Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Question for Liberals isn’t should we merge, it’s should we exist

An Ipsospoll released over the weekend claiming a majority of Liberal and NDP supporters (voters, not necessarily activists) favour merging the parties has re-ignited the debate about whether or not a merger of the parties makes sense. Well, at least online, as I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met offline that support the idea. And at least among Liberals on Twitter, because NDPers are too busy being the official opposition and leading the polls at the moment.
Sixty-four per cent of Liberal supporters and 57 per cent of NDP voters said they "strongly" or "somewhat" support their parties merging into a single party.
Needless to say, I’m skeptical of these numbers (I’m just not hearing it on the ground) andI’ve long been sceptical of the very idea of a merger. Besides the parties being rather different (remember, the PCs and Alliance were formerly the same party), the math doesn’t work either. While proponents say a “united left” would defeat Harper, those Ipsos numbers show 36% of Liberals and 43% of NDPers don’t support merging. Some would stay, but a significant chunk of those 36% of Liberals would go Conservative. Look at where Liberal votes in Ontario went last year as Liberal support collapsed and the NDP surged: much of it went Conservative. And as for the 43% of NDPers, many would stay, but some would look for a more purist left-wing option And let’s not forget, in B.C., for example, many NDP voters went Reform/Alliance for years. Point being, it’s not 1+1=2. Anything could happen, but a merger would be messy and is no stop-Harper silver bullet.

Enough about math, though. I think there are deeper issues that the merger discussion serves to underline, and that are highlighted by other findings from this Ipsos poll:
Overall, a majority of Canadians "agree" either strongly (19 per cent) or somewhat (38 per cent) that they consider the Liberal Party to be a "party of the past, not a party of the future," according to the poll.Among Liberal supporters, 21 per cent believe their own party is a party of the past.--Canadians as a whole seem divided on whether a new Liberal leader will make a difference: one half (52 per cent) agree that regardless of who the party chooses as its next leader, they have "pretty much written off the Liberals."
Among Liberal partisans that support looking at a merger, motivations range from believing it’s the only way to stop Harper to feeling it’s the best short-cut back to relevance. I disagree with the first and find the second emblematic of everything that’s wrong with our party (short-cuts to power instead of hard work rebuilding). But amongst voters (this poll is if people that have voted for the party in the past) I think the support for merging is driven by another factor: the Liberal Party of Canada has become completely irrelevant to them, and so they don’t particularly care if it merges or fades into oblivion.

If the Liberals were still relevant, these numbers would be different. If voters had a sense of what the party stands for, if we were effective at opposing the government’s agenda, offering alternative policies that spoke to both the challenges of the country and their everyday lives, and if we were seen as a credible alternative government, then people would see the value in keeping us around, and maybe even voting for us one day.
Instead, as I argued recently, we’ve become an increasingly unheard voice in the wildernessabsent from the national debate, as the NDP on the left and the Conservatives on the right polarize and simplify the debate. 

And it’s not a recent phenomenon. Our inability to connect in a relevant way to Canadians has been growing for years.

So there’s two ways to look at these numbers: either we throw our hands up and get swallowed by the NDP in the hopes that will stop defeat Harper (a rather short-term vision, frankly) or we take these numbers as an affirmation of what needs to be done.

Polls are a snapshot of today. Leadership isn’t about taking a poll, guessing where the parade is going and jumping in front of it. Leadership is about having a vision that you believe in, popular or not, and rallying the people to your cause.

The question I’d ask Liberals to consider isn’t to merge or not to merge, it’s to exist or not to exist. Think beyond the short-term, beyond the next election or the current Conservative leader. Do we think a polarized political arena of left vs. right is what’s best for Canada? Or do we believe there needs to be a third voice, one not wedded to ideology, one that can offer practical, pragmatic solutions for our country and for its people, taking good ideas wherever they come from?

If it’s the former then sure, why not merge. Although, frankly, I’d rather we just fade away (the free market solution). But if it’s the latter, and I believe it is, then we must redouble our efforts. Because there is a desire out there for such a party. In fact, the Liberals were once such a party. And with hard work, we can be again.

And while some may be ready to give up, I’m not.

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The Rat said...

Jeff, here's the million dollar question: Which way would you go if the merger option was selected? Are you going to join the ranks of the NDP, go Green, quit, or join the dark side? I ask because there are so few sensible bloggers left on the Liblog roll my money says every last one goes NDP. As such, the Liblogs isn't a very representative sampling.

Jeff said...

That's a hypothetical that depends on too many factors to possibly know at this point. How does the merged proceed, who leads the merged party, what's the policy direction? Who leads the other parties at that point, and what's their policy direction. Obviously I'll vote for someone, but would I be a member/activist? No idea.

Jae/Jennie said...

This New Democrat desperately wants the Liberals to keep existing. In a merger (or any situation that sees the Liberals no longer existing), there is nothing left to keep the NDP from becoming an entirely centrist party.

Damien Sullivan said...

"Or do we believe there needs to be a third voice, one not wedded to ideology, one that can offer practical, pragmatic solutions for our country and for its people, taking good ideas wherever they come from?"

Pragmatic solutions to what end? Good ideas by what measure of the good? You can't be pragmatic in a vacuum. Whether my goal is to maximize egalitarian GDP per capita or my own income as a plutocrat, I can be ideological (Marxist, Austrian economist) or pragmatic (taking an evidence-based approach to maximizing the variables of interest.)

What does the Liberal Party *want*, besides getting elected? "Good pragmatic ideas" is an empty phrase.

Of course, now that it's becoming the third party, the Liberal Party might find it 'pragmatic' to start supporting proportional representation, that would let them be relevant as whatever they are, as opposed to the new spoiler party. If they're lucky, the NDP might stay 'ideological' or principled long enough to push it through someday.