The notion of unification of the NDP and the Liberal Party at the federal level is a hot-potato issue. Politicians and pundits invariably dismiss it outright. But the fact that the topic comes up again and again (particularly following election defeats) speaks volumes in and of itself: there’s something there that tugs at the Canadian political psyche. And of course, there are many instances of politicians’ being “for it before they were against it,” so to speak. But many prominent Canadians—including politicians past and present—have spoken out in favour of some form of cooperation between the Liberals and the NDP, if not outright unification. Moreover, through our research we know that high-level discussions between the parties on the subject have taken place in the recent past (though always denied), and that some current and former MPs support the idea. Of course, no one talks about it publicly—but they do talk about it.
The naysayers reheat and rehash the same arguments against unification every time it comes up; trust us, we are thoroughly acquainted with these. Still, some cogent and compelling arguments in favour of the parties coming together have been made by politicos and prominent Canadians, and in reading through comments sections on articles discussing inter-party coalition, cooperation, or unification, it’s clear many everyday Canadians support the idea as well. The critics tend to not see the forest for the trees. They argue from their often cynical partisan positions, neglecting to consider that most Canadians aren’t ideologues but rather vote in both their individual and common interests for good government—and good governance. Keep in mind that in 2011, a clear majority of Canadians didn’t just vote for their preferred party: at the same time, they were rejecting Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. They wanted a change of government and someone else as Prime Minister (even if they knew it wouldn’t happen). Instead, they didn’t just get more of the same—they got even more of the same, with the Conservatives forming a majority government with only 39.6% of the popular vote.
Founded in Montreal, the Libdemo Movement seeks to promote progressivism and democracy in Canada and increase voter engagement, especially among youth—the highly progressive Millennial generation. As our inaugural project, we have chosen to advocate on behalf of Canadians who support the unification of the Liberal Party, the NDP, and the Green Party. There are citizen advocacy groups that support pre- or post-election coalition agreements, one-time electoral cooperation, strategic voting, or electoral reform. We applaud their work, and we’re not in competition with them; rather, we complement them by giving a voice to those Canadians who prefer the unification option.
Our first initiative is to raise awareness of the impact of vote-splitting between the centre-left parties. We know that simply adding up the Liberal, NDP, and Green votes isn’t predictive, nor does it control for variables such as voters who might jump ship to the Conservatives, or voters’ second choices. But we went ahead and did it anyway, riding by riding, just to see the result, and to get an idea of the electoral potential of a hypothetical unified party. In any case, the other variables involved are always in flux, but even here, the numbers we uncovered on some of these are encouraging: according to a June 2012 Ipsos poll, 57% of NDP voters and 64% of Liberal voters would support a unified party. An analysis by John B. Santos using the results of the Canadian Election Study of the 2011 election shows that the NDP was the second choice of 76% of Liberal voters, and the Liberal Party was the second choice of 65.8% of NDP voters. These are by and large everyday Canadian voters, not insular party devotees. These numbers are solid and can be built upon, especially now that Canadians have seen what Harper and the Conservatives have done with their ‘minority-majority,’ and are getting more and more fed up with it, a sentiment that is growing in social media.
It’s time to make the argument for big-tent progressivism in Canada. We should think of progressivism not as a political ideology but as a philosophy of good, sound, and forward-thinking governance. A hallmark of progressivism is an unwavering conviction that policy-making should be evidence-based, not ideologically-based. The problems we face require solutions that will work, and sustainably so. And yet Stephen Harper is cutting funding for scientific research, ignoring the results and recommendations of government scientists (even research the government itself commissioned), and muzzling them in the media. Scientists are increasingly up in arms over this, and rightly so. Harper’s anti-science agenda is eerily reminiscent of what we see coming from the U.S. Republicans: climate change is a liberal hoax, Obamacare will institute death panels, creation should be taught alongside or instead of evolution (which they say is “just a theory”), Jesus rode a dinosaur, and the best way to lift people out of poverty is to slash funding to social assistance and food stamps. Now, these are extreme positions, but the willful denial of scientific research comes from the same place here as it does there: a regressive small-c conservative ideology that stalls, and even undoes, progress. Looking at the current state of U.S. politics and Republican obstructionism, especially in light of the recent government shutdown, we can clearly see where staunchly ideological governance (more accurately, anti-governance) can take a nation and its citizens. We must learn from this example.
We believe the Liberal Party, the NDP, and the Green Party can usher in a new era of progressivism in Canada that puts the interests of everyday Canadians above partisanship and ideology. All three have stated their opposition to the Conservatives’ “war on science,” and pledge they would reinstate and reinforce evidence-based policy-making. The ginned-up and hyped-up chicanery between the parties and their leaders seems more counterproductive than anything, with the centre-left parties at loggerheads while Stephen Harper sits back and enjoys the show. Now, it seems the strategy for 2015 will be for the parties to embrace U.S.-style attack ads that Harper has popularized in Canada. How soon they forget Kim Campbell’s disastrous (and hastily withdrawn) 1993 election ad that mocked Jean Chrétien’s accent and Bell’s palsy, an attack that was seen at the time as completely unacceptable in Canadian politics. To be sure, the ad itself wasn’t the principal cause of her defeat and the decimation of the Progressive Conservative party, but it was part of the mix. Is this where the centre-left parties want to take Canadian politics? Is that how they want to fight elections, and worse, govern?
The phrase “for our children and grandchildren” is a hackneyed cliché, but it holds true. The Millennial generation, which currently comprises the 18-to-34 demographic, is an overwhelmingly progressive cohort, as borne out by countless surveys and studies. They are the most globally interconnected generation in history, and not only does this explain to a large degree their progressivism, but also shows them as embracing collaborative “crowdsourcing” in addressing issues. They seek solutions based on evidence, not ideology. This is not a folly of youth that will pass; this is fast becoming the way of doing things in the twenty-first century. In 20 years, the Millennials will be heading industry and leading governments worldwide, armed with technologies we haven’t yet imagined. It’s more likely that in government, they will want to crowdsource evidence-based policy rather than willingly divide themselves among three centre-left parties and fight over ideologically-based policy. Critics of party unification say it would reduce electoral choice, which is a valid argument, but one based on present and past realities that does not consider the sociopolitical calculus of demographic momentum. We really can’t imagine Millennial MPs in 2030 sniping at each other over whose party’s progressive evidence-based policies are the best. We don’t see them having the patience for that, or for allowing policy-making to be stunted by the vestiges of partisan division, either.
So let the naysayers—the politicos, the press, the public—reheat and rehash their arguments again. We’re not in this to argue with them; we’re in this for everyday Canadians who support party unification. First and foremost, we just want to see a dialogue on the idea, whether pro or con. But this time, let the conversation be inspired by what’s in the interests of progress for twenty-first century Canadian citizens and Canadian society, not the interests of partisans and ideologues.
People like to daydream about a seemingly elusive ‘real’ future in which we’ve conquered global problems such as climate change, poverty, famine, disease, and war. Certainly not a utopia, but a much better world. Progressivism is by its very definition the way to get there. The process of progress has to start sometime, and Canada must be a leader in this. We are a peaceful, just, tolerant, generous, and forward-thinking people, and we are respected and admired as such around the world. Sure, call us idealistic. We prefer to think of ourselves as hopeful.
Peter Nicoll is a Political Sociologist with the Libdemo Movement.