Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coalition, Coalition, Over and Over Again

Some pipe dreams never die

Writing in an open letter to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP leader Jack Layton and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, political scientists Philip Resnick and Reg Whitaker make two things very clear: they don't like Prime Minister Stephen Harper very much, and they like the idea of a coalition very much.

"The split in opposition to the Conservatives ... plays beautifully into Stephen Harper's hands," the letter reads.

Resnick and Whitaker insist that the defeat of the Harper government is necessary "for a whole variety of reasons -- its contempt for Parliament and for an independent civil service, its poor environmental policy, its gutting of cultural programs, its weakening of Canada's international position as a respected middle power."

(Somehow the detail that the previous Liberal government politicized the civil service, ignored the Kyoto commitments, and largely earned Canada a reputation as an international do-nothing state escapes Resnick and Whitaker.)

The two note that between a majority of Canadians who (allegedly) cast their votes for centre-left candidates and parties, a semi-consistent 10% vote in favour of the Green Party, and a resurgence of the NDP, they feel that the stage has been set for a victory by a coalition of left-wing parties, wherein each party would run platforms centred around a core of common policies.

But Whitaker's and Resnick's plan is found wanting on a number of points. First off, it falsely assumes that the NDP and Green Party would have a reliable progressive partner in the Liberal Party. Most Canadians should remember full well what happened the last time the Liberals came to power during a recession -- billions of dollars in cuts to health care, education, and the download of federal debt onto the provinces through cuts to transfer payments.

Secondly, it falsely assumes that the Liberal Party's own considerable conservative wing would willingly cast ballots for the NDP or Green Party. It's much more likely that supporters of Liberals like Tom Wappel -- just to name only one -- would vote for their local Conservative candidate long before voting for the Greens or New Democrats.

Even the spectre of a coalition would almost certainly cause them to think twice avout voting in favour of the arrangement.

Thirdly, it falsely assumes that NDP and Green supporters would vote for a Liberal candidate. Considering that such voters will remember full well what the Liberals did in 1993, that isn't likely to happen -- or, at the very least, shouldn't be.

In any coalition government, the lion's share of the power will be held by the largest partner. In the arrangement that Resnick and Whitaker recommend, that will certainly be the Liberal Party -- a party with a well-known history of waffling on its expressed left-wing principles.

About the only thing that Resnick and Whitaker actually have right is the idea of omitting the Bloc Quebecois from the arrangement: a Liberal/NDP/Green coalition won't earn the trust of Canadians if they're willing to mortgage the government to separatists in order to gain power.

If Reg Whitaker's and Philip Resnick's open letter establishes much of anything in terms of an idea, it's that individuals like themselves -- whether out of ideological rigidity, pure naivete, or (most likely) a combination of the two -- simply won't let this idea of a coalition government go.

It's a fantasy -- a pipe dream -- but one wouldn't know it from how stridently they advocate it.


  1. This letter confirms many in the left realize the Liberals are NOT regaining their historical numbers above 35% in the near future.

    The realization without a clear alternative, the first past the post system will continue to provide the Bloc and CPC with a large number of seats within their regional bases.

    The Liberals have only won between 5-7/92 seats West of Ontario. The Bloc hold the francophone votes with over 35_seats as their base. The last Lib majority was a result of Ontario 103 seats and Quebec with 36 in 2000.

    No one has seen the 40% percentage of popular vote numbers for the Liberals in over a decade.

    The right resloved the split, NDP have recovered and the Green have reached over 5% eliminating any recovery.

  2. If the Liberals were set to regain their +35% numbers, no one would be talking about a coalition.

    Not that it would matter much that the Liberal Party has very rarely born out to actually be a "progressive" political party.

  3. With the Liberal leader posting leadership numbers tied or behind Layton now it is unlikely they can recover seats if we pull the plug in March. Some believe the October 2008 results won't go lower. I am leaning to the Liberals losing another 15 seats in the next election at the expense of each party's better ground game during a campaign in bringing out the vote.

  4. There would need to be a tremendous change in the polls for that to happen.


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