Trudeau, way back when, on Liberals and NDP remaining apart

A telling interview from two years ago

by John Geddes

Justin Tang/CP

Justin Tang/CP

Just to add a little background to this week’s interesting writing on the prospect of any future coalition between the NDP and Liberals, from my colleague Paul Wells here and Huffington Post’s Althia Raj here, I’m casting back to what Justin Trudeau said on the even more audacious idea of an outright merger of the two parties in early 2012, before he’d even launched his bid for the Liberal leadership.

In case you haven’t been following along, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who previously dismissed the coalition notion, has now expressed a rather vague openness to the idea. But Trudeau declares that he couldn’t possibly consider such a pact, noting policy differences such as the NDP’s stance—contrary to Liberal “Clarity Act” doctrine—that any future Quebec referendum could be decided in the separatists’ favour if they got a bare 50-per-cent-plus-one majority.

When I interviewed Trudeau around two years ago (check out his hair in the photo that accompanies this Q & A!), I asked about uniting the left. He made a key point in his assessment of why Stephen Harper’s reuniting of the right went more with the historical grain of Canadian conservatism.

As well, I thought that while Trudeau touched on policy disagreements between Liberals and New Democrats, he seemed more focused on the strategic matter of what was and wasn’t necessary—for either the Liberals or NDP— to beat Harper:

Q: I’d like to ask you about the Liberal party’s future. Ever since the right united as the new Conservative party, there’s been a case that the Liberals and NDP should merge too. Why not?

A: The right didn’t unite so much as reunite. I mean, Reform was very much a western movement breaking away from Brian Mulroney. But they broke away, then they came back together. The NDP and the Liberals come from very, very, very different traditions.

Q: Still, there’s an electoral logic in trying to combine the centre-left votes.

A: Before anyone can even seriously talk about thinking about that, let’s allow us to get two permanent leaders. I think the NDP has huge fault lines within it, whichever leader they choose. Obviously, the Liberal party has huge challenges. But if one of the two opposition parties manages to get its stuff together, I don’t know that a merger or even any sort of co-operation is going to be necessary. I think Canadians are going to be unwilling to allow Mr. Harper to continue.




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Trudeau, way back when, on Liberals and NDP remaining apart

  1. With reference to the last point Trudeau made, i think it’s clear he see Mulcair’s newly found willingness to at least contemplate cooperation with the Libs as essentially amounting to calling uncle.[at least for now] I can’t see any obvious box in for JT by Tom saying this. Rather it simply looks like JT won the first round. Trudeau is being smart about seeing far he could push Mulcair into the mainstream on issues like national unity – i suspect it wont be very far before the ndp membership starts to grumble. So the only realistic scenario for JT to climb down a bit would be real loss of momentum…if it’s enough of a loss, who knows Mulcair might climb back up again. Has politics always looked this silly from the outside i wonder?
    The question i find interesting is how closely JT is playing the anti SH hand. It’s clear for very many dippers having Harper gone is job # one; the same is probably true for most Liberals…maybe just a tad less so. The ndp should beware that both the strength[and sometimes the weakness] of the LPC is that it sits in between the two other major parties.
    Or…maybe JT really is a pragmatist at bottom, just so long as he wins.

    • With reference to the last point Trudeau made, i think it’s clear he see Mulcair’s newly found willingness to at least contemplate cooperation with the Libs as essentially amounting to calling uncle.

      Um….. except that Trudeau was making this “point” 2 years ago. Before either he, or Mulcair were leaders of their respective parties.

      • Um…yes indeed. And he’s never once stopped making that same point. Do try and keep up.

    • “..playing the anti-SH hand..” Time will tell whether Trudeau is a pragmatist. Your interest in how “close” he plays it is great insight on your part. I keep looking at it in the light of Trudeau peaking to early before the vote and Harper losing the support of the CPC and quitting (a really long shot). Trudeau needs a “Harper ” over on the right to give Red Tories something to vote for other than the extreme evangelical libertarians Harperites. Up until now, Trudeau has fought a two front war. It appears with Mulcair’s overtures Trudeau’s drive will be the “hard work” needed to bring the Red Tories on board. I reference this to the hands off approach to the oil industry. The Liberals gave the Conservatives a scare in Brandon and Calgary North. In Calgary North, Trudeau’s Achilles heal reared it’s head in the 5% vote May’s Green party bled from the Left to hand the riding back to the Conservatives. If the Environmental lobby and vote creates a situation that Trudeau has to start a rear guard action, he loses the Red Tories. We live in interesting times.

