Federal election 2015: Who's afraid of a coalition?

Who’s afraid of a coalition?

The Tories should be. Why the party isn’t as ready to raise the spectre of an NDP-Liberal alliance as in past elections.

Liberal Leader Justin Trueau, right, greets NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair during a federal election campaign stop at the annual gay pride parade in Montreal, Sunday, August 16, 2015. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, right, greets NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair during a federal election campaign stop at the annual gay pride parade in Montreal, Sunday, August 16, 2015. (Graham Hughes/CP)

They don’t agree on much, but on the question of who will win the next election, the NDP and Liberals are unanimous: the winner will be the party with the best elixir to cure a nation sickened by Stephen Harper’s decade of wretchedness. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, ad nauseam: “It’s clear that Stephen Harper’s plan just isn’t working.” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the other day: “Stephen Harper’s plan is not working for Canadians in the middle class, and those working hard to join it.”

Like their rhetoric, their respective plans aren’t dissimilar—and at least as progressive, as Emmett Macfarlane noted in the Ottawa Citizen recently. Yet implicit in each is the apparently bedrock notion that these elixirs shan’t ever mix. Come October, the anti-Harper vote is either Dipper orange or Grit red. A coalition, as Trudeau put it last month, “is out of the question.” If you prefer your denials more bullish and verbose, here’s Mulcair in 2012: “The no is categorical, absolute, irrefutable and non-negotiable. It’s no. End of story. Full stop.”

These are the sounds of fear and ego, which only grow louder whenever an election rolls around. Fear, because the Harper government successfully exploited the idea of a coalition in 2008, raising the spectre of a Liberal-led coalition supported by socialists and separatists.

The Conservatives used an identical strategy in 2011, labelling the opposition Liberals, led by Michael Ignatieff, as the “Ignatieff coalition.” As in, “Harper Conservatives vow never to introduce Ignatieff Coalition’s iPod tax,” as one Conservative attack line went. So, not only are the Liberals willing to open the door to socialists and separatists, they’ll tax your iPod in the process.

Comically absurd, sure, yet the strategy continues to benefit the Conservatives to this day. The NDP has torqued to the centre under Mulcair’s leadership, while the Liberals have as of late staked out policy—taxing the proverbial one per cent, for instance—normally associated with more lefty extremes. The parties are far more similar than in past elections, yet remain separate entities, and Conservatives themselves couldn’t be happier. “In Ontario, we need a viable NDP,” Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said last December. His reasoning is bone-simple: a surging NDP will serve as a damper on that province’s Liberal support, buoyed as it is of late by Trudeau’s gleeful optimism and fine cheekbones.

In order to win, the Conservatives simply need to batten down, secure the base and tread lightly until October. There is a singular reason why Harper’s handlers have clamped down even more on press, limiting access to Conservative functions to card-carrying Conservatives, and why Harper himself speaks frequently about the evils of Islamic terrorism and illicit drugs. Our Prime Minister doesn’t need to proselytize beyond his own base, because his opposition is divided into two warring partisan camps.

Yet it is telling how the Conservatives aren’t nearly as ready to raise the spectre of a coalition this time around. The party has attacked both the NDP and Liberal party for being soft on terror, hard on the middle class and bent on taxing Netflix (iPods are so 2011), yet there is hardly a mention of a coalition. Of course, there’s a lot of campaign left, but it’s worth remembering that in 2011, the “Ignatieff coalition” line was trotted out in earnest after the writ was dropped, and remained a staple thoughout the campaign.

For the Conservatives, there is no real sovereignist threat to exploit this time around. But there’s another, more crucial, difference: the electorate is more open to a coaltion today than in 2011. That year, according to a EKOS Research poll, 43 per cent of Canadians were in favour of a coalition. Today, that number is 20 percentage points higher, according to Ipsos. While the usual caveats apply, it’s at least an indication why we haven’t yet seen Mulcair and Trudeau depicted as a two-headed hydra, ready to cripple our economy and give our children drugs. (They will, however, tax your Netflix account. Old habits die hard.)

The holdup isn’t the electorate—it’s the individual and institutional egos within the NDP and the Liberal party. Mention the idea of a coalition to your average Liberal or NDP hack, as I have, and you’ll get reams of spiel about insurmountably opposed party doctrines and the like. Also, Mulcair is rabid. Trudeau is stupid. Oh, and did we mention the Clarity Act?

