There’s been talk of union, of merger, between the Liberal Party of Canada and the federal New Democrats now that a grand iconoclast has passed into the great hereafter. Perhaps it will be developed into a kind of â€˜unite the left’ initiative, much like the successful â€˜unite the right’ campaign of the late-1990s.
In fact, if there is serious consideration of a merger between the Grits and NDP at the federal level, there’s little doubt in my mind that it will be subsequently marketed specifically as a united alternative to Stephen Harper and the ruling Conservatives. Mergers have been proposed a number of times recently, pretty much each time with the aim of beating Stephen Harper out of 24 Sussex.
Here’s where we encounter problem number one. By acknowledging a media report on a merger proposal (which, let’s face it, may be no more than a Facebook group initiative), both parties admit to some kind of public perception of weakness. By hinting, especially now, that either party is interested in a merger, it does not build the public’s trust, but instead demonstrates one of the two parties is simply too weak to stand on its own and must adopt a new personal politics and ethics. It in effect concedes that elements of policy platform are hopelessly unrealistic, in order to become part of the bigger, ostensibly more successful whole.
Moreover, the word â€˜merger’ as opposed to â€˜coalition’ or â€˜union’ carries certain negative connotations here in Canada, like how many proudly Canadian companies had to merge with foreign competitors in the early-mid 1990s as a result of various Conservative-era free-trade agreements signed into law years earlier. By contrast, â€˜coalition’ seems impermanent, something which involves the cooperation of all parties for a short-term period of national emergency. Again, it’s hardly an appropriate term for the sound-bite media.
And union, well, what can I say it seems that this term evokes about equal amounts of scorn and praise, and something tells me that it may have to do with the fact that in French, â€˜union’ is syndicate, and thus the word in French is free to embrace the figurative implications of the term. Quel dommage pour nous!
It is indeed a shame that this word through no fault of its own is impugned with all the seedy, grainy CCTV footage of countless longshoremen busted in Giuliani-era internal affairs stings. But the reason we, whether Greens, Blocquistes, NDPers or Grits, should avoid union is far from a semantic one.
It’s a matter of being an iconoclast in your own right, as a sovereign individual citizen, and about using the collective force of our combined society, as progressives united for change, to shift the balance of the political dialogue far into our camp. To swing the pendulum so far off to the left we actually destroy the concept of a political dialogue, simply because there are myriad progressively minded political options.
Then there is the issue of the individual legacies of Canada’s four federal â€˜alternative’ parties, which in turn is built upon their individual histories. There are many Canadians who felt a strange kind of national pride with regards to the Bloc the idea that we are so politically evolved we can function as a federal democracy with a political party that advocates for a new federalism participating in government. This is still valuable, though I’m not sad to see the Bloc’s representation in Ottawa scaled down to a more appropriate level.
Then there are the Greens who, let’s face it, have also focused their party on a single political issue. Say what you will about Ms. May’s proclivity to praise the world of homeopathy, Canada needs a federal alternative that places environmental concerns at the head of the table.
These two parties are relatively young and need time to grow and evolve in their own right.
The bigger issue is what will become of the Grits, and I would personally hope they look to their own history as a guiding light for future progress. The Liberals always governed best when they focused on key social-justice issues, but let’s not be glib, they are also a historically autocratic and technocratic party, preferring to govern with strong centralized governments. This is as true of the Liberals in Ottawa as it is of those in Québec City, despite the weakening of that relationship over the last few decades.
The Liberals may be wise to try and lure the so-called Red Tories, remnants of the old Progressive Conservatives, though I feel this may have already been accomplished, what with Stephen Harper’s regular purging of CPC party ranks for disloyalty. Whatever the case, the federal Liberals have got to regain the strength and momentum of the Mackenzie/St-Laurent/Pearson/Trudeau years, when they governed with an iron fist.
In addition to building a massive public service and a national economic foundation of crown corporations, the Grits also pushed scientific and technological research & development, perhaps further in the forty post-WW2 years they largely governed than at any other time in Canadian history. This is their legacy, and they would be very wise to remind the Canadian people of what they have accomplished.
As for my beloved New Democratic Party, I can say only this. Take Jack’s last words very seriously. Take it up as a personal code of conduct. And remember the roots of the NDP Prairie Populism.
The grandparents of the generation that elected Stephen Harper and built his voter base out West over the last twenty years once voted overwhelmingly for Tommy Douglas and the CCF, an admittedly socialist organization with a leader who was regularly spied on by the RCMP.
Whatever it was that had these people caring about their fellow man back then surely still exists in the people who live there now, but they have been successfully brainwashed into believing the CPC now has their best interests in mind. It’s perverse, as Progressives know the reality of the situation, but Western Alienation is still a political concern for our nation, perhaps a greater threat to our federalism today than Québec separatism.
With the voter base of the NDP now concentrated in Québec and Canada’s major urban centers, we must begin to reach out to those living in Canada’s rural areas, people who may be inadvertently snubbed by the machine that is federal Canadian politics. I have heard too many disparaging remarks made with reference to rural Canadian voters, and I know I’ve made some of these inconsiderate and ultimately prejudicial comments myself.
That being said, I feel the way forward is by building multiple progressive alternatives to the CPC, and by fostering new relationships with rural Canada. The hegemony of the federal Tories can only be broken if Canadians from coast to coast to coast are shown that distinct yet fundamentally progressive, cooperative parties are in fact a better governing option than a regressive â€˜Tower of Babel’ built by a small clique of charismatic oligarchs.
* Images: bcblue.wordpress.com, cbc.ca, canadahistory.com, sixtiesretro.blogspot.com