Liberals and New Democrats Merger or Coalition – Who Cares?

I’ve been following the stories in the mainstream media for the past few days about the impending merger of the Liberals and the New Democrats.

Here’s yesterday’s quote as reported in the National Post from Mr. Ignatieff when asked about the merger:

“No one has any authorization to even discuss this matter. It’s ridiculous. I’m a Liberal. I’m proud to be a Liberal. The people around me are Liberals, we’re going to form a Liberal government, which means a progressive, compassionate, fiscally responsible alternative for Canadians and that’s our job. That’s what we’re going to do.”

And here’s the quote from Mr. Layton:

“I can only imagine the kind of talks that are going on within the Liberal party, and there certainly is a lot of co-operation between the Liberal party and the Conservative party these days, and that’s, I think, what ought to concern Canadians right now. We have our work to do as a party and we’ve been working away at it for 60 years, and it has to do with trying to create the kind of country that respects the average individual and makes sure that everybody has a place in this country. And we intend to carry on with that work and that means trying to stop Mr. Harper’s policies from being implemented where they are wrong.” 


So, in other real world words (not Ottawa-speak), the merger talks are on.

I’m concerned because I don’t really believe that either Party has the best interests of Canadians at heart, they both just want power so badly that they can taste it. The Liberals know that they can’t win the next election on their own with Mr. Ignatieff at the helm; the very best that they can do is to win a minority if all other things remain equal (i.e. Stephen Harper leads the Conservative Party of Canada, the economy doesn’t circle the toilet etcetera). The New Democrats know that they don’t have a hope of ever forming the government, let alone becoming the Official Opposition, no matter who they have as a leader. The very thought of forming a potentially winning coalition must have the NDP salivating. At last, at LONG last, they stand a chance of, at the very least, forming the number two Party in the House! It must be so hard for them having been the rather homely bridesmaid at so many weddings.

If the Liberals would only do what is really needed to win. While I think that Mr. Ignatieff is a fine gentleman, he seems way over his head outside of the world of academia where everyone behaves in a predictable manner and yes, there are some heated disagreements and discussions, but everything is settled in a gentle fashion without the use of nastiness. That is far from the case in both the House of Commons and the political world. The Liberals seem to know intuitively that they must replace their leader for the second time in as many years; certainly two weak leaders in a row must have them shuddering in their boots thinking that they will never again be Canada’s ruling Party.

The New Democrats have a strong, grassroots labour base. Somehow, I just can’t see Harvard mingling comfortably with General Motors. I suspect that many of the labour-based New Democrat rank and file would end up leaving the coalition; unfortunately, they really don’t have anywhere to go politically. I also suspect that Liberals disenchanted with the whole coalition idea would end up leaving as well, the environmentally conscious voters would head toward the Greens and the centrists (those who are fiscally conservative) may end up heading toward the Conservatives out of desperation.
 
In general, Canadians do not find Mr. Harper a compelling leader; he seems distant and disengaged from average Canadians. Polls over the past few months show his Party locked in an approval rating of between 30 and 35%, well out of majority territory even with the Liberal’s current weaknesses. My suspicion is that if Mr. Harper delivers a third minority government, he’ll be guided to the exit door by the Conservative Party "men in smoke-filled rooms". This is why I find the very idea of a merger so puzzling. A lot of the pressure is now on Mr. Harper to deliver a majority government next time out. If, between now and the next election, the Liberals replace Mr. Ignatieff with a leader than Canadians find appealing, the election could be theirs.
 
Overall, unless things change markedly, I’d be very surprised if Canada ended up with a majority government after the next federal election, merger or no merger. What is most likely to happen is that Canadians will elect to stay at home in record numbers during the next election with voter turnout dropping well below the 58.8% that we saw during 2008.
 
Canadians are rapidly becoming disenfranchised and disengaged from the political process; a merger of the Liberals and NDP is not going to change that.
 
This just in:

The EKOS poll, available here, taken the week of June 2nd to 8th, 2010 reveals that support for the Conservatives has slipped from 31.7% last week to 31.4% this week. Why this is even making the news is beyond me since the slip is well less than the 2.3% margin of error.  What is meaningful is the drop from the peak of just over 40% back in October 2009 to today’s number of 31.4%.
 
Just think think where the Opposition would be if they had a leader that received Canadian’s stamp of approval.

Click HERE to read more of Glen Allen’s columns.

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