Left-wing lock: Will the NDP and Liberals split the progressive vote? - Macleans.ca

Left-wing lock: Will the NDP and Liberals split the progressive vote?

Supporters of the left are worried the parties could once again cannibalize the vote



Bitter political enemies Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair will go at it alone in the 2015 election. The Liberal Party leader and his NDP homologue have all but ruled out any sort of non-aggression pact even as both parties chase the left-leaning electorate. “There are some very, very big impediments to forming a coalition with the NDP. Which is why I am against it,” Trudeau recently told Postmedia News. 

Few people are happier about this than Conservative MP Erin O’Toole. On several key policies, he says, the NDP and the Liberals seem to be morphing into one progressive blob. It raises the distinct possibility of a split in the progressive vote in the 2015 election—and thus making O’Toole’s job on the Conservative’s re-election campaign team that much easier. Trudeau’s denial of a potential coalition aside, O’Toole sees the Conservatives bringing up the possibility of such a thing during the election campaign. “I don’t think Canadians would be comfortable with a firm left coalition of NDP and Liberals.”

The two parties are undeniably close on a variety of issues. Both were against Canada’s participation in the mission against Islamic State; both are in favour of a loosening of Canada’s marijuana laws—decriminalization in the NDP’s case, legalization for the Liberals. Both favour some form of childcare strategy, and have made loud noises about the strains on the country’s middle class. Under leader Thomas Mulcair, the NDP’s position on Israel has edged closer to that of the Liberals, while the Liberal Party has begun courting the NDP’s traditional territory of organized labour.

The Liberals’ leftward tilt is in part to regain territory in Quebec, where the party has yet to fully recover from its scandal-plagued tenure in the mid-2000s. Trudeau’s decision to oppose the mission in Iraq played well in Quebec, where support for military intervention is typically the lowest in the country. The NDP has the lion’s share of the seats in the province, and Mulcair remains the most popular federal leader, according to polls. Yet Trudeau has revived the Liberal brand somewhat in Quebec, and the party has far outpaced its opposition in fundraising numbers.

Liberal and NDP operatives tend to tiptoe around a potential split of the progressive vote—though without publicly acknowledging the similarities between the parties. “The Liberal Party must work hard to show a more responsible, more progressive vision for the country,” says Liberal Party communications director Kate Purchase, who says there will be “robust competition between the NDP and the Liberal Party.” NDP national director Anne McGrath, meanwhile, says the progressive vote can’t be split. “That would imply that the Liberals are a progressive party,” she tells Maclean’s.

This stubborn refusal to yield—in the form of a party merger, or at least a non-aggression pact in key ridings—is a source of frustration amongst many on the left, who see a possible repeat of the 2011 election. That year, the Conservatives were able to secure a majority thanks largely to a split of the centre-left vote in Ontario. “It’s a head-in-the-sand mentality. Anytime the issue of the two parties cannibalizing the vote comes up, the answer from either is, ‘We’re going to run someone in every riding and win the next majority government,’ ” says Pascal Zamprelli, a former Liberal nomination candidate who volunteers for the party. “Maybe, but it’s unrealistic to think vote-splitting doesn’t hurt.”

Avoiding a split of the left-leaning vote may fall to outside organizations like Lead Now. Ultimately, the Vancouver-based advocacy group wants electoral reform. In the interim, it is organizing strategic voting initiatives in ridings where the Conservative candidate won by less than 50 per cent in 2011. (There were 59 such ridings, according to data compiled by Pundits’ Guide.)

“We’re basically saying if the parties won’t cooperate before the election, then we are going to organize voters across party lines to defeat conservative candidates,” says Lead Now executive director Jamie Biggar, adding his group has already set up teams in 15 ridings. “Why is Stephen Harper in power today? Because in 2003 he ended vote splitting on the right” with the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance.

The NDP has trended downward in the polls as of late, and has been stung by a string of by-election losses. Perversely enough, this is one of O’Toole’s concerns in the coming year. “In Ontario, we need a viable NDP,” he says, if only to steal away Liberal votes. The Conservatives also need the Liberal Party to continue its leftward shift and convince NDP supporters to vote red. Erin O’Toole hopes his opponents are wildly successful.


