Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Canadian Liberal Consensus Emerging

I usually do not comment on the Canadian political scene as the majority of my readers are utterly unfamiliar with any of it.  Yet it is useful to understand historical trends at work here and it may inform a perceptive reader.

I have long since observed that an electorate will naturally shape it self into two camps if given only two choices  (rather obvious) but way more important is that the gross popular support will normalize around two to five percentage points around d a fifty - fifty split.  One only has to look to the US presidential race to confirm this.

That means that the leading party rarely has a popular majority and certainly never has a popular majority it more than two parties are at play.  Since no one can count on a simple majority, it is natural for large parties to sometimes calve into sects from time to time that are often quite persistent.

Over long periods of time such sects exhaust their original inspiration and must sooner or later blend back into the natural consensus to which they belong.  Thus we use the phrase left and right or conservative and liberal although neither consensus can afford to stray too far from were the majority of the voters reside.

In Canada the conservative consensus pulled together in the early eighties clove into three separate parties eliminating any chance of either ever forming a government.  Several losing elections then sorted out policy issues and set the stage for a more successful emergence of the formal conservative party that has a natural base in all parts of the country and has been gaining traction with each election.  This all took skillful leadership, but it was still in the direction of the emerging consensus.

That has left the two parties claiming the consensus of the left in a position to merely split their support.  This time around the classic socialist sect party was able to attract the liberal Quebec vote and that was enough to jump them up to been a strong leading opposition party.  Yet it was done at the huge expense of the Nationalist Quebec sect that had formerly coexisted uncomfortably with the former Conservative coalition.  Its outright elimination throws a good forty seats back into the electoral stew in a very surprising way.

It is now a clear question of leadership.  It will take leadership for the remaining liberal rump and the newly expanded NDP to find common cause and organize a national conference that establishes a new party of the liberal left.  There is no longer any issues of policy to keep this from happening which was hardly true for the emergence of an united conservative party.  Such a party should be reinvigorated and represent a true challenge to the present conservative coalition.

Over its long history, Canadian political party history has been surprisingly dynamic.  It has blown apart and reassembled several times in response to a number of populist movements.  Though party loyalists may cringe the result has been to allow strong movements to work themselves out onstage without wreaking the national enterprise.  It is well worth study and comparisons to other national; regimes.

For the nonce, the Canadian Liberal consensus may still need further humiliation at the poles in order to sort out an emergent liberal party with all inside the tent.  In the meantime, they have been granted the time to get it right as we will not face an election for as much as four years.

Is a Liberal-NDP merger in the cards?


Posted on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 1:03PM EDT

There’s been talk lately about the idea of a merger involving the NDP and Liberals. This brought to mind some experience I had researching the coming together of PC’s and the Reform/Alliance some years ago.

In that instance, (as in this current situation), polling data raised doubts about whether putting two parties together would be like adding one plus one and getting two. But while on the surface it appeared that some voters might reconsider their support for the party they voted for in the past, the reality is that the merger of the centre right and right has been largely successful.

And, as a consequence of that success, it is hard not to believe that the merger of the centre-left and left is a pre-requisite of long term competitiveness for those who support the Liberal Party.

It’s true that at any given point in time, anger with incumbents can grow, and if that happens the Liberal Party is in a position where it could form a government. But it seems to me that Liberal Party members need to be asking themselves: is it good enough to settle for being the fall-back, or as someone once termed it, “the spare tire” of federal politics.

The Liberal Party used to be the dominant party because it dominated among voters on the centre of the spectrum. No longer. The Harper Conservatives have proven to be less radical than Red Tories feared, and now not only own the right but have a much more notable chunk of voters on the centre of the spectrum too.

Once the PC’s and Alliance merged, Liberal campaigns had to rely on one “go-to pitch”: caricature the Conservatives as fearfully right wing, in an effort to siphon off soft NDP and Bloc supporters. This pitch worked well enough produce a narrow win in 2004, and to prevent a more brutal loss in 2006. But by 2008, Canadians’ experience with Stephen Harper was eroding the credibility of this message: whether they loved him or not, he scared them less.

