I’ve been thinking of writing something on the whole Liberal-NDP coalition/merger stuff for a while, but I’ve been putting it off because life is short and there are, at any given moment, probably five hundred more interesting things to write about, read about, talk about, or think about than about yet another Big Plan to save the Liberal Party of Canada from itself. But this whole “secret mergers” story, which appears to be somewhere between 98 and 100 percent bullshit, puts it into the top fifty.
So here’s what I think, for what it matters to anyone: It’s a stupid idea. Not just stupid as in don’t-eat-that-fifth-taco stupid, but deeply, profoundly, moronic. If it were to come to pass, the only, and I mean only, beneficiaries would be the Conservatives. The NDP would lose, the Liberals would lose, and, more than anything, Canadians would lose.
The problems with the Liberals and the NDP are not the problems that the ‘right’ faced when Chretien was in power, and merging won’t solve them, it will make those problems worse, especially for the Liberals. The NDP has a strong, well-defined brand — their problem is that just not enough people like what they are peddling. But merging won’t solve that; if anything, it will drive many of their supporters to the Greens.
The problem with the Liberals is not that their voter base it is divided, it is that their voter base has left them. And the reason their voter base has left them is because the Liberals have been acting like humungeous bozos for most of this decade. It is really not much more complicated than that. The former Natural Governing Party transformed itself into the Party of Humungeous Bozos, and if there is one thing Canadians have shown over the years is that you can’t get elected if you are a humungeous bozo. You can be an arrogant jerk (Trudeau), a slimeball (Mulroney), a gangster (Chretien) or a paranoid control freak (Harper), but the Canadian body politic is powerfully immune to bozos.
Ok, enough name calling. There’s actually a pretty good reason, from the realm of political theory, why a merger is a bad idea. For the past couple of centuries western democracies have tended to be divided into three main tribes: Liberals, Socialists, and Conservatives. There are overlaps and cross-breedings that complicate things a bit, and local factors such as secessionist parties that can complicate them a lot, but generally speaking this is the Canadian experience – the Liberals, the NDP, and the Conservatives. Britain has always had these three constituencies shoehorned into a party system that is finally accommodating them; the outlier is the United States which has a weak socialist constituency that is further marginalized by the rigid two-party structure.
I think that Canada was well-served by the old three-party system, and I don’t think a Liberal-NDP merger is an improvement. Andrew Coyne likes to say that Canadians need more choice in their politics, not less. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think shrinking the range of available serious options is going to really, really annoy a lot of voters, more than the people who may be engaged in secret negotiations can imagine.
But that’s speculation. What I do know is that the Liberals have two main problems, one internal, the other external. The internal problem is that it is run, as mentioned, by bozos. The external problem is the ongoing existence of the Bloc Quebecois. The disappearance of the Bloc would be the best thing that could happen not just to the Liberals, but to Canadian politics by bringing Quebec back into the federal system. How can we get rid of the Bloc? Proportional representation might do it, but that’s not on the agenda for the time being. Another idea would be to get rid of the public per-vote subsidy, which would certainly weaken the Bloc, if not destroy it.
But recall what happened when Stephen Harper suggested doing that: The Liberals went crazy, and started talking about a governing coalition with the NDP and the Bloc. Remember how that turned out?
Threatening to merge isn’t a solution to the Liberals’ problem; rather, the fact that this idea is being seriously floated is a sign of how deep their problems are. If the Liberals insist on chasing this, the NDP should run far and fast away.