Yet it’s difficult to see how these rigid egos won’t ultimately bend to electoral will. As it stands, we have three parties each commanding roughly a third of the pie. This benefits exactly one party—the one in power. Rhetoric aside, the brighter NDP and Liberal bulbs must realize what the non-partisan hoi polloi realized long ago: a coalition isn’t out of the question. In fact, it’s probably what most of the country wants.


Who’s afraid of a coalition?

  1. Excellent article! Always a pleasure to read your analysis.

  2. When Dion suggested a coalition, it was considered both treason and Armageddon.

    Amazing what a few years ‘under the lash’ will do.

  3. We cannot continue to rely on the virtue of the next politicians.
    • corrupt politicians operate where the rules are weak.
    • there are simple, proven rules to stop them.
    • we need to make sure those rules are present as basic standards in all levels of government, all the time.

    Government is in a conflict of interest policing itself. If we build minimum standards of process in Canada, they will elevate the quality of democracy around the world. Integrity restored.

  4. Political talking heads like this guy and others are not finding Trudeau making very many flubs in the past few weeks of the election, so they just like to inject a little poison in the pot in order to see if he will take the bait, well if Trudeau and the liberals decide to merge as a coalition with the dippers, especially with Thom at the top, I’ll vote for the green. It’s worth noting, this author spent the last year or 2 raising his pom poms on the political talk shows in support of Thom, while Thom was acting Perry Masonesk in the HOCs, going after Steve over the Duffy cover-up, the PMO is now trying to cover-up. I am glad the MSM are having their day with Harper finally, by asking him tough questions, especially since this Duffy scandal, it’s been a long time since Harper has ever faced this type of tough questioning(don’t stop media), and he(Steve) even looks like a crook. Harper is in the Arctic because not only because he can’t stand the heat in the in the Duffy cover-up kitchen, but he sweats rather profusely outside in hot weather, in the big cities, or under powerful lighting, like the night of the debate. You could see the sweat rolling down Harpers forehead after the debate ended . The guy(Steve) is out of shape.

    • Carpet Bomber….

      It’s hard for Trudeau to make a “flub” when the reporters lusting after him across the country only lob softball questions; to which no doubt, they have provided the appropriate response.

  5. I would suspect that both the NDP and the Liberals will be in favour of a coalition under a certain set of circumstances.

    If Mulcair gets to be the PM, then he will be in favour.
    If Trudeau gets to be the PM, then he will be in favour.

    If the 20th of October shows the Conservatives at a Minority, the talks will recommence immediately.

  6. If we are stupid enough to allow the NDP to lead our country, then, well, we deserve the downward slide towards Athens. Ask them how happy they are to have a far left party in power.

    • MPDMAN……

      The NDP under Mulcair would still be a better choice than the Liberals under Justin Trudeau. Mulcair is not an idiot, and in the past he’s shown strong favour for the free market and capitalism. He is an opportunist of course, but in power, I don’t think he’d bankrupt us as quickly as Trudeau no doubt would.

      Trudeau is more “far-left” than Mulcair is…and Trudeau’s only saving grace is that he is at least smart enough to know that he isn’t up to the job; but he wants it anyway.

  7. I must be grumpy today, but how long is it going to take for our dense punditry to get around to asking Trudeau why he is being so careful to rule out a “formal” coalition. Constitutionally there is no reason that the party with plurality has to form the government, the government simply has to hold the confidence of the House. The trick is that the Governor General has to invite one of the other parties to attempt to form a government and he may be reluctant to do that in the absence of a formal agreement.

    However, say Harper ekes out 131 seats and the NDP get 130. Harper gets first crack at government. Mulcair prepares the first 5 pieces of legislation the NDP would prioritize, makes that public and brings down Harper on his first opportunity. Trudeau then writes a public letter to the GG indicating the Liberals would provisionally support an NDP government based on their public priorities. No formal coalition, no backroom deals and an NDP government backed by the Liberals.

    The more interesting question is whether the NDP or Liberals would be more capable of running a viable campaign in 2016? If either of them emerges from this campaign in decent financial shape then that party might well be interested in a quick election rather than a coalition.

    • Yeah, but who in their right mind would want either libs OR NDP. NDP has been a disaster in BC twice!

    • We’d be far better off with a 2 party system. I know what the Conservatives stand for but I have no idea what a coalition of the other two might look like other than their mutual desire to spend their way to happiness and end up like Greece. If they formalized a lasting bonding, they’d be forced to articulate common positions. If they even unite only as a coalition, let’s hope Mulcair becomes the leader-he has twice the IQ the man-child has.
      Regarding “The Duffy Scandal” affecting Harper-what a bunch of crap. The only thing Harper can personally be accused of is that he took two media people who were very popular with Canadians and made them Senators. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, including his and the rest of Canada, they turned out to be dishonest.

