Why wouldn't the Liberals and NDP make a deal to replace Stephen Harper? - Macleans.ca

Why wouldn’t the Liberals and NDP make a deal to replace Stephen Harper?

Why not a coalition? Or at least an accord?


Thomas Mulcair Justin Trudeau

In case you were wondering, Thomas Mulcair is indeed still willing to consider forming a coalition government with the Liberals after this year’s election.

When I wrote about the myriad possibilities of this year’s federal election (and, separately, some of the relevant historical precedents), I didn’t dwell on the particulars of this possibility, but it is the most likely source of intrigue and the potential considerations are fun to parse.

The prospect of some sort of arrangement between the Liberals and NDP becomes most interesting if the two parties finish with the second-most and third-most seats, but the Conservatives win less than a majority. And that together, the Liberals and New Democrats would constitute a majority. So let’s take that as the hypothetical starting point.

At last report, Justin Trudeau was less interested in the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition. But a coalition is only one option for co-operative governance.

A coalition should probably be defined as a very specific thing: an arrangement of two or more parties to govern together with cabinet spots shared between them. Think of the current cabinet in the United Kingdom that resulted from a coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats. But two or more parties could also sign an accord—a formal deal that ensures support in the legislature for an agreed-upon agenda. One precedent for this would be the Liberal-NDP deal in Ontario in 1985. This could also be described this as a confidence-and-supply agreement.

So it’s not simply a question of whether the Liberals or New Democrats would be interested in a “coalition,” but whether they would be interested in any formal arrangement for the purposes of one of them holding the confidence of the House of Commons.

And if you need something to do for an afternoon or for the next seven months, go ahead and speculate about the political calculus here.

According to the account of NDP strategist Brian Topp, the possibility of an accord was floated during negotiations between the Liberals and New Democrats in 2008 because some Liberals were hesitant about the prospect of sharing cabinet with the NDP. The New Democrats insisted on cabinet spots, and after going back and forth with counter-offers, it was agreed that the NDP would get six ministers in a 25-person cabinet.

So imagine the Liberals and NDP finish second and third this October. Would the Liberals be willing to negotiate an accord? If the Liberals refused to enter into a coalition, would the New Democrats be willing to sign an agreement that didn’t include cabinet portfolios? On one hand, the NDP wouldn’t get the authority and credibility that comes with being in government, something that could otherwise be an important step for a party that has never formed government at the federal level. On the other, an accord would give the NDP some distance from the government, something that could come in handy whenever that government experienced controversy or scandal (and, later, in a subsequent election).

Or flip the seat count around and guess at what the Liberals would do. Would the Liberals, even if opposed to a coalition, be otherwise willing to formally support an NDP government?

Underneath those considerations is a basic question: Despite having the opportunity to do otherwise, would the Liberals or New Democrats be willing to let the Conservatives remain in government? And if so, why?

In the event that the Conservatives were to lose their majority, Stephen Harper’s leadership could conceivably be in question: the Prime Minister either choosing to step aside or forces within his party pushing him to do so. How would that factor into Liberal or NDP calculations? Would either party wager that it’d be better for them to wait and hope to force another election, at which point they might hope to win a majority or at least a stronger hand?

For that matter, would the Conservatives, in the midst of changing leaders, be willing to make a deal with either of the Liberals or NDP to stay in power long enough to do so?

You can spin this off in various directions—there is also a fun constitutional question about whether the Governor General might ask the second-place party to form a government even in the absence of an agreement between that party and another party—but the easiest pressure point is a Liberal-NDP deal. And so perhaps the question is this: Could either party possibly justify not working with the other to replace Stephen Harper and the Conservatives?

When Paul Adams kicked around the possibilities in January, he concluded that pressure to do so would force the parties together.

Campaign rivalries might make it difficult for the Liberals and NDP to work together to oust Harper after the election. But those same dynamics would make it impossible for them to explain to their supporters why they’d prop him up. They’d be under pressure to find a way, soon after Parliament meets, to dump the Harper Conservatives. And they would.

Greg Fingas, a New Democrat supporter in Saskatchewan, went to this same point in a post in February.

My guess is that if members raise enough hue and cry, every party will eventually acknowledge that opposition co-operation is a valid and reasonable means of bringing about change—and that it’s a lot easier to justify co-operating to change governments than to explain what conditions would make it worth leaving the Cons in power. But unless supporters make clear that there’s a price to be paid for pretending otherwise, we’ll go through another campaign with opposition parties and candidates undermining the theme that Harper has to go.

If, together, Liberals and New Democrats constitute a majority of the MPs elected this fall, the onus might not be to explain why they should make a deal, but why they shouldn’t.

Of course, this could all be academic. The Conservatives could win a majority. The combined numbers of the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens could somehow fall short of a majority. The Liberals or New Democrats could win a plurality of seats and decide to try governing on a case-by-case basis as the Liberals did from 2004 to 2006 and the Conservatives did from 2006 to 2011 (a Conservative party in the midst of switching leaders would probably be loath to defeat the new government).

But, again, this is all still worth kicking around, I think. Even if only to remind ourselves how a government is actually formed in our system.


Why wouldn’t the Liberals and NDP make a deal to replace Stephen Harper?

  1. Dearies, the Election comes down to a sheer numbers and $$$ game. For the sake of the Nation, for all that Canadians hold dear, for the Democracy that my grandfather and father fought for-the NDP and Liberals Must Unite!

    Bring the best ideas and leadership from both Parties to the table. Include the participation of Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Canadians need you to start repairing the horrific damage that we have endured.

    Unite and Canadian voters will step up to the plate and do their part!

