Liberals utter the dreaded ‘C’ word -

Liberals utter the dreaded ‘C’ word

A coalition is possible, Ignatieff admits. But a merger? It doesn’t add up.


Chris Wattie/Reuters

Alfred Apps is fed up with all the talk lately about his Liberals forming a coalition with the NDP. “This whole discussion is inane,” the Toronto lawyer and Liberal Party of Canada president groans when asked about it by Maclean’s. “This is the stupidest political discussion that the media has promoted that I have ever seen.”

Apps doesn’t think the discussion is inane because a coalition is an outlandish idea. On the contrary, he argues that the stupidity of this line of inquiry rests in the fact that a coalition should be such an obvious and uncontentious possible outcome of the next election that the prospect isn’t worth fussing about—until after the votes are counted. “There is no coalition discussion,” he says. “You have a discussion about a coalition after an election or when a government falls.”

The topic is hot now largely because of the recent formation of a coalition government in Britain, which naturally reminded Canadians of the failed bid by the Liberals and NDP, supported by the Bloc Québécois, to forge a coalition to oust the Conservative minority in fall 2008. Since then, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has periodically hurled the accusation that Liberals are plotting to govern in concert with “socialists and separatists.”

After seeming last fall to rule out future coalitions, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff softened his language early this month by calling the option “legitimate.” He hardly sounds enthusiastic, though. “We aren’t here to propose a coalition to anyone,” Ignatieff said in a speech in Quebec City. “We are here to propose a Liberal alternative.”

Apps agrees that the party must not talk coalition during a campaign. Still, he sketched a coalition scenario, starting from the reasonable premise that his party doesn’t manage to win a majority in the 308-seat House: “We might be at 130 seats, and we might want to have a stable government like the Tories did in Britain, and we might turn to the NDP and say, ‘Can you agree on this progressive agenda and support the government?’ And maybe it might even mean [NDP] cabinet seats. But that’s a post-election determination once you know what the numbers are.”

Even more bothersome to top Liberals than the coalition chatter is public musing about a full merger with the NDP. CBC reported earlier this week that “senior insiders” in the two parties have held secret merger talks. Ignatieff’s officials denied it. “I have no knowledge of any serious or genuine discussions,” said Apps. “Nor have I ever had discussions with the leader or his staff on this subject.” And he offered at least three reasons not to go there.

The first is the lack of a sure electoral advantage to be won. A merger would only make sense if the combined party would steal a lot of otherwise unwinnable seats from the Conservatives. But Apps says the NDP and Liberals more often vie for the same ridings, like they do in northern Ontario. By joining forces, then, they might combine their current seats without grabbing many more from the Tories. “The problem,” he says, “is the numbers don’t work out.”

The second impediment he cites is the sheer, daunting complexity of merging—meetings in every riding, national conventions of both parties, combining finances. Die-hard New Democrats and Liberals might quit during such a process. But the third and biggest reason not to merge, he says, is the Liberals’ underlying strength. Even though his party lags the Tories in the polls, Apps argues Liberal support remains within reach of its historic range in most provinces, with one glaring exception. “The big question is Quebec,” he says.

“That’s the game-changer.” There are just 14 Liberal MPs from Quebec now, down from 36 as recently as Chrétien’s final majority after the 2000 election. “A lot of people,” Apps adds, “think the Bloc is like the Berlin Wall was—increasingly unable to sustain itself under its original impetus.”

The collapse of the Bloc would indeed change the game. Current poll standings, however, make a Liberal minority reliant on NDP support far more likely. And now that a coalition is acknowledged as one way to secure that support, the Tories will charge in the next campaign that anything Ignatieff pitches depends on what he can sell to his eventual partners in power. Of course, another Conservative minority would be no more capable than the current one of implementing its platform in undiluted form. Yet Harper hasn’t in the past faced persistent questioning about what compromises he’s willing to make to stay in power. Since they share common ground, the ways Liberals and New Democrats might co-operate is a more obvious line of inquiry.

So Ignatieff will have to work to keep coalition speculation from overshadowing his message. Now that the possibility is being widely aired, it could be enough to change how some left-tilting voters size up their options in the next federal campaign. Apps suggests they should vote less for the party they prefer than the House they want. “The question that Canadians have to ask in the next election,” he says, “whichever riding they live in, is, ‘What is the best way to get a progressive majority in Parliament?’ ”


Liberals utter the dreaded ‘C’ word

  1. The Liberal Party of Canada; the party that comes before Canada.

    • 4 people seem to disagree. they are called "the Liberal Party of Canada".