  2. When Mulcair became NDP leader he was hot stuff….once Justin was elected Lib leader people said Mulcair who?

    The choice now….again…. is Lib or Con….with the Dips once again in third place.

    Mulcair …..and the NDP…..lost their chance. They could have merged with the NDP in top spot……now that option is gone. If they merge….and it has to be a merger, not a coalition….then the Libs will be in the catbird seat.

    Trudeau is indeed the antiHarper.

    • Neither the Liberals or NDP want to merge. The idea of merging parties to correct distorted election results is ridiculous. The sane approach is to fix the voting system, which is what almost all developed countries have done, most of them a century ago.

      I don’t know how much of an anti-Harper Trudeau is. Paul Martin beat Harper down to 30% in 2004 and the NDP down to 16% and he was seen as a failure. Trudeau will have a hard time doing what Martin did.

      • Sane? Politics isn’t sane to begin with, and isn’t likely to become so.

        It would take years to change our voting system, and we haven’t got years… or the enormous political will required…..from voters as well as politicians.

        People aren’t that keen on it to begin with.

        A merger however could be done in a week or less….they had much of it on paper with Dion.

        Trudeau can beat Harper….that’s what anti-Harper means.

        • I think most voters are keen on voting reform. One poll shows 70% favor some kind of electoral reform. The problem is that partisans want absolute power on 39% of the vote. They put their own political ambitions ahead of what’s right and best for the country.

          This corruption, and the corruption among the Canadian news media, will ensure that the Conservative party becomes Canada’s natural governing party of the 21st century. (Unless the cons divide into two parties again.)

          The Liberals won’t come out ahead on that deal. They’ll just keep burning through leaders looking for a messiah that will never come. But of course the big corporations that own the Canadian news media will do very well.

          • Well it’s been put to voters how many times now….in BC and Ont, and turned down? Nobody wants a ‘pizza parliament’

            The UK has had the FPTP system longer than us and is doing just fine.

            Our media has always been lazy, and our citizens woefully uninformed…..and a change in how we vote won’t make any difference.

            And having been present for many a vote count I can tell you that many Canadians still can’t even make an X in a circle.

            So asking for more than that is……premature.

          • Yes, ensuring an actual majority of voters is represented in government is no different than doling out absolute power to arbitrary minority parties. If people stayed home and we randomly awarded seats we’d have a more accurate implementation of democracy.

            Canadians are not as dumb as you think they are. We are no less intelligent or capable of being informed than people in any other developed country. If they could comprehend democracy; we could too. It’s just a matter of the people being informed by politicians and journalists. Unfortunately, they are derelict in their duty here. (Not because they stupid, but because they are corrupt.)

          • People aren’t going out to vote anymore….simple as that

            And it doesn’t matter what kind of system they have.

          • Emily, they turned down abolishing slavery, too! Gays can marry, women are persons, etc. Times change.

          • Indeed they do…..but that doesn’t mean that every cause will eventually be adopted if you just keep at it long enough.

      • People had a hard time seeing Harper merging the PC and Alliance, leading a minority government, leading a majority government….
        That’s what happens when one is a partisan and all their friends think likewise.

        • They didn’t merge….they rejoined after a split.

          • Actually the Reform party swallowed up the PCs and crapped out the red Tories…

          • Actually they reunited….some red Tories stayed, some left.

          • Harper’s Con party more resembles the US Republican party than Canada’s traditional conservative party (1867-2004 RIP.)

          • Yes it does….but people didn’t realize that.

            In Ont Harris got elected as a PC….and turned out to be a neo-con.

      • So, 10 years ago, Harper was running at 30%, about the same as what he is running today. You’re numbers bring up all sorts of scenarios in todays polls. Loved your post, thanks Bud!!

    • Why would you state it has to be a merger and not a coalition? Apart from the effects on the two parties (which would be abysmal) a merger rather than a coalition would be unfair to Canadians. In this age of niche markets and greater choice in just about anything you can name, moving to a two party system in Canada is just not on, nor should it be.

      • Because a coalition is a temporary thing…..a partnership of convenience that could come apart at any time. Not very stable, and therefore not very reliable.

        A merger though is permanent. There are set rules and principles and everything has been hashed out ahead of time.

