The issue of having the New Democratic Party form an alliance with other parties – if such a move would keep the Conservatives out of power in 2015 – is vitally important for Canadians who fear the possibility of another four years of disastrous cutting and slashing.
But some of the NDP candidates for the party leadership do not seem concerned.
From what has been said during debates and party chit-chat, it is amazing how many New Democrats are convinced that the party definitely will win the 2015 election.
Therefore, most say there is no reason to consider any sort of alliance with the Liberal and Greens to send Harper packing for good.
Even though the facts indicate that an NDP win in 2015 is a long shot, three leadership hopefuls taking part in a debate in Halifax on Sunday rejected the coalition-to-defeat-Tories idea.
The room started to get warm when BC MP Nathan Cullen, who is well behind the leaders in delegate support, said he is in favour of joining forces with the Liberals to have only one party run a candidate in many ridings where the Conservatives are strong.
Québec-based candidate Thomas Mulcair, Nova Scotian pharmacist Martin Singh, and Peggy Nash, a Toronto MP and a former Canadian Auto Workers organizer, were quick to criticize Cullen.
“We had a historic breakthrough in the last election,” said Nash. “Why not build on that? Let’s not look at a rear-view mirror.”
Cullen responded by saying his main goal is to keep the Conservatives from winning again. He would also bring in proportional representation (PR).
“Let’s all recognize the thing that we know”, said Cullen. “That the current voting system we have in this country is broken and flawed.” While support for PR is official party policy, it has not received much attention during debates.
In addition to Cullen, former party president Brian Topp might be prepared to try to forge a deal with the Liberals. When Layton formed the short-lived coalition with the Liberals in 2008, it was Topp who did much of the behind-the-scenes negotiating.
The year 2015 is a long-time away but, considering the many difficulties the NDP has to overcome to win, it is hard to understand why candidates who obviously care about the country would totally rule out the possibility of a coalition government.
Consider these facts:
- True, the party’s popularity is holding up fairly well at about 28 per cent in the polls at a time when there is a leadership vacuum. However, based on an average of different polls, the Conservatives are still first in the mid-30s and the Liberals are up at about 23 per cent.
- First, unless there is a radical change in the country, to win in 2015 the NDP would have to substantially exceed the 30.6 per cent of the votes it received last May. The party’s previous high was 20 per cent. The party got that 30 per cent only because it was able to benefit from two fortunate developments: the collapse of the Liberal Party in much of the country, and the ability of Mulcair and Jack Layton to seize the moment when the Bloc Québécois began to collapse in Québec.
- The most recent Québec opinion poll shows NDP support falling dramatically – to 27 per cent public support in January from a high of 53 per cent in June. The Bloc is also at 27 per cent, and the Liberals have grown to 14 per cent.
- “The NDP [when it won so many seats] embodied some sort of change and novelty,” said CROP pollster Youri Rivest. “People are wondering what the NDP stands for now. The NDP brand is woolly.”
- If Québecer Mulcair does not win the leadership, it will be up to a practically unknown Anglophone to try to help at many of the party’s 58 rookie hang onto their seats.
For the party to do well in 2015, the Liberals (currently up at about 23 per cent) would have to be practically wiped out again. This is unlikely to happen if Bob Rae becomes leader.
- To come first, the NDP would have the difficult task of taking a number of seats away from the Conservatives, who seem to be able to get 30-something per cent of the vote with their hands tied behind their backs. And, by the time the election rolls around, the Conservatives will again be sweetening the pot with gifts for targeted groups.
So, even if only a few of these potential problems materialize, the NDP will have a very difficult time coming first in 2015. If the leadership hopefuls care more about their country than their party, they could seriously think of developing a strategy that would see the party working with the Liberals and Greens.
Considering that the future of the country might be at stake, there are two questions the leadership candidates should be asked:
- Would they formally approach the Liberals and Greens in advance of the election and suggest that only one of the three parties run candidates in a number of stronghold Conservative ridings?
- If the Conservatives win the most seats but fall short of a majority, would they approach the Liberals and Greens with the idea of setting up some form of government?
The Liberal Party says it would not take part in cooperative or coalition government but, depending on who is chosen to lead the Liberals, this could change.
As of January 26, Topp was leading the race with 32.9 per cent of the leadership endorsements. Nash was second at 25.6 per cent, and Quebec party leader Thomas Mulcair was third with 20.6 per cent.
There is plenty of time for all the candidates to fully consider their positions. The leadership convention isn’t until March 24th.
Note: I have been a member of the NDP from time to time over the years, and I have renewed my membership so I can vote in the March leadership contest.