Left-wing lock: Will the NDP and Liberals split the progressive vote?

  1. Preferential/ranked ballot voting, as advocated by Trudeau, would end vote splitting. I have no idea why the NDP does not get behind this. As I’ve said many times, first-pass-the-post makes absolutely no sense in a multi-party environment.

    • Probably because it will hurt them and help the Liberals. The Liberals are more likely to be the second choice of both conservatives and NDP.

      • And even though it’s a partisan fix, it wouldn’t even help the Liberals in large parts of Canada, like most ridings west of Manitoba, where they run third. And it wouldn’t help anyone 95% of the time, since the same candidate would be elected 95% of the time. The very best it can do is make half the votes count. Proportional representation makes almost all the votes count, and guarantees Canada will never again have a government with a false majority chosen by 39% of voters. Make 2015 the last unfair election!

        • The preferential ballot is an *evolutionary* change from FPTP that solves the problem of “wasted votes”. That’s all it is meant to do. At the end of the day one has either voted for the winner or voted for the person who came in second (assuming voter ranked all the competitive contenders).

          PR in the form of MMPR is a massive change from FPTP. IIRC MMPR was rejected at the provincial level by Ontario voters. Similarly, a much scaled down version of PR was rejected by BC voters.

          So, between the 2, I’d think that PB would have a significantly greater chance of being accepted by voters than would PR or MMPR.

        • You have just explained why it is not a partisan fix.

    • I guess you missed the vote on the NDP’s motion in support of PropRep and to study other alternatives last week…

    • When and where did the Liberals become a progressive party?

      When the BC and federal Liberals interned tens of thousands of Japanese Canadians despite. When the Sask Liberals supported the Doctor’s Strike against medicare being introduced by the Sask NDP? When Trudeau the elder imprisoned – without charge – over 500 of his political enemies using the War Measures Act despite Tommy Douglas’ appeal for the civil liberties and use of the existing criminal code?

      Here in BC we have a Liberal regime that is at least as corrupt as the Ontario and Quebec Liberal parties.
      Why would a progressive person support a Liberal federal party whose leader refuses to support a national childcare program?

      Trudeau echoes Harper in support of the bizarre, unfair 15% federal corporate tax rate as well as the export of raw bitumen – and good, value-added Canadian jobs – via the XL pipeline to the US and the expanded Kinder-Morgan pipeline to Asia.

      Marty and the corporate media must pretend the Liberal party is progressive in order to continue the alternation between the black cats and the white cats which Tommy Douglas to aptly illustrated in his story of “Mouseland”,

    • If the NDP proposal for mixed member proportional representation makes no sense, then why did half the Liberal caucus – and all the independents – in the House vote for it?

  2. The progressive voters are far more educated in how to vote this time around than they did in 2011, it knows what its going to take to remove this conservative government from power. There was a campaign in the Alberta election a couple of years back when Allison Redford was elected, it was called the ” Hold Your Nose ” campaign, in order to help prevent the White Rose from being elected to government(and it worked). I think the far left that don’t generally vote for the Grits, but know they are more progressive than the cons, and they have no time for Harper period, will coalesce to do whatever it takes to eliminate this cancer(harper) that is starting to become malignant in the PMO, including holding their nose if they have to, and vote for Trudeau in 2015. The grits have far more to offer the left and far left, than the cons would ever. And finally, just because no ones writing comments or posts that the Harper government is not corrupt, still doesn’t mean voters, don’t still think the cons are not corrupt, because they are the most corrupt party ever elected in Canada, bar none.

  3. Unless Justin comes out with some policies that of the centre right persuasion, I think the left leaning voter are going park their votes with the Liberal party. With all the defections Mulcair has suffered since he became leader, the press is going to be saying that he is a hard man to get along. If a man can’t keep his party together, how is going to keep a nation together? I like some of his policies. I am surprised his not for changing the voting system to a more representative one.

