It’s a new year, the House of Commons has sat for only half of its five-year constitutional limit, and the polls invite no one to seek an election. While opposition members of parliament tell their supporters that they loathe Stephen Harper, they’ve allowed him to become Canada’s longest-surviving minority government prime minister.
An election in 2011 makes no sense and still may not happen. The government is bound not to call an election; at least five provinces will have elections to keep party activists busy; and, most important to the opposition left, the polls show that they won’t win as divided parties and that they don’t have leaders that the people want to follow.
Yet despite what everyone knows, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and his supporters talk breathlessly of getting ready for an imminent election. This is not, however, the posture of a leader lusting to govern. Rather, it’s the ploy of an escapist.
Talking up an election, fretting about who’ll be on the campaign plane, simply locks in the status quo and avoids the real festering issue—what is to become of the Liberals and New Democrats, the latest Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Canadian national politics?
The New Democratic Party is no longer young or an aspiring replacement for the Liberal Party. On major questions they only differ by degree. Each is stronger than the other in different ridings across Canada. However, both have mature national organizations, develop policies according to what they see as the national interest, believe themselves to favour a slightly more independent Canada, accept the private sector as the principle source of economic growth, and—unlike the Conservatives—they both believe that the federal government must inspire a sense of national purpose by providing federal leadership on whatever ends up being called strategic.
Their policy divisions, within one Liberal-Democrat caucus, would probably look pretty manageable compared to the divisions that divided the Conservatives when they were out of power.
Furthermore, in terms of winning votes and seats in parliament, they would likely do much better together. Polls aren’t promises, but the latest data suggests that they’d have a good chance of winning the next election. The country would enjoy a close fight, a balance that would inspire both left and right to raise their game.
An analysis for The Globe and Mail by The-HundredEight.com’s Eric Grenier projected that a merger of the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens would garner 44% of the popular vote against 41% for the Conservatives. Without the Greens, it’s reasonable to start out with the assumption that the two major parties of the left and the right would now be essentially tied. Both would have a chance at a majority and significant representation in every region, including Quebec.
What the left ought to be discussing in 2011 is not how to improve their pecking order in Ottawa, but how to unite.
The logical conclusion of such a process, unfortunately, would be a full-fledged open leadership convention. And Michael Ignatieff would rather face Stephen Harper in an unnecessary election than try to lead a united left.