire right-wing with them - or should they maintain the status quo and go along with the right-wing upper echelon, strongly beholden to the corporate sector. If they choose the coalition/merger route, they'd be assured of forming a majority government, which could very well usher in a whole new political structure in Canada.

On the other hand, if they stay with the status quo, further vote-splitting in subsequent elections would bring in Conservative governments - with dire consequences for Canada. The Liberals would not only remain as an opposition party, but driven by the right-wing, they could easily replicate the American experience where the Democrats have morphed into a Republican-lite caricature. And being in opposition, like the Democrats, they might try to emulate the Conservative success, thereby creating two wings of virtually the same party - exactly as in the USA.

Points of agreement

In drawing up a common platform, there should not be much difficulty in matters such as the preservation and improvement of Medicare, the retention and upgrading of the CBC, the establishment of a national childcare program, a pharmicare program and other such social policy matters. There are two other crucially important issues - issues of enormous consequence to Canada - that must be included in the platform: the abrogation of NAFTA and the rejection of "deep integration" with the USA. The significance and current status of both these matters aren't understood by the general public and, I venture to say, the parliamentarians. Yet, the urgency of these matters is a major reason for the formation of a coalition.

A time has come in Canada when Canadians who truly believe in this country must act in this country's interests. Now is not the time for narrow, partisan politics. Now is the time to set a new course for Canada. Now is the time to establish a centre-left coalition to enable the majority of Canada's people to have an effective political entity to reflect their views, beliefs, values and hopes for the future.

Sincerely, John Ryan

John Ryan is a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg. He can be reached at jryan13@mts.net. He published a longer piece making this argument on the U.S. website Counterpunch; you can read that article here.  [Tyee]

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