After the federal byelections last week, I noted with dismay how NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took potshots at each other, Trudeau craftily weaving the late Jack Layton’s inspirational words into his own speech and Mulcair reacting angrily to the blatant intrusion into NDP territory.
My point is to urge all centre-left parties (Liberal, NDP, Green, Bloc) to quit fighting amongst themselves and unite in opposing their common enemy, the Conservative Harper government.
In the ’90s, the Liberals were able to win three majority governments, largely because the right-leaning vote was being split between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Partly (later Alliance).
In 2003, the Progressive Conservatives and the Alliance wisely morphed the right-leaning vote back together to become the Conservative Party and the rest is history — Canada has had a right-leaning Conservative government since 2006.
In the last three federal elections, Canadians outside of Quebec have had three centre-left parties to vote for (Liberal, NDP, and Green). In Quebec, once the Bloc is thrown into the mix, they have four ways to split up their vote.
For the most part, a centre-right voter has had only one place to park his vote — with the Conservatives.
In all three elections (2006, 2008 and 2011) a combination of the centre-left vote would have defeated the Conservatives, providing the popular vote percentages approximately held up.
Locally, Cathy McLeod would probably have lost in 2008 had a single centre-left candidate run against her (she won outright in 2011). In the recent byelection in Brandon-Souris, the Conservative won by only 391 votes. By not splitting the centre-left vote, a single candidate would easily have defeated him.
Will the centre-left unite? Unfortunately, probably not; at least not in time for the next election. Much stands in the way.
Trudeau and the Liberals are riding high right now and see themselves as leaping over the NDP to become government in 2015.
The NDP, having done so well in 2011 will see itself as taking the obvious step from opposition into government.
Working together would involve a lot of discussion and compromise; surrendering of hard-fought-for positions along with some people necessarily taking a back seat.
A myriad of good arguments can be presented in favour of maintaining the status quo while there is only really one good argument in favour of some sort of amalgamation — the same reason for the creation of the Conservatives in 2003 — to get hold of power.
The centre-left in Canada needs to borrow a page from the centre-right’s playbook. It might not work, of course, as nothing is guaranteed in politics.
However, to borrow another sports cliché, the centre-left desperately needs to join forces in order to “give themselves the best chance to win.”