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How to get the Liberals and NDP off each other’s shoes

NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen on how cooperation is key to punting the Tories


 

United we stand...

“Everyone’s interpreting May 2 differently,” Nathan Cullen told me the other day over lunch at a reliably secluded Ottawa spot. May 2, you’ll recall, is the day we had a federal election. Stephen Harper won his majority. The New Democratic Party won 103 seats.

Nathan Cullen is a New Democrat. “There’s a lot of people in our party who are interpreting this incorrectly. They think we’re predestined to win power the next time. I take the other view.”

Which is? “We should co-operate.”

“We” here is the NDP and the Liberals. And maybe the Greens. Or not. Cullen isn’t nailed down on the details. Those would be settled through discussion and negotiation before the next election. The goal for that election would be to have a single candidate, Liberal or New Democrat (or Green) (or not) (to be confirmed) running against the Conservative incumbent in those ridings the Conservatives now hold.

To Cullen’s mind, if all of that is to happen, then New Democrats must first pick him as their leader in the party’s leadership vote next March 24.

He’s a bit of a long shot.

If I wanted to tell you about the person I think will win the NDP leadership, I’d have sat down with Brian Topp, the party insider who’s lined up all the big-name endorsements. But I’ve already been wrong about the NDP three or four times this year, so that prediction wouldn’t be worth much. Other candidates have more intriguing personal stories (Romeo Saganash: Cree!) or tempers (Tom Mulcair: hair-trigger!). Cullen has a plan.

“I think in the last two elections, the Liberals in particular have been drifting left in terms of what they propose,” he said. In 2008, for instance, Stéphane Dion campaigned on the necessity of corporate tax cuts. In 2011, Michael Ignatieff argued they could wait. “So common ground has increased,” Cullen said.

So the two parties should write a common platform and run under a single party banner? No, says Cullen. Not enough time. The process of uniting the Reform party with the Progressive Conservatives, which began about a decade after they disunited, took six years. Cullen’s plan would let New Democrat incumbents keep their seats and Liberal incumbents keep theirs. In ridings now held by Conservatives, the other parties’ local riding associations would get a chance to hold joint nomination meetings to decide which candidate would get to face off against the Conservative.

There are a lot of ridings, especially in Ontario, where the combined NDP and Liberal vote was larger than the vote of the Conservative who wound up winning the seat. Cullen’s proposal would get the Liberals and NDP off each others’ toes.

When I asked about inviting the Greens to join the fun, Cullen said, “It’d be a consideration for sure,” before amending himself a few minutes later: “It’s less attractive to me, to be honest.” Now, as a card-carrying member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, I am superbly trained to play gotcha with this sort of thing—Candidate Doesn’t Know Details of His Own Plan—but it’s just in the nature of a new venture that its details would depend on events. And Cullen is relaxed enough to understand that. And everyone else should be too.

But of course they won’t be. A handy rule of thumb for party leadership races is that you win by flattering a party’s orthodoxies. Stephen Harper took over the Canadian Alliance by insisting to its members that they were not, in fact, members of a mangy political donkey with no future. Stéphane Dion won the Liberal leadership in 2006 in part because he was the only candidate who felt, to Liberals, like a Liberal. Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae felt like parvenus. Gerard Kennedy, who tried to tell Liberals they were in trouble, felt like a downer.

Cullen has represented a northern British Columbia riding the size of Norway since 2004. So he’s been running and winning as a New Democrat longer than Topp, Mulcair, Saganash and Peggy Nash have. All that will be quickly forgotten as soon as he starts telling New Democrats they do not hold all the keys to their own success.

We have seen this happen before. In 2002, Harper won the Canadian Alliance leadership over two candidates, Diane Ablonczy and Grant Hill, who called for co-operation with the Progressive Conservatives. Ablonczy and Hill both won less than four per cent of members’ votes. Two years later, their party merged with the Progressive Conservatives. A prophet is without honour, et cetera.

Cullen has been receiving smart advice, much of it from Jamey Heath, who helped bring Jack Layton into federal politics. So my Grant Hill parables did not seem to rattle him. “It’s not a political value to co-operate,” he allowed. “But is it a Canadian value?”

Maybe. Layton spent much of his last decade calling for politicians to “build, not bicker.” He did pretty well. “Reaching out, getting over your differences—people like that,” Cullen said. “Parties don’t. There’s a reason why they call them ‘war rooms.’ ”

Yes, but he needs the members of a party to let him run their party. The likeliest outcome is that New Democrats will decide he was right. Years from now. Under another leader. But I’ve been wrong before.