    • I don’t even think we should be talking about this right now, it’s a waste of time, talk about it after the election result. The only reason we are talking about it right, is because the dippers have put up the white flag and are desperate by saying we don’t have a chance of forming government, so they are trying to create an environment of instability in the grit party, in order to try and poach votes, and what happens then, vote splitting. It also gives the cons another finger to poke in the eye of progressive voters and raise more money from their own base,” you see the left are out to get us “, which drives the base nuts, and out come the credit cards to help pave the way for a another majority government for Harper. They say the more money you raise the greater the chances of winning. If the progressives want Harper out, the need to vote Liberal, the NDP alone will never take Harper down. The grits have more money than the NDP and a very strong and more competent team than the NDP and cons put together. As long as the liberals are in power, I don’t think Canadians will have to worry about the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The NDP want to take the charter apart in order to remove the senate and reopen the clarity act, the cons want to blow the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in pieces in order to change the whole court system to elect judges and senators, instead of the appointment process that’s in place today. I don’t want to see our institutions taken a part just for political gain. So do you want someone to defend your Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ready to govern, or a party like the Cons and NDP to take them apart. I want a government that’s ready to govern and move ahead with this countries future, instead of staying in the present or past. The NDP and Liberals are close when it comes to ideas, but far apart from how they want to govern this country.

  2. I am not certain why there needs to be any formal agreement. Even if the Liberals win a plurality in the next election, Stephen Harper would remain Prime Minister until he resigned or lost confidence of the House. If the Conservatives win a narrow minority, and then lose the confidence of the House, the GG should allow the Liberals (or NDP) to seek the confidence of the House without a formal agreement. If confidence is obtained the government could then rule so long as it retains that confidence. The idea that the GG should be cautious in a minority setting about allowing any party to seek confidence of the House following dissolution of the previous government is clearly undemocratic and unsupported by any formal requirement.

  3. ANY two groups of people CAN unite to work together for a “common good”.
    The Democrats and the Republicans SHOULD WORK TOGETHER for the good of WHAT IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY (whatever it`s faults)THAT HAS EXISTED ON EARTH.
    Unfortunately for America`s future..THEY DO NOT HAVE THE INTELLIGENCE TO DO SO.

    Liberals and N.D.P do not have the intelligence to put our CANADA`S needs first, EITHER .
    Sad for us ALL.

    • Haven’t any of you seen what Liberal policies have done to ruin Ontario!! Let’s just keep the Federal government moving along as it has under the leadership of Harper with the right mix of social and fiscal policies. Mulcair does a great job ensuring the right doesn’t go to far to the right and Justin is best positioned in third place where he can do little harm.

      • Did you both to read this article?

      • In 2006 Paul Martin and his Liberal Government left a very large budget surplus.
        In nine years Cons accumulated $160 billions in deficit. Is this what you were referring to when you say: “Under the leadership of Harper with the right mix of social and fiscal policies”?
        You must be kidding!

      • Let me tell you something my little friend, if Harper decides to soften a bit on bill C-51, it won’t be because Mulcair is keeping his feet to the fire or by ensuring the right from going too far, it will only be because of one reason, and one reason only, Trudeau and the grits polling numbers are going up, and anyone to think any different needs to get their heads checked. It’s Trudeau and the Grits that Harper goes to bed every night thinking about. You think the cons are in a war because of justice for democracy, I have sorry news for you pal, it’s because of Harper polling numbers that falling to Trudeau, not Mulcair or anything else. Harper likes enemies, and Tom is not an enemy to him. Harper looks at Mulcair as an asset, to use to split the progressive vote. Trudeau is the real enemy, Steve loathes Trudeau as much as the progressives loathe him(steve), that’s deep. I don’t see any attack adds on Mulcair, the cons alaways attack their enemies, they love to kick them when they are down. I would suggest the progressives to vote Trudeau, because as long as Trudeau is up in the polling, Steve will always be ” Sleepless at 24 Sussex “.

        • That is very true. There was a leaked speech Harper gave to a riding association a few years back and he clearly said his goal was to destroy the Liberals permanently. In that he has failed and JT is close to winning government. Harper has already tried some dirty stuff and it hasn’t stuck. Trudeau and his team are just beginning to get their campaign underway and will hopefully destroy the Harpercons.

          Harper is not going to be able to honestly post a balanced budget next month and thus will rely on his fear and terror message which Justin can easily counter. Interesting times ahead.

  4. In my books any option would be better than Reform Party (masquerading as Conservatives) getting another majority Government. Remember the old saying: “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me”.
    My message to Opposition Leaders; please do not allow another Cons victory for the sake of 65% plus Canadians that wants “old” Canada back. Thank you.

  5. How could the Liberals and NDP cooperate? They don’t agree on a single major policy issue. The only thing they do agree on is that Stephen Harper is “mean”, and that hardly seems like enough of a reason for the NDP to sell out their principles to the Liberals who seem to support every Conservative policy, with an asterisks next to that support, because Liberals always try to talk out of both sides of their mouth.

    The truth of the matter is that Harper derangement syndrome is only widespread within the Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal media bubbles.

  6. Maybe because …

    Following the deal between the NDP and Harper in 2005 to bring down the Martin government, Jack Layton added insult to injury by urging Liberal voters to ‘lend us your vote’ in the 2006 election campaign.

    The Liberals have stated that the leader of the Green Party should be included in the debates; Harper and the NDP have said no.

    Mulcair stated recently that NDP voters can still vote NDP because he’s now willing to form a coalition with the Liberals, a flip-flop from his position when his party had much better polling numbers.

    … we’ve had almost a decade of Harperland thanks in large part to the NDP.

    • Agreed. The dippers are not trustworthy at all. layton was intent on sinking the Liberals which is why he cut a deal with the devil Harper. His interest was himself and not the Country. I never trusted layton and I trust Mulcair even less. The Quebec liberals were ecstatic when he left them.