        As you’ve probably read people watch for any sign of a split in the Con party…..SoCons getting fed up…PCs withdrawing….and they could then put a wedge in that split to make it bigger. We’ve lost parties before because they couldn’t hold together….there were factions within the party. It’s what happened to the PCs in the first place.

        So Libs and Dips would have to merge. And they’ll both have to toss/adopt a few things and learn how to get along. Come up with a new name….all that kind of thing.

        Canada would be much better off with just 2 parties. Easier for Canadians to control the parties….and clear cut choices. Cuts out a lot of politicking too.

  3. “He made a key point in his assessment of why Stephen Harper’s reuniting of the right went more with the historical grain of Canadian conservatism.”

    Trudeau is, of course, ignorant of the historical grain of Canadian conservatism.

    The right was divided from 1935 to 1980, between the PCs and Social Credit; then it was divided from 1993 to 2004 between the PCs and Reform party.

    Since 1935, the conservatives have only been united under Mulroney and Harper.

    Trudeau’s recent move to kill his commitment to ranked ballot voting reform shows he doesn’t understand the power of a united conservative party. Hard-core and red-Tory conservatives make up 40% of the vote. A fake majority takes 39%.

    If the Cons get a competent leader, he or she could easily unite right-leaning voters and go beyond the con tent like Mulroney. Without electoral reform (or Wildrose going federal,) the Conservative party is Canada’s natural governing party.

    • I think you overestimate the base support of the CPC. I’ve seen it commonly referred to as about 30%.

      Nonetheless, preferential/ranked ballot voting would make sense as a policy for the LPC to support. Not to mention the fact that it just plain makes sense in a multiparty environment (unlike FPTP which is moronic). So why the Liberals would not be for it is a mystery to me.

      • According to the Globe and Mail, Harper’s 2011 victory was about bringing together a conservative coalition: small-c conservatives, red Tories and blue Liberals.

        Red Tories have only started voting Liberal since the formation of the Conservative party. In 2006, none of them voted for Harper; he got 30% of the vote (which is where he’s at now in the polls.) In 2011, all red-Tories voted for Harper at the last minute to stop the NDP from forming the government.

        I agree, fixing our existing Westminster system with ranked ballot voting is the smart sensible approach. Unfortunately, Trudeau has abandoned it. He likely believes he has the ability to restore the Liberal party to its former glory. But he doesn’t understand the numbers. With 3-way center-left vote-splitting, winning a minority government will be difficult. All the stars will have to be aligned to win a majority.

    • What makes you say Trudeau is ignorant of this history?

      • His interpretation of it.

  4. Left wing types are hamstrung by narcissism of small differences. There might be electoral logic in uniting left wing voters but left wing types don’t actually like to unite themselves with others.

    In Canada, the most heated arguments occur between Libs and NDP, those two groups wind each other up like no others. Left wing are utopians, and since no two people have same exact utopia, there is constant division amongst the left.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb_qHP7VaZE

    wiki – life of brian:

    The film pokes fun at revolutionary groups and 1970s British left-wing politics.

    The People’s Front of Judea harangue their “rivals” with cries of “splitters” and stand vehemently opposed to the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Campaign for a Free Galilee, and the Popular Front of Judea (the last composed of a single old man, mocking the size of real revolutionary Trotskyist factions).

    • That’s a tidy little analysis as long as you summarily lump the Libs and Dippers together as homogenous “left wing types”.

      However, the Liberals have long been characterized as campaigning from the left and governing from the right. Moreover, their pragmatic policy spectrum has often been a comfortable home for so-called red Tories (and vice-versa) who would be aghast at being typed as “left-wing”.

      IMO, it’ll be those red Tories whom Trudeau will be trying to pry loose from the Cons in building his own winning coalition, not the traditional supporters of the NDP.

      • Yes, Trudeau is catering to red-Tories. He is effectively a progressive conservative. But can he get the centrists back that were lost to the NDP? Before the 2011 election campaign started, NDP support was at 14%. Latest polls have them at 23%. How many centrist liberals want to vote for Brian Mulroney?

        • I’m not debating the merits of Trudeau’s strategies. I’m merely speculating on what they are. Feel free to dispute them.

          • I’ll certainly do that. I don’t think the Trudeau band wagon is all that it’s cracked up to be…

        • Trudeau is after red-Tories, blue-Liberals, purple anybodies …plus the orange and the Green.

          Don’t confuse Mulroney with Harper….they are nothing alike.