 

How to get the Liberals and NDP off each other’s shoes

  1. Obviously Mr Cullen doesn’t realize the Liberals do not cooperate with anyone – or if they do its just long enough to get their hands on the platform issues so they can steal the best ones.

    • If people cares about results rather than process, they should be happy when their favourite policies are implemented, regardless of who made it happen. This is why I never understood the kvetching about ‘stealing ideas’.

  2. Nathan indeed has the best all round solution short of fixing our outdated first past the post voting system. At very least one thing all other three parties agree on is Harper is bad for Canada.

    • Well, obviously Nathan’s idea is the first part.  Because you need to be in power to fix our voting system.  And, after all, we (I’m a Liberal) can’t do this forever without merging–and there is no stomach for merging anywhere I don’t think, at least not that I’ve seen.  So, there would be nothing to stop Harper from coming back stronger than ever the next election.  So, if this isn’t the first part of a larger plan, to me there is no point.

  3. Sudeburyguy, what you perhaps don’t understand is that Nathan Cullen is an amazing facilitator / mediator who has the ability to bring people of all stripes together. He appeals to young and old alike as well as people from various ethnic backgrounds, During his years living and working in north-western BC he has also worked closely with the First Nations peoples. I feel it would be good if Joe Public started to take a little closer look at Nathan and discover his strengths and abilities.

  4. The weakness of his plan is that he is assuming that a vote for a Liberal is a vote against a Conservative. It may be that some people who voted Liberal might have chosen a Conservative as their second pick and an NDP as their third. So you can’t combine the “anti-Harper” votes and assume that if you put up only one candidate, you will automatically get all those votes. 

  5. There are a lot of ridings, especially in Ontario, where the combined NDP and Liberal vote was larger than the vote of the Conservative who wound up winning the seat. Cullen’s proposal would get the Liberals and NDP off each others’ toes.

    It is not surprising that such simplistic math-thinking might appeal to New Democrats.  But Cullen should be careful what he wishes for.  “Especially in Ontario.”  Blend social-democrat NDP with banking-so-way-left-as-to-be-just-like-the-NDP Liberals, and this combination will NOT AT ALL equal the sum of its electoral parts.

    • I’m a voter who would probably place the NDP at the bottom of the preference list, mostly because it is the party that failed economics. And people who don’t understand economics make disastrous policy decisions.

      My preferences probably are:

      1. Liberal (to my chagrin)
      2. Green (would be #1 if Lizzy May were not quite so far left)
      3. Conservative (if someone less idious were in charge)
      4. stay home
      5. NDP

      • The party with the best record of any party in government provincial/federal in Canada is the NDP. The NDP while in power has had the best record of balanced budgets and accumulating the least amount of debt. 
        To say they do not get economics is reciting something someone of authority must of told you and you believed without thinking for yourself.

        “These results may be surprising to some: they show that NDP governments have the best fiscal record of all political parties that have formed federal or provincial government in Canada. 
        Of the 52 years the NDP has formed governments in Canada since 1980, they’ve run balanced budgets for exactly half of those years and deficits the other half.  This is a better record than both the Conservatives (balanced budgets 37% of years in government) and the Liberals (only 27%), as well as both Social Credit and PQ governments. It’s not just the number of years of balance that is relevant: it’s also the size of the deficits or surpluses that are important.  For this, the most important figure is the size of deficits as a share of GDP.For this measure as well, NDP governments have the best record.  The average balance (deficit) as a share of provincial GDP for the 52 years of NDP governments in Canada is -0.77%, compared to -1.82% for all Liberal governments and -0.82% for all Conservative governments over the past thirty years.I have some colourful charts that illustrate these records, but haven’t been able to upload them onto this blog.  They and more background details on these numbers are available at:http://www.progressive-economics.ca/2011/04/29/fiscal-record-of-canadian-political-parties/

        • Their budget balance record is not evidence of their understanding of economics. It shows that they are willing and able to tax, sure.

          The NDP are the party likeliest to support subsidies, punitive corporate taxation (which is like punishing a rock–corporations pass taxes on to people), and support corporate welfare/government winner-picking. They are ideologically opposed to market mechanisms, regardless of outcome. When it comes to taxation, they support the most harmful taxes and oppose the least harmful (HST). They oppose giving money to poor people as a means of reducing inequality–they want subsidies and hand-outs that go to the middle class, or patronizing the poor like helpless children. And don’t get me started on how subserviant they are to wealthy trade unions (whose members are overwhelmingly in the top quintile of income).