That Liberal strategy was really just a haphazard variation on what some Liberals are talking about now: building and securing a new coalition of voters around the centre and left of the spectrum. Those Liberals who are repelled by this idea often come at it from a tribal standpoint, uncomfortable with any change in the DNA of the Party they call home, no truck nor trade with "enemies". But this reaction underscores another reality: that tribalism is not only the Red Bull of political parties, it can be their Kryptonite too.

At some point, the math of what it will take to win consistently needs to be considered by Liberals, and the math looks pretty compelling. Absent devastating wounds to the Conservatives (and a recession, two prorogations, a massive deficit, the Great Recession, and a handful of scandals haven’t done much to dent their support) Liberals need to crush the BQ, the NDP, and Green Party or find a way to work together with those they can best get along with. The first seems unlikely, so the latter might merit some real consideration.

The split on the centre-left is a critical barrier to the chances of the Liberal Party forming a government soon. Whether a formal merger is a good idea or not, once the right coalesced, the clock began ticking on the discussion that is happening today.

Will Liberals, NDP merge? Not a chance

By Peter Worthington, QMI Agency

Posted 43 minutes ago

The bottom line is it ain't going to happen.

Yes, there is speculation and there'll be debate, but the likelihood of the leaderless NDP and the deflated federal Liberals merging into one cohesive party seems as unlikely as ... well, as unlikely as the NDP winning 59 of 75 federal seats in Quebec.

Still, it won't happen. Nor should it.

The only reason for merging Liberals and the NDP would be to more effectively oppose the present majority Conservative government of Stephen Harper - a government that is doing a pretty good job for Canada.

The Liberals and the NDP share some policies, but Liberals are not wedded to socialist ideology, which under the NDP would be state capitalism. More looting the till for the comfort of those on top.

The recent world economic crisis has undermined the power of unions in Canada (witness the auto industry). The main rapacious unions now are in the public sector, benefiting themselves at the expense of others.

Merging the NDP and Liberals would be an admission by both of their endemic weakness. And that's not the case, although neither party has dynamic leadership at the moment. Merging would not change that.

Of course, democracy works best with a vibrant opposition to challenge the government. Conservatives know (or should know) this.

When there's weak opposition in Parliament, opposition develops within the ruling party. Remember when the Tory party under Kim Campbell was reduced to two pathetic seats in 1993?

Well, opposition in the governing Liberal party developed between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin - each watching the other and attracting acolytes and detractors.

Stephen Harper has won in three elections, each improving on previous results until now he has a comfortable majority.

Perhaps the biggest change in mood is those who once campaigned against Harper on the grounds he was "scary" now have reason to find it "scary" if any party except the Tories was in power.

That's because of all the developed countries, Canada has weathered the economic crisis best. That's primarily because our banking system is now acknowledged as the finest in the world. Much credit is due to Paul Martin when he was Liberal finance minister.

Both Liberals and NDP want power. They don't want to share. Bob Rae, interim Liberal leader, used to be NDP and that gives rise to suspicions he'd favour merging. Uh-uh. Surely that phase is past. Rae knows the NDP and knows merging would be fatal - unless, he's some sort of a Manchurian candidate for socialism, which is stretching paranoia.

The NDP, with 103 seats, 59 of which are in Quebec, think they are on the rise. They aren't, and will lose Quebec seats next election. But they think their future is brighter than it is.

Remember when Jack Layton sought to stage a coup by getting the Liberals, NDP and Bloc to form a coalition and stampede the governor general into giving them power after the 2008 election?

The NDP finished fourth in 2008 and the coup attempt failed. Harper won a majority next election. Some dedication to democracy!

The NDP may want a merger with Liberals because they'd benefit most. But fear not, the Liberals will eventually be back with a persuasive leader.

But not too soon, one hopes, because Canada is doing just fine with an "unscary" PM in charge during these critical times.

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