          Every now and again, the Libs lose office….because people felt they could trust the country to the PCs for awhile without the place being trashed. The Libs get smacked, the PCs get a chance….and on the whole everything gets rebalanced.

          Then along came Wild Steve there with his SoCon gang and their cockamamie bathtub economic theories…..and Canadians are horrified. Not trustworthy at all and the country is suffering for it.

          We don’t need the nuisance of the NDP right now…..we need to get Harper out of there. Canadians won’t vote for a socialist govt….it took the NDP 60 years to even become opposition, and we all know that’s a Quebec fluke.

          Voters always expect saints and wizards….but all we’ve got to work with are human beings so we have to do a bit of juggling.

          • “Don’t confuse Mulroney with Harper….they are nothing alike.”

            I never did. (Although Mulroney is a low life, he is a different species of low life than Harper.)

            “We don’t need the nuisance of the NDP right now…..we need to get Harper out of there. ”

            You know nothing of democracy. If all the Liberals have is more tough Tory times and the absurd idea that the democracy is a nuisance, they are going to have a hard time convincing Canadians to vote for them.

            “Canadians won’t vote for a socialist govt….it took the NDP 60 years to even become opposition, and we all know that’s a Quebec fluke.”

            One could say that under FPTP it will take them another 60 years to become the OO. But if Canada becomes a democracy, the possibilities are endless… (We should do like the developed world instead of wallowing in ignorance and absurdity.)

          • Mulroney is one of our best PMs.

            I dunno what you’re smoking this am Ron, but it sounds expensive

          • That’s a unique perspective. But usually a top notch PM is not guilty of taking a $300,000 bribe and lying under oath to weasel tax payers out of a $3M settlement on a law suit he filed.

          • “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

  5. IMO, both Libs and Dippers will (as I’ve commented elsewhere) beat down any discussion of coalition or merger at least until the results of the next election are in.

    In the meantime, if the prime animus motivating many voters is increasingly, as I suspect, ABC (anybody but Cons), strategic voting will come into play in Con-held ridings perceived as vulnerable. That is, the not-Harper candidate deemed to have the best chance of prevailing will garner the majority of “progressive” votes.

    The trick for any opposition candidate in those ridings will be to persuade local voters that s/he is that “best chance” option.

    • I agree. And the last thing Trudeau wants is for the results of the last election to dictate strategic voting in the next one.

      Best to try to get voters to see him as the only alternative first, grab as much of that vote as he can so that the liberals will be on top of any coalition, should one form.

      • Trudeau is not much of an alternative to Harper. He has vowed to not reverse any of Harper’s reckless and ineffective tax cuts. That is the same as agreeing with Harper on his handling of the economy.

        The Cons implement a “starve the beast” agenda. The Liberals cement it in place.

        • Trudeau can’t make raising taxes a policy, a platform or a priority. It’s because of political conditions, not because he agrees with it.

          The same applies to Mulcair.

    • Fact is it’s absurd to talk about a coalition government (formal or informal) until the results of the election are in. In Canada, parties go into negotiations to form the government — after an election — unless one has a majority of seats. (This process is the same in any developed country for that matter.) It’s foolish to speculate or make arrangements based on uncertain information.

      Harper is trying to rewrite the rules of our democracy with his “coalition with the socialists and separatists” rhetoric. I find it disgusting that so many Canadian journalists are ignorant of how our democracy works and are unwittingly helping Harper in his fraudulent anti-democratic scheme.

      Canada has a second-rate implementation of democracy and fourth estate. The corruption and incompetence of the latter enshrines the former.

      • Regarding the “[absurdity of talking] about a coalition government (formal or informal) until the results of the election are in”, no debate from me. You’re echoing comments I’ve made on this board and elsewhere many times.

    • BTW, strategic voting does not work. There’s no way for a voter to know which candidate to pick to make it work. If we had ranked ballot voting (like Australia,) strategic voting (Anyone-But-X) would be guaranteed. In Canada, Harper’s vote micro-targeting scheme trumps strategic voting efforts which seem to cancel each other out.

      • I didn’t say strategic voting “works”. I said it will become a factor in those ridings where an incumbent Con looks vulnerable and that opposing candidates in those ridings will strive to project themselves as the most viable not-Harper candidate.

  6. Sheesh, Mr Geddes: in the name of journalistic fairness, shouldn’t you also post a photo of your hairstyle two years ago?

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