Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bob Rae Advocates Liberal/NDP Merger?

Bob Rae's speech yesterday highlighted the need for progressive unity:
Former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae cast his first public -- but unofficial -- pitch for the federal Liberal leadership yesterday, suggesting that Canada's progressives must consider joining together to win a majority in the Commons...

But he told reporters he is worried about "what a Harper majority government would do" and suggested that it is time to unite the left in Canada to win power.

"I think it's important for people who call themselves progressive to really think about the situation.

"There's a progressive record that's shared by a majority of Canadians, but so far, we have not succeeded in becoming a majority in the House of Commons, so we must think a bit about how that can happen."

The obvious implication of the need to unite progressives is to do so under one party banner. Rae accurately assesses the current political makeup, wherein conservatives are a distinct minority, yet are able to thrive because of a divided center-left. This problem wasn't a serious concern until recently, when the conservatives recognized there own need for a merger to enhance their relevance. I hope Rae does decide to run for the Liberal leadership, because I think he is uniquely positioned to articulate the need for a formal rethinking of the political system.

Unquestionable, by any measure, Canada is decidedly a center-left electorate. Unlike the American political system, social conservatives don't have the numbers clout to dictate policy, except in a scenario where the center-left remains divided and they can exploit the split. Rae doesn't come right out and argue for a merger of the NDP and Liberal Parties, but he sure implies it and this idea deserves serious consideration.

I can see how many NDP supporters would resist any blending with a Liberal Party that is prone to stray and only exhibits progressive tendencies during election campaigns. However, any synthesis would necessiate a shift to the left, simply as a result of bringing a strong progressive voice into the fold. The centrists, and the marginal moderate conservatives, who inhabit the present Liberal Party would be marginalized in any formal policy planks. The left-wing of the Liberal Party, coupled with the mainstream NDP would essentially rule the roost and progressive ideals would become the party mantra.

You could argue that the Liberal Party could lose the soft centrist vote to the conservatives with any formal alliance with the NDP, but I would suggest the political landscape still allows for some erosion, while still maintaining enough support to govern. If you did a detailed analysis of each riding in the last election, you would find a circumstance, wherein even if you were to slice 5% of the Liberal tally and give it to the Conservatives, you would still have electoral success. Another by-product of a NDP/Liberal merger would be a Conservative Party which would be forced to completely abandon their extremist tendencies if it were to have any chance at success.

I haven't addressed the idea of proportional representation, although it could be another avenue to get us to the same place, without the formal blending. The more I think about it, the more I would like to see Rae jump into the race, if for no other reason than to bring the issue of divided progressives to the forefront. Canada can't afford to let a minority dictate policy simply as a function of a splintered majority.


lecentre said...

You ignore the reaction in Quebec. How do you think French Canadians will appreciate a strengthening of the domineering Liberals?
Chances are, what gains would be made by the Liberals would be in stronghold ridings, while the rest of Quebec veered CPC, assuming Harper delivers the goods with regards to Quebec's interests. The point is that on-balance, between the alienated non-Quebec centrists who would make the Conservatives more progressive, and the satisfied Quebeckers who dislike the merging of the Libs and NDP, you'll end up with a CPC that can win tight majorities.
Even if you disagree with my count, you ignored Quebec's reaction, and marginalized the result of the centrists leaving. 5% = the marginalized centrist vote? Yeah, RIGHT.;)
Interesting analysis anyways.

Steve V said...


"How do you think French Canadians will appreciate a strengthening of the domineering Liberals?"

I don't see how the political landscape in Quebec really changes. The NDP is a non-entity in the province, so voters still have the same three potential choices available to them. Quebecers have already turfed the Liberals for the most part, so I don't quite understand how the balance of power shifts, nor how this translates into more votes for the Conservatives. As it stands now the Liberal Party is pretty much confined to portions of Montreal, what is left to rebel against?

I might add, that Quebecers are probably, on average, more progressive than any other province. A progressive agenda would have an appeal that Harper couldn't possible hope to mimic. Thanks for the thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Since 1993, the Liberals have just not had a tendency to campaign on the left and rule on the right once elected, this is exactly what their strategy was. Instead wanting to consume the NDP, now that you lost the election, why not figure out what you stand for. I would suggest that PP is the way to go. Instead of providing less choice to Canadians try more.

kevvyd said...

This is an important topic, and one I think will get lots of air time over the next couple of years.

Don't you think this is premature panic? Why on earth would we want to emulate the American two-party system - and once you go down this road, with the way the modern media is controlled by money, a two-party system is what I'm sure you'll end up with. Sure it might be dominated by the left for a while, but who's to say what happens in the future?

I've talked about this before in another post if you want to check it out.

Proportional representation is a far better solution, in my mind.

Steve V said...


It is funny that the left wing of the Democratic Party looks longingly to the Canadian multi-party system. The chasm within the Democratic Party comes as a result of a largely conservative electorate. The party elites, within groups like the DLC, take the party further and further from the left in a fruitless bid to appeal to Republicans. This shift leaves the progressives with little practical alternative. I would argue Canada is not analogous to America, our mainstream is decidedly more progressive than theirs, so the need to pander to the right is less of an issue.

As for proportional representation, what Rae proposes could well lead to that as the practical alternative.

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

The next election – Bob Rae and Stephen the First, Or: The Real Mr Clean versus the Pseudo-Mr Clean:

Context is important is assessing the merits of leaders of parties. If Bob Rae is elected leader of the Liberals, then the fight will be between Stephen Harper (he of the broken promises, hidden agendas, stealth campaigns and one-man-rule), with Jack Layton bailing frantically to stop the Good Ship NDP from listing too much and losing too many voters to Rae, while the Bloc flails away against Harper in Quebec.

No other contender for leadership of the Liberals could affect the dynamics of the situation as much as Bob Rae would.

He brings experience, intelligence, wit, humour (unlike Stephen the First), and integrity to the contest.

Imagine Belinda (to borrow the Texas description of Bush: All fancy hat and not cattle) Stonach against Harper? No contest; Mr Policy Wonk wipes the floor with her and steals the framing game.

Imagine Email Brison against Harper? No contest: Harper simply says "corruption" time and again and refights the election the Liberals deservedly lost in early 2006.

Bob Rae would present the same problem to Harper and his neocons' framing of the issues as Howard Dean does to the Bush neocons: a match of honesty and transparency against disingenuous deceit.

Bob Rae has the stature to call Harper on his distortions and stealthy policies like no other Liberal candidate could.

Perhaps there is a Dark Horse candidate waiting in the Liberal wings, ready to explode (further) on to the scene?

If not, realpolitiek dictates Bob Rae for leadership.