      • And then, while they were being paid out of tax funds, he sent them around the country to stump and fundraise for him, even though they were claiming their expenses for said fundraising out of their senate budget.

        But hey, all he did was promise to clean up the corruption in the Senate. No one actually expected him to do that.

        • I don’t recall Duffy or any of the others say that Harper asked him to stump or fund raise for him. You’re probably the one that said if Harper got elected he’d get rid of gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose. Another example of Liberal BS.

          • Really? You don’t remember all that evidence in the first part of the trial? Like that beautiful card Harper sent thanking Duffy for being the hardest working senator? Like, you know, because Duffy was out there working hard for the Conservative Party of Canada?

            You should get that memory problem checked.

            But hey, if you accuse me of saying something bad about Harper, you can pretend the subject of this conversation has changed!

        • Gayle,

          You are aware that the Liberal Senators are doing the exact same thing. In fact, many Liberal senators have been caught fudging their expense accouns in exactly the same manner as Duffy.

          Of course, this is only reported when it comes to Conservative senators.

      • ” Contrary to everyone’s expectations, including his and the rest of Canada, they turned out to be dishonest.”

        That’s an amusing rewriting of history.
        Shortly before being appointed to the Senate, Duffy ethical shortcomings were well known. Shortcomings that coincidentally benefited Stephen Harper.
        It’s not so much that he turned out to be dishonest, but that the dishonesty that recommended him to Harper turned out to bite Harper in the ass.

        • No two people deserve each other more than Stephen Harper and Mike Duffy.

        • BTW, while we’re talking about dishonest Harper appointees, let’s not forget that his current spokesman, Kory Tenyecke, had to resign from Sun TV after he added fake names to a petition.
          But do be sure to act shocked should he be forced to resign due to some future ethical transgression.

      • Jerome,

        both the Liberals and the NDP (moreso the NDP) have a strong anti-Israel bias. Justin’s brother has a long history of making “documentaries” sympathetic to Palestinian terroris……er, citizens. He is also one of Justin’s closest advisors. The NDP at least, are far more open about their anti-semitism; though Mulcair is doing his best to keep them quiet during the election.

        Frankly, if you want to see the folks who suffer the most from HDS (harper Derangement Syndrome) you can most likely find them at the latest “Queers against Israeli Apartheid” contingent of the PRIDE parade, or in any University with a student union actively working on the boycott of anything Israeli (jewish).

        Failing that, you can just find these same folks at the next NDP or Liberal rally.

        • Nope. On the contrary, the NDP leadership is conducting an anti-Palestine, anti-democracy purge.
          The NDP backroom boys have a nasty and insistent habit of alienating their militant core.

          • Nigel,

            the NDP dumped Libby Davies because she said Israel was an illegal state, but she was only ONE of these types. You still have Megan Leslie and many others’ like her who have not changed their mind one iota.

            Of course, the latest revelation about the Muslim fanatic running for the Liberals in Calgary may take some of the spotlight off of the NDP.

            Don’t worry though…as far as the media is concerned, the ONLY thing that matters is the Duffy affair. It is just UNFORGIVEABLE when a PM orders someone to PAY BACK the taxpayers; and then fires them when they don’t.

            the sheer nerve of it all.

        • “…Palestinian terroris……er, citizens.”

          Jameshalifax accuses others of bigotry but can’t provide a shred of evidence except of his own.
          Congrats, you broke the irony meter!

          • Go read her tweets when she responds to a Jew.

            She’s more of a HAMAS member, than a Liberal member.

          • Says you, without a shred of evidence.

            However, we have plenty of evidence of your bigotry:
            “…Palestinian terroris……er, citizens.”

            Ladies and gentlemen, your Conservative base!

          • Tresus,

            If you are looking for “shreds” of evidence, simply do some research into what the Palestinians have done when they wrap explosives around their kids and send them to Jewish sectors. Lots of shreds there…but not the kind you are referring too.

    • An interesting thought.

      Deserves another interpretation in October.

    • This is pretty much what Trudeau is saying. He has a lot more power this way than he would in a coalition.

      • Gayle,

        do you really think it is in the best interests of Canadians to give “power” to someone like Justin Trudeau who has never shown an inclination for rigourous thought?

        Or accomplishment for that matter.

        • Oh James. If chest thumping, ignorance and baseless slander won elections, you would be Prime Minister by now.

          • Bingo Gayle.