    • Apparently the media has failed to tell you that Mulcair has made a firm public commitment to do so. Furthermore, the NDP Motion calling for a mixed-member proportional electoral system, in the House of Commons December 3, attracted support from the majority of Liberal MPs, three independents (including Brent Rathgeber!), and three small parties. A multi-partisan consensus!

  4. Although Marty carefully steps around the fact, all polls indicate that Trudeau and the Liberals are not competitive in French Quebec. There Mulcair and the NDP still hold a significant lead. The Liberals may hold the English ridings around Montreal, but the same could be said of the Conservatives in the Quebec City area. Wishful thinking on the part of the author will not change those facts. Nor will the usual bafflegarb about strategic voting and first past the post, go anywhere. Plus, I confidently will predict again as I have in the past correctly, that a very small minority of those under 30 will go to the polls. All the media’s moaning and groaning and pizzing in their beers in the Ottawa Press Gallery/CBC studios, will not change those facts either.

  5. In an election where on the one hand the NDP has 97 incumbents (as opposed to 37 Liberals) and came second to the Conservatives in 107 ridings (as opposed to 56 Liberals), and on the other the Liberals have a lead in the opinion polls, there are two national parties who can reasonably make the case that they will unseat the current government.
    And yet if we look at Justin Trudeau and the Liberals on stated policy, we find that there is precious little difference between them and the Conservatives on most key issues. Justin’s difference is mostly in rhetoric and style.
    Trudeau has yet to even articulate a progressive vision of substance. On trade, the Liberals are just as committed to free trade agreements as the Conservatives, even endorsing the CETA before the final text of the agreement is released. On foreign policy, the Liberals seem to run in lockstep with the Harper government, supporting foreign intervention in Iraq without seeing the facts around such a mission. On the environment, Trudeau has endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline and has yet to propose any meaningful plan to address climate change. On economic issues, the Liberals, having overseen the a huge increase in inequality in this country when they were in power during the 1990s, have continued to vote against progressive labour law reform and have not said where they stand on a federal minimum wage.
    The suggestion that we should strategically count on the Liberals to produce progressive change is immensely problematic. As we all know, the Liberals’ history has been to promise and posture progressively before the election, and govern conservatively when elected.

  6. Their is nothing either progressive or leftist about Thomas Mulcair and his conservative hegemony. In fact, many former NDPers believe he was hired to infiltrate and usurp the party that once spoke out for social justice, environmental integrity and fiscal fairness. The Mulcair party bears no resemblance to the party which preceded his ascension. Were it not for old unionists and socialists clinging desperately to the 3 hallowed letters NDP, the majority of past NDP voters would be looking elsewhere. Mulcair is not trying to become a centrist alternative to the Liberals; he is trying to become a right wing alternative to the conservatives. There really is no party of the left in Canada today. We desperately need some form of Proportional representation to enable all Canadian voices to be heard. But that, of course, would be democracy which both Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair find distasteful.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. Spoken like a true entitled liberal. Mr Trudeau, multi- millionaire and defender of the middle class. Pretty easy to offer up more taxes when you live like him.

  7. WTF is this “and his NDP homologue” Surely a sign of Liberal bias if there was one!! It doesn’t even make sense unless you tell us what this means.

    • The Liberals apparently still think they are Canada’s historical ruling party by manifest destiny. They would do well to learn from the UK Liberals who went from half of an essentially two-party system to a rump as a result of the National Parliaments between the wars. No party is immortal.

      • I couldn’t agree but no one seems to see the utter arrogance of it all. What middle class is he going to help? No one in the media asks him any questions about all his big and costly promises.
        I had no idea the media was this slanted but here is the proof.

  8. It would appear that Erin O’Toole would prefer if the majority of Canadians weren’t represented. Not a friend to Canada. He and his boss are poison to democracy. So is our antiquated electoral system that allows a party to attain a majority with only 23% of the eligible vote.

  9. This is the way liberals operate. They feel entitled to take their support from the NDP. Then I question the NDP supporters to be swayed so easily and buy into this. They won the Ontario election the same way. They are the true divisive party.
    Has anyone asked them what their definition of middle class is?