          It seems you base your opinion on a piece of NDP propaganda. I’m actually looking at what they say and do. Their policies are an intellectual jumble, usually appealing to emotion and handing out pork to the (upper)middle class at the expense of everyone, and especially the genuinely poor.

  6. Jack Layton sold out Canada to Steve Harper

     

    Prime Minister Martin had promised to call the election
    within thirty days of the release of retired justice John Gomery’s final report
    on the Liberal sponsorship scandal, which was delivered as planned on February
    1, 2006.

     

    Either way, therefore, a trip to the polls was
    imminent.  But NDP strategists thought it
    dangerous to allow the government to set the terms of debate, and were
    concerned that on the key issue of political ethics the party would be caught
    in a squeeze between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

     

    They believed the Liberals would accept virtually all of
    Justice Gomery’s recommendations and that a chastened Liberal Party could win a
    majority government.

     

    http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2006.05-politics-jack-layton-ndp-fake-left-go-right/

    • The liberals promised a lot of things in their time and their record on delivering on them was the reason they’re in the position they’re in now.

      • How’s Harper doing on his promises?

  7. My decision to have a muffin for breakfast isn’t a tacit statement of hatred for scones.

    Outside of that little fact, while I can appreciate Cullen’s desire to attract more Liberals to operate withing something of an unmarked large tent, I think that the gains that he (and indeed *many* in both parties) is imagining will be somewhat underwhelming. I do applaud the somewhat novel more cautious approach of loose strategic cooperation rather than full merger or coalition, however.

    What has been interesting about this leadership race is that the “others” running seem somewhat more balanced and considered than the more ..uhh… public frontrunners so far.

  8.  

    Jack Layton sold out Canada to Steve Harper

     

    Prime Minister Martin had promised to call the election
    within thirty days of the release of retired justice John Gomery’s final report
    on the Liberal sponsorship scandal, which was delivered as planned on February
    1, 2006.

     

    Either way, therefore, a trip to the polls was
    imminent.  But NDP strategists thought it
    dangerous to allow the government to set the terms of debate, and were
    concerned that on the key issue of political ethics the party would be caught
    in a squeeze between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

     

    They believed the Liberals would accept virtually all of
    Justice Gomery’s recommendations and that a chastened Liberal Party could win a
    majority government.

     

    http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2006.05-politics-jack-layton-ndp-fake-left-go-right/

  9. “How to get the Liberals and NDP off each other’s shoes
    NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen on how cooperation is key to punting the Tories”

    I’m not so quick to buy the conventional view that a vote for a lib/dipper is not exactly analogous to a vote against a conservative. Cullen seem to be essentially saying what’s the diff whether they cooperate BEFORE they get into parliament or whether they do it once they”re safely in there? The public has seen examples of cooperation between the two parties within parliament before so we know it can lead to good things; it is not that scary or unusual. You could say it has been tried with disasterous consequences on one other occasion and that SH hasn’t stopped yelling COAlITION! ever since with good effect, for him at least. But here might be an opportunity to negotiate and horse trade more or less in the open before the election and within reach of the voting public in the sense that we can all participate in our riding association shindigs if we choose to.It’s a form of grass roots consultation. Essentially i’m wondering if this before and more open consultative factor[ to  the degree it is sold to the public well] will help to focus voters on the fact that this is their best option to change the govt, rather than, they having had their first non con choice taken way, automatically go to plan B – voting conservative? Obviously to some degree it would depend on the quality of the candidate and what message they are selling on the doorstep,how it is framed; and if i understand Cullen’s proposal: if the riding associations can”t find a consensus choice[ always assuming the party bosses kept their sticky fingers out in the first place] there will be no splitting of the candidates. IOWs perhaps only the most likely consensus choices, strongest candidates, will be chosen to be standard bearers.But will their message of cooperation resonate with enough swing voter?No doubt the apples and oranges arguement will be a tough one to overcome in any case, It would be quite a risk. I just wonder if it was targetted narrowly enough it might pay off for centre left voters?

  10. We need to remember though that this leadership race is not just about how to get rid of Stephen Harper, although that is pretty darn important. What are people’s stand on various issues, and their approach to leading the countrty and working with others?

  11. In general, I think this is a bad idea. I expect voters to react poorly to being herded into voting for someone from a party they do not prefer.

    Governments are not elected, they are defeated. Harper will overstep, and it is up to the opposition to capitalize on that. I especially do not think the Liberals would be wise to enter into this arrangement. It would cement their demise.

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