  2. So essentially Alf Apps is confirming what Kinsella told the CBC. Since he's the President of the party, can we assume that his words are Iggy's words?

    Coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition.

    Merger if necessary, but not if it's too difficult.

    How does this clown get to be the president of a national party?

    • Same way the clown iggo gets to be the "leader" of the opposition. It's simply his turn. But their days are numbered.

    • Merger and coalition are two very different scenarios. A coalition will form if there is a minority government after the next election and two parties are able to cobble together a majority in the house. This does not require a formal merger of any parties, just co-operation, sorely lacking in the Harper Cons. The concept is not all that difficult to understand.

  3. It is not a coalition , when the liberals say to Layton.You have to drop what you believe in, and Iggy will be PM. I would tell Iggy and the liberals to go away, and stay away.I think the NDP and the greens could merge and become the official opposition, because come the next election, Iggy will have taken the libs down single handily We all know this- why dont they.? As for the old crows like Chretien, please know that your party needs new and younger blood and what you say with the older NDP members does no mean a thing to and up and coming generation, let alone the baby boomers!!! a coalition up front would be fine, the back room deals with the old guards is not to be trusted.

    • How exactly do the NDP and The Greens merge and become the offical opposition when the Greens have no seats in the house and most likely never will and the NDP will never have more than they do presently.All of these so called progressive parties are not going to form goverment in this country,not on their own and not together,in this age of the web where the news is no longer filter through the likes of the CBC or the Red star we can all read for ourselves just what these idiots stand for Nothing but themselves and power for powers sack.

  4. It appears elected politicians of any party are more interested in the power rather then Canada and its people. Certainly the Liberal party believes itself to have the god given right to rule and, for the most part they have. Today, Canada has a Conservative Prime Minister whose sole interest appears to do what is best for the country, while still being driven by the demands of the other parties. As a Statesman, PM Harper has shown to the world what he is capable of and has kept Canada on a solid footing, At this time of world crisis all politicians should be attempting to help – not hinder and, imho many are not worth their salaries. It seems once in Ottawa they forget the people voted for them – to work on their behalf and not worry about who has the power. But, perhaps I am still naive.

    • Naive, my dear, is not the word, how about delusional, unaware, uninformed, perhaps you are from the planet Mars. Harper is a joke, a failed statesman on the national and international stage.

      • Naive? That would be you my good son! Replace the party and leader voted in by the people with a cobbled together mess of socialists and a Liberal party with a leader who is universally loathed. Now who's being naive?

        • "Universally loathed"? That's an exaggeration worthy of the name "hyperbole."

          The facts simply don't support it: Ignatieff's admired by Americans (because, Harper's PR machine would have us believe, he's more or less an American himself). But not even this country's polls support your outrageous claim. With a Liberal-NDP coalition in their back pocket, seems to me Harper's the one who's steering a sinking ship.

      • Actually I am extremely well informed on politics to the point where there is no point any longer in worrying about what will be. The global entity is one which sooner or later we all shall be part of and Cooper – your bias is shown because without Stephen Harper steering our ship – Canada would have floundered – the Liberal party has down just that. AND< Bob Rae, as Ontario's NDP Premier sunk that province. On the International Stage PM Harper has become a respected Statesman. Therefore, I would suggest you do some reading or perhaps you would prefer to move to the US – that is a country fast becoming part of the third world. Wonder why.

        • The US isn't becoming a part of the third world and if they're doing any worse it's because of the 8 years of horrible damage Bush did. That's besides the point. I'd like to answer what policy, what specific action has Harper undertaken to "save Canada from floundering" that WASN'T forced on him? The answer is they don't exist. Furthermore, if the Liberals and NDP feel they can come together and form a party which holds the confidence of the house, then what's wrong with that? Harper doesn't have a majority and never will so therefore he doesn't have an absolute right to rule in government. Indeed, forming a progressive coalition probably does more to represent Canadians than letting the minority Conservatives rule.

    • That is so true!

    • Marlene Stobbart you ARE naive.

