Monday, May 24, 2010

Coalition is necessary

The last poll I saw had the Grits near their lowest level of this decade. An EKOS poll showed the Liberals were down to 25.1 per cent of the respondents. This is perilously close to the 24 per cent they were at under former leader Stéphane Dion, and that only after Mr. Dion had led the party to defeat in the 2008 election, and then compromised them by joining a formal coalition with Jack Layton’s New Democrats, which was supported by the Bloc Québécois—an enormously unpopular initiative.

And just as Mr. Dion had blamed the Conservatives for “framing” him in an unfavourable light, his replacement Michael Ignatieff is blaming the Conservatives for painting him unfavorably by insisting he is not fit to lead Canadians after three decades living and working in the United Kingdom and the United States. Mr. Ignatieff claims the Tories have “done a number” on him. In both cases, these men ignore their inept leadership as a possible reason for their inability to make headway in the polls.

And, in the case of Mr. Ignatieff, he must realize that even within his own caucus there are those who believe, as one caucus member is quoted as saying, “He [Ignatieff] doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing because he’s been 35 years out of the country.”

This suggests to me that there is little hope of the Liberals winning the most seats in Parliament in the next election, unless the Tories make a horrendous misstep or the Liberals pull a new leader out of their collective hat—and I can’t see who that might be.

Were I a Liberal, I’d chose MP Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.), a 10-year MP and the son of the late and former governor general Roméo LeBlanc. Then I’d stick with him for a couple of years so he can gain the sort of national profile needed to go head-to-head with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But the Grits are not likely to do that.

Having watched the Canadian political scene for several decades, I can’t believe the Liberals—who are still convinced they are the natural governing party—are not working on some strategy to regain office. They must be salivating at the opportunity presented by PM Harper’s inability to gain enough support to form a majority government. The Grits—like conservatives before the unite-the-right movement was successful—must be thinking along the line of some form of left-of-centre coalition.

Interestingly, Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert—on last week’s At Issue TV segment—said Jean Chrétien and Ed Broadbent, high profile former leaders of the Grits and the Dippers respectively, are having coalition discussions. Should these parties come together in some formal way, especially if they informed Canadians in advance of an election, it could be a game changer.

The prospect of a Conservative government propped up for months on end by the separatists would not have favourable optics and could seriously damage our brand. The Bloc Québécois is a poison pill in Canadian politics, and it is proper that they should be. Whichever party the Bloc formally supports will pay a heavy price in future elections.

An interesting challenge for the combined Liberal and New Democrat parties, therefore, is to up their game enough to win sufficient seats to not have to rely on the Bloc. That would put a future minority Conservative government between a rock and a hard place. (Shudder)


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  1. I think most coalition proponents forget that the two "wholes" won't assimilate. The left wing of NDP would splinter (yes a small one but enough to lose two to four seats they hold now) and I predict one third of the Liberal faithful wouldn't find a home with the NDP as soulmates.
    As for voters the split in liberal ranks (as much as the Liberal ranks) would ensure an immediate majority for the Conservative party.
    Also the split would almost certaintly be geographical as well with small holdouts in Toronto , Montreal and less likely in Vancouver. Quebec would be isolated more than it has been in its entire history but, a strong majority outside Quebec may finally deal with "Province only" representation and have the fortitude to ensure a party running Federally must firstly pledge an allegiance to Canada as a whole and must assurdly demonstrate it in word (constitutionally)and action (be full participants in the singing of the national athem in the House at the very least).

  2. Unless there is a major shift in the polling numbers, the only way that the NDP and the Liberals could have enough seats to form government is to enter into a formal agreement before an election and pull candidates in each other's ridings.

    Granted, that merger would probably cost them enough votes in the center to give the Tories a majority, hence why they won't do it before an election and run on it.

  3. I can't see a Liberal/NDP coalition catching on. Some of the NDP policies, at least at the Federal level, would be 'a bridge too far' for many Liberals. The NDP are anti free trade, anti corporation, have many decidedly anti Israel and anti military adherents.
    It would make more sense for the Liberals to do a short term deal with the Conservatives, IMO. This would give them time to work out some of their leadership & financing problems. It would also have more credibility with the public because they would be aligning themselves with the party that garnered the most votes in the last election, as just happened in Britain.

  4. I agree with Tom. It's just like how the combined Canadian Alliance + PC scored 29% in 2004, and not the 38% they would have scored in 2000 if you combined their total. This was because many former PCers were frightened by the new Conservative Party and voted Liberal or stayed home instead.

    In the same way, if the Liberals and NDP create some sort of formal coalition agreement, centre-right pro-business Liberals will be disenchanted, as will the more militant socialist faction of the NDP.

  5. For the liberals to get a small minority, they have to defeat about 60 sitting mps and hold on to what they have. Ain't going to happen, when they have no money to run a major campaign.

  6. Wow Tom: My sentiments exactly. An outcome devoutly to be wished.

    It would put Quebec in an awkward position if a majority were elected from outside Quebec. Such a majority is desperately needed to unite the country and to show tough love as necessary. At the same time any such national majority would need to include Quebec in the true national debate. It needs to do so as best as it could; even if it requires the advice of the Bloc. We all know that Canada wants Quebec within confederation.