One of the common themes among my friends and contacts during this election campaign is that the left should unite. At one extreme it is a demand that the Liberals, NDP, and Greens should actually join together into a single party. Beyond the impossibility of doing so in the midst of an election, it is extraordinarily naïve and must, I assume, be based on no real understanding of the differences between those parties and those who are active in them.
Equally unlikely, in the midst of an election campaign is the suggestion that they formally commit to forming a coalition government before the vote is held. In countries where coalitions are the norm, they are only formed after the votes are tallied. They usually have some form of proportional representation so there is little to gain or lose from announcing who you will dance with before the music starts playing. Angela Merkel for example has lasted longer than any other western leader by dancing with a whole range of partners including the Greens and her left wing opponent. Governments are formed to create stability and to best represent the overall desire of the electorate. Or because they can be.
People point to Harper’s success in uniting the right. That, to some extent, is revisionist history. Harper led the largest right wing party, the Canadian Alliance, itself formed as a failed effort at unity. The Progressive Conservatives were the smaller progressive part of the right wing. Peter McKay – who truly wasn’t ready to lead –betrayed a written agreement to not join Harper. He did it, maybe for the immediate gratification of being second in a larger entity or from the expectation of future reward. Those who didn’t want to become part of the larger Conservative entity, left – stripped by copyright law from calling themselves progressive conservatives in any variation of the name.
It was not a merger but a takeover. And – remember – they had all been Mulroney conservatives to begin with. The only ones that remained outside the tent were the Bloq Quebecois, which is why the Conservatives never achieved the success the PCs did under Lyin’ Brian.
As for the Liberals and NDP, most activists in both parties that I know dislike each other as much as they dislike the conservatives. They come from different cultures, different tribes, if you like, and they have their own power structures. Mergers seldom preserve those and they seldom make sure that fifty percent of the power goes to each of the partners. Throw in the Greens and the matter becomes more complex. And I haven’t even mentioned the divisions that exist within each of those parties.
Voters may want them to merge but it is really no different than Christians wanting Catholics to merge with the Anglicans. It might make sense – they aren’t that different – but it is never going to happen. These decisions are always made internally and at the highest levels.
Now a coalition is an entirely different thing. I believe a coalition could be formed – hope it will be formed – after the election. But both parties will retain their own existence and their own priorities. But if they do come together, the first order of business better be electoral reform. Otherwise the junior partner may face the same fate as the Liberal Democrats in England.
And that’s ten minutes.