  5. It's too bad the left is splintered. Only 1/3 of voters support Harper, but he calls the shots.

    About 2/3 of the voters do not support Harper and his party. Perhaps it's the steady stream of scandals, the lack of transparency, the attempts to wield executive power over the legislative assembly, the record deficit and the general incompetence (such as poor planning for the G20 summit) which is wasting billions of tax dollars.

    It's too bad indeed.

    • People don't need to prefer the Tories over all other parties to support the government. If you look at right-track wrong-track polls, they tend to range from 45-55 to 55-45. Harper does worse in approval metrics, but still tends to hover around 40%. Moreover, it is not clear that a leader from one of the other parties could get those numbers because nobody voted for the "I hate Harper" party. Indeed, if the Liberals represented the true choice of the voters, why did so few people want Dion as PM (and why do so few want Ignatieff today).

      I am really tired of this asinine meme, and I wish that more lefties would think critically before making it (the folly of conservatives is that they reject intellectual discourse, while the folly of the left is that it assumes – often wrongly – that everybody who knows anything agrees with them).

      • All the "I hate Harper" people around here kept telling me that everybody voted for the "I hate Harper" party. Including those who did not even go to vote at all. I was almost starting to believe it.

      • as he decries assinine memes, he then posits "conservatives…reject intellectual discourse".


        that said, if it is actually true, it's because they are busy working and aren't too keen to have "discourse" with people who think they know better than them how to spend the money they just worked so hard to make.

  6. When Apps gives his three reasons for not unitng, they are, 1/ lack of electoral advantage 2/ complexity 3/ Liberal strength. Take a moment to reread this article, he is not talking about philosophical differences here, he is only talking about marketablity. How cynical can you get?

    • You could wear an awkward looking skin tight vest and cowboy hat to the Stampede.

      • you'd like that would'nt you, big guy?

        • LOL!

  7. Hey Andy Wuss,
    What are the steady stream of scandals? – name them.
    Conservatives are wielding executive power because they ARE the government voted in by the people. Chretien formed a majority government with 37% of the vote. Not much different from where the conservatives are today.
    And the large deficit was first proposed by the "coalition" when they attempted their takeover last time, when they proposed $30 billion (to start) in stimulus spending to an economic "crisis" that hadn't occured yet. It was only when Harper matched THEIR proposal (and the polls came out showing the coalition was not in the least bit popular, AND the conservatives were in majority territory at that point) that the lame coalition backed down.
    I still maintain that if the conservatives let a coalition overthrow them, that this is the quickest way to a majority government in a following election, when Canadians can really voice their opinion about a bunch of smaller lefty parties trying to overthrow the democratic choice.
    One way or the other Mr. Wuss, a conservative majority is coming.

    • There is a big difference between stimulus spending in the hands of Liberals–who proved they knew how to clean up a deficit–and stimulus spending in the hands of Conservatives, who have no such track record and for whome such spending is a foreign concept they have never bothered to learn to do right. Let's just look at one example of Conservative stimulous spending: The Marquee Tourism grant program: We provided millions in funding to Canada's largest festivals–read: those that are already profitable–and let them go out and spend it hiring American performers! How nice of taxpayers to fund the US economic recovery! Oh, and we gave them the money on such short notice that they could hardly use it for tourism promotion. If this is any indication of the kind of thought that went into the rest of the stimulus spending, then it's little wonder that the deficit ballooned beyond projections. If Harper does form a majority next election, it will be a tragedy, because what we desperately need now is the fiscal prudence of the right wing of the Liberal party.

  8. A merger or coalition between the Liberals and the NDP will never happen simply because it's the only option that makes any real political sense. The Liberals still need to tear themselves into little pieces. When they're done, the party will be in tatters and then SOME of the pieces will go to the NDP. Okay. But how long can Jack Layton wait to pick up these little pieces?

    On the other hand, a non-compete election would almost certainly bring a minority Liberal-NDP government to power handily. But since neither party can organize it, they don't deserve power. Stephen Harper's arrogant policies SHOULD be stopped at all costs for the sake of Canada, but this is not yet a big enough reason for the Liberals or the NDP to put their differences aside. Ergo: they will not achieve power in the next election. And Stephen Harper will continue playing them against each other indefinitely.