          • there is nothing baseless, or slanderous about what I wrote:

            Here is a copy of Justin Trudeau’s resume with all of his important accomplishments:

            “Pierre’s son”

            Vote for me.

          • That’s quite a contrast with the resume Harper brought to the PM’s office:

          • Tresus wrote:
            “That’s quite a contrast with the resume Harper brought to the PM’s office”

            Ok, lets contrast.

            Stephen Harper in the 1990’s: Elected to Parliament, wrote the draft for what would eventually become the Clarity Act, wrote the economic policy for the REFORM PARTY. this is the policy stolen by the Liberals to slay the deficit and pay down debt.

            Justin Trudeau: SMoked some pot, did some snow-boarding, and travelled around living off his trust fund. Wrote a Eulogy for a dead ex-PM who multiplied Canada’s National DEBT by a factor of 140 in a few short years. (with the help of the NDP of course)

            Stephen Harper post 90’s – merged the PC’s and REFORM party to the new Conservative party. Elected multiple times since then, including stints as the Prime Minister. Known globally as a principled statesman who does what is right as opposed to the former Government who would cowtow to any group (UN) as long as it made them popular. Enacted tax policy that allowed Canadaians to keep more of their own money, and has NOT been involved in any unethical behaviour to enrich himself.

            Justin Trudeau : Smoked more pot – but this time admitted to it. Became Leader of the Liberal party because his dad was once a PM. Beat a lot of way-smarter people to do it. Held a charity boxing match and defeated an alcoholic, two-pack a day smoker; but raised money for a good cause. More charity work: This time, he charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities to have the HONOUR of his presence, where he read a canned 20-minute speech written by someone else.

            Yep….no comparison at all.

  8. ” … limiting access to Conservative functions to card-carrying Conservatives …”

    How did that work out this morning? Gotta love that an angry old man yelling at a female reporter for DOING HER JOB simply reinforces the perception, many would say reality, that the CPC represent angry old men.

    • the female reporters job, is the same as any other reporters job. Report the news and current events.

      When it devolves into a witch hunt to hurt a political party….she should be called on it. If that is what constitutes journalism today, one should not wonder why no one trusts the media any longer.

  9. Good.
    Once again, the Liberal leadership saves the NDP leadership from itself
    …and itself.

  10. when the issue came up in 1972, david lewis was heard to remark that joining a coalition would allow the liberals to take credit for their ideas. and, to this day this is correct for better and for worse.

    one is reminded of the british election a few years ago, when nick clegg and the lib dems brought the liberal party back out of obscurity, only to form a coalition with the conservatives – to the shock and dismay of their voters. and, back into obscurity they promptly went.

    the liberals have lost a lot of ground to the ndp over the last ten years. you claim they’re campaigning on the left as always; i disagree, i feel this is the first election that the liberals have ever campaigned openly as small-c conservatives. it’s tax cuts and election scandals. the broader comparison is to a very red tory like joe clark, right down to the views on marijuana. but, in a way it’s even reminiscent of stephen harper’s initial arguments.

    together, the end result of a coalition with the ndp is suicide for the liberals. regardless of the outcome, the left side will credit the ndp with everything good that comes out of it. and, the right side that is their increasing bedrock and that they’re increasingly campaigning directly to will bolt back to the conservatives, no matter their reservations with harper.

    worse, i think this is a moot point. the liberals have been doing unbelievably strongly in the east, but that hardly seems sustainable: there are some ridings out there that will be blue until armageddon (which they’re counting on), and the ndp are slowly but surely catching up. they’ve just been a little slower to catch on than the rest of the country. i’m sorry being an asshole, i mean no real disrespect, but it’s how it is.

    if you take that misleading statistical mess out, the only seats the liberals have any serious chance to win are in montreal and toronto. and, they’re slowly losing both of them.

    the reality is that unless the ndp collapses due to some extreme error, we’re not going to be talking about a coalition. we’re going to be guffawing over the liberals losing party status.

    and, what’s left of them may very well opt to vote with the conservatives more often than the ndp.

    • Jessica,

      If the Liberals lose, it will be due to their selection of the leader. Trudeau’s ONLY accomplishment to date is one of genetics. Anyone watching his “speeches” during the leadership tour can clearly see he’s speaking from well rehearsed notes. He doesn’t actually UNDERSTAND what he’s talking about, but he’s doing his best. He never rises above the platitudes, or well-worn lines he’s rehearsed repeatedly. He wants to grow the economy “from the heart” and he thinks budgets balance themselves.

      He is a joke and a lightweight, and once people start paying attention to what he says, they too will realize it.