    In England where a similar coalition was formed from two parties who were desperate to replace the defunct party in power, Stephen Harper recently said 'losers don't get to form coalitions'. He's right. The Liberals under Mr Ignatieff cannot pay the price required for power: the end of Mr. Ignatieff's ineffective leadership. Meanwhile, the NDP are entrenched in third place and have much less to lose than the Liberals, so they will stand pat. Both parties are losers. They will not take the substantial risk required to bring them to power…They're endlessly disappointing like the Canucks.

    The only person who wins in all this is Stephen Harper. His own party is sick of him and a win on the part of a Liberal – NDP coalition or a merged Liberal Democratic party would safely remove him from Canadian politics for the rest of his natural lifetime. Laurier, Trudeau, Chretien, Lewis or Broadbent (even good old Joe Clark) wouldn't hesitate longer than the moment it took them to smirk. But Professor Ignatieff doesn't think the time is quite right. This means more years of Conservative minority. Bank on it.

    • The voters are brighter than these two parties.

    • Humans don't know the future. Get used to it.
      Loser is an epithet. Any elected MP is a winner in this democracy, sent to Ottawa by the people to help govern this great country. The party system has no basis in law, only tradition.
      If you still like the term loser, since there is no majority government, Harper is a loser too. Do a bit of studying about how the Westminster system of government works. If the voters understood this we would have good government, and would have avoided the last stupid election.

  9. too all right leanig voters the biggest socialist on the planet who benifit from socialism are the major too big too fail corporations. gm, chrysler, banks ,ect ect. BUT THEY WANT TOO KEEP THE BENIFITS OF IT FOR THEM SELVES they get bailed out by goerment they get huge tax breaks. they get away with polluting there ceos get huge bonuses even if the company is failingTHEY get bonuses in MILLIONS AND MILLIONS AND IF A POOR WORKER EARNING A LOW WAGE WANTS A FIFTY CENTS RAISE GOD HELP HIM OR JOINS ONE OF THOSE EVIL UNIONS YOU HEAR ABOUT IT ALOVER AND THESE HUGE CORPS they ALREADY control the media . sure we want and need big PRIVATE bussiness BUT THE PUBLIC SHOULD NOT BE CONTOLLED BY THE ENTITY OF CORPORATIONS IT MUST BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND AND IM AFRAID ESPECIALY WITH THIS NEW HARPER GOVERMENT THATS NOT THE CASE.

    • very convincing argument, there, buddy.

      now……back slowly away from the gas and matches, please……..

  10. “The question that Canadians have to ask in the next election,” he says, “whichever riding they live in, is, ‘What is the best way to get a progressive majority in Parliament?' ”

    Why is that the "question that Canadians have to ask"? There are a lot of Canadians who prefer a right-leaning majority in Parliament. These Canadians don't count?

    There are also a lot of Canadians who resent the appropriation of the term "progressive" by left-leaners to describe themselves. It's arrogant.

    • There are probably Canadians who resent the appropriation of the term "conservative" by the biggest spending government in history. Pre-recession.

  11. Apps argues Liberal support remains within reach of its historic range in most provinces, with one glaring exception. “The big question is Quebec,” he says.

    I'd have to say he's dreaming.

    Here's a table of the 97 election versus 2008:
    Alberta 24 11
    Sask 25 15
    BC 29 19
    Man 34 19
    Ont 49 34
    Que 36 24
    nf 38 47
    pei 45 48
    ns 28 30
    nb 33 33

    The polling results today are similar to the 2008 numbers.

    In the Atlantic region there has been little change.
    Quebec is down 12%, and comprises 75 seats.
    Ontario is down 15%, although you could say that Ontario support in 2008 was at a high level and won Chretien that election.
    In the west, liberal support is 10 to 15 percent below what it was 10 years ago, across the entire region. This is for 92 seats in the House.

    So it's clear to me that the Liberals are far below historic levels in the west, and the situation is worse there than Quebec because the west has 17 more seats.

    Apps is dreaming.

    In fact, if you look closely, the reality is the Liberals are below historic levels everywhere except for the Atlantic region, and in the big cities Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. Everywhere else they are far below historic levels.

    • Old man Chretien is stirring the pot.He still makes me violently ill.

  12. Ignatieff's problem is this: his advisers think it would be undemocratic if Harper could win a fake majority with only 37% of the vote, but democratic if Ignatieff could. Arrogance if necessary, but not necessarily arrogance.

    The solution is simple: admit that fake majorities are as bad as fake lakes. Propose a modest improvement to our democracy, as Lord Jenkins did in Britain: a compromise that balances broad proportionality with the need for stable Government: “limited MMP" with some regional "top-up" MPs elected from open lists, in smallish regions, in the interests of local accountability and providing the regional MPs with a broad constituency link.

    If the majority of voters support one party, a one-party government is good. If they don't, a Coalition is the democratic way. Every political scientist knows this. Does Ignatieff have the courage to say so?

    • This is the most sensible route for electoral reform. The trick will be determining the appropriate ratio for regional list vs. single member constituency seats, and whether we simply add more seats or redistribute existing ones. Fortunately the latter can be done on a provincial or subprovincial basis without too much difficulty… I'd think. If this remedies regional overrepresentation (e.g. the Bloc or the CPC on the Prairies) – and it should – then coalition building becomes much more natural and the regional balance of each party much more reflective of their actual support.

      • Every political scientist knows this, eh? I find that a bit unlikely, being a political scientist, but even were that true – that makes it the most sensible solution?

        to wit, every "climate change" scientist says we should shut down the economy. shall we try that, too?

    • MMP? No thanks. A Single Transferable Vote formula that allows for some proportionality while still trying representatives to invidual ridings is far preferable to Mixed Member Proportionality. The trouble is that STV is complicted and difficult to sell to the electorate. BC almost succeeded a few years ago, but they erred in setting the referendum bar ridiculously high (60% instead of the usual 50% +1) and the proposal came just short.

      It might be reasonable to have the Senators appointed from lists according to some proportional representation formula though. Austrailia already does that. In fact, I wish the electoral reform crowd (mostly "progressives") and the Senate reform crowd (mostly conservatives) would put their heads together and work towards something like that. It would require Harper give up his piecemeal attempts to reform the unreformable Senate and go the Constitutional route. And it would require the progressive crowd to accept that an elected upper chamber with real veto powers would be a good thing. Neither will happen.

  13. What has happened to the Liberal Party, first it plans, along with Layton, a Coup and now a Coalition, come off it!__If the Liberals wish to form a government then they best make some changes in both their Leadership and their platform and if I was to be totally frank and honest, I think all three parties need a good sweeping out and some hard honest revamping of their platforms.__People aren't voting because of Party platforms, they are voting for the lesser of the evils. __

  14. Canada needs at least two, if not more strong parties, with solid platforms that the average person can clearly understand and good honest, accountable leadership. __Canadians need choice and they are not getting it from the Federal Parties, just variations of the same old theme, their main interests seem to be getting elected, no matter what "stories" must be told to do so. What happened to conservatives being conservative, is it a crime to be so, what about the Liberals, no leadership, no platform, can't get elected lets start a coup, oops that backfired, lets form a coalition, oops the people don't want that, oh me oh my what to do, get with it folks give us a good leader and a platform that is different and in your opinion good for Canada not just the Liberal Party.__Lets not forget the NDP, The Lewis years, Broadbent, Douglas I may not always agreed with them, but they were very clear on the NDP vision for Canada and the type of Leader that is respected and trusted! Jack Layton just doesn't cut it.

  15. __No wonder we are cynical, you want to win the federal election, then provide the Canadian people with leadership and a strong platform that will lead us into the future, if, we the people agree then our votes will say so!

  16. Merger isn't a good idea because the Liberals have no principles, while the NDP does. Canada's best social legislation came from Liberals stealing CCF policy; Medicare, UI , etc. Conservatives go pay your own doctor bills.
    A coalition would be a fine thing. That is the way the Westminster system is intended to work, in spite of Harper's lies about Canadians electing him to be PM. He got a few votes in his riding, that's all. Furthermore he should not have bullied Michelle Jean into calling the last unnecessary election, and she should not have let him.

    • very sensible post. i think people like Libby Davies and Olivia Chow should tell me how many minorities and women i must hire at my business, and how i should feel about social issues and 9/11.

  17. What an opportunity for the Green Party of Canada to grow into the third party option Canadians need, including Quebec.
    But is Green leader Elizabeth May up to the job? Let us hope so.

    • um, like, she's nuts. so, you know, like, let's hope not.

  18. I hope to watch this.I was just listening to Evan on CBC, a nice enough person, but he still think Rahim Jaffer's shenanigans is a tantalizing tale, someone clue him in- please

    • sorry, wrong spot.I thought this was about Fox north, the page is not loading correctly