Uniting the Canadian Left
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The Leftwing Crisis

By Suzanne MacNevin - September 2008.

Is it just me or is there too many leftwing parties in Canada? The Liberals, the NDP, the Greens... heck even the Bloc Quebecois is pretty leftwing.

But the problem with having too many leftwing parties competing in the same riding is that it creates vote splitting. ie. 32% Conservative, 30% Liberal, 28% NDP and 10% Green = Conservatives win. The point is that the leftwing of Canada has a clear majority of 68%, but the Conservatives would still win by a landslide due to vote splitting.

Note: If you combine the NDP, Green and Liberal votes from the 2006 election the leftwing would have won a majority government.

The problem of vote splitting has reached a point lately that Canadians have created an "Anti-Harper Vote Swap Canada" group on Facebook, with the idea of swapping votes with other Canadians in order to get more NDP, Greens and Liberals elected in their individual ridings... because they're all so scared of a Conservative majority.

And Canadians should be scared of a Conservative majority. Stephen Harper is a bean counting do-nothing leader who is more concerned about the Alberta oil industry than how the rest of Canada is faring.

Uniting parties is not a new thing in Canada. The two rightwing parties the Reform Party and Progressive Conservative Party was also suffering from vote splitting in years past and joined together to create the Canadian Alliance Party and eventually the new Conservative Party (essentially dropping the progressive part).

So why can't the leftwing of Canada do the same thing? The Green Party for example is almost exactly the same as the Liberal Party, but with a more dramatic environmental platform. The NDP is more closely tied to dealing with poverty/homelessness/student debt.

But here's the thing: Wouldn't the Greens and NDP have a better chance of making real change within the confines of an united leftwing party? This is certainly not a new idea either. According to a Google search for the words ' "unite the left" canada ' there is 10,600 websites on the topic.

The Liberals and the Green Party have even taken steps towards working together in the coming October 14th election, namely by the Liberals not running a member in Green Leader Elizabeth May's riding. The same could easily be done else where in other Canadian ridings in an effort to create a leftwing voting bloc.

In theory the best route would be to dissolve the Greens and the NDP and have them join forces with the Liberal Party, and make changes within the Liberals so that issues like environmentalism and poverty are given more attention.

But will that happen? Not right away. First the Conservatives need to win a majority government, extend the Canadian troops in Afghanistan, send Canadian troops to Iran in the event of another war, outlaw gay marriages, privatize Canadian healthcare even more, sell out Canada to the USA and totally ignore the environment for another 4 years.

Craig Oliver, Chief Political Correspondent for CTV News:

Increasingly however, Dion's competition is not Harper as much as it is Jack Layton. Soon, maybe as early as this week, Jack will have to drop the pretense that he is running to be prime minister, which has everyone on all the campaigns snickering.

In fact, he is running to be the opposition leader and perhaps with some good reason since polls are showing Canadians are giving him higher marks for leadership than they are to Dion. But where does Layton believe the votes to make him prime minister would come from? He would have to sweep the Liberals, the Bloc, and the Greens, in addition to stealing seats from the Conservatives to form an NDP government.

Does he really believe that Conservative voters would march to him with left luggage? Jack's dream is right out of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Impossible. If Stephen Harper wins this election, especially with a majority, he will have realized his own dream, which is to achieve a political realignment in Canada in which the centre-right dominate the national scene.

It would mean the left-of-centre parties are hopelessly splintered, unable to mount a realistic challenge that could keep the Conservatives in power for years.

If that happens, and especially in the unlikely event that Dion gets fewer seats than Jack Layton, Dion will be strung up at dawn. Layton's leadership will also be questioned after his third attempt though he might survive. At that point, if Layton believes all of the ominous outcomes for Canadian society of a Conservative victory, he should think beyond himself and do a Peter MacKay. He should propose a leadership race for a combined Liberal-NDP political party.

Call it the Liberal Democrats, or whatever you like and fight for the job himself against people like Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. Dion has already taken the Liberal party to the left where Liberals have always been happiest and most comfortable and it's nothing less than political madness for two parties with so little differences between them to be pummelling each other into the dust in every election.

Time for unity on the left, unless they want Stephen Harper to do to them what Jean Chretien did for years to the right-of-centre.

Barring a miracle of leftwing voting cooperation (ie. everyone suddenly votes Liberal) it looks like Stephen Harper's Conservatives will win either another minority government or possibly even a majority (no thanks to vote splitting). In the event of a majority government Canadians won't have much choice. For democracy to work the leftwing will be forced to unite just so their votes will actually count for something.

Opposition to
Uniting the Left

Pat Martin, MP for the riding of Winnipeg Centre, said in 2007 that he would "rather stick pins in my eyes" than see such a formal merger of the Liberals and the NDP, but said it may be time to "unite the left somehow... [through] some kind of informal coalition."

Martin also questioned the logic in the NDP spending $15 million in each election when the NDP can only expect to put 29 MPs or fewer into the House of Commons: "You would be crazy not to ask yourself, 'How much longer can we continue to spend that kind of money for these kinds of results?'"

Anthony Westell, National Affairs Columnist for the Toronto Star:

For years the Liberals coasted to victory in election after election because the centre-right vote was split between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform, later Alliance, party... The right was unified in the new Conservative party while the centre left was split between the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens –not to mention the Bloc Québécois which claims to be social democratic.

It's really as simple as that. Final vote totals will show that the majority of Canadians remain center-left in their politics, and Liberal and NDP MPs will outnumber the Conservatives in the new House. However, government in Ottawa may well remain in Conservative hands until their opponents can get their act together.

On the right, it took years of civil war and election defeats before the Reform/Alliance could overcome and swallow the PCs. It will be no easier, probably harder, on the left as the Liberals and the NDP struggle for supremacy...

As Anthony Westell points out it won't be an easy task to unite the left. Everyone is so sure that their way is the correct one. Only by facing utter vote splitting defeat will voters ever finally unite and say its time for one leftwing party.

Funding the Leftwing

As Pat Martin pointed out above, the NDP spends a lot of money on their election campaign with very little results. This year the NDP are spending close to $19 million. The same deal is with the Greens. They spent millions and won 1 seat in the last election. This year the Green Party is spending approx. $10 million.

The Liberals and the Conservatives are capped at $20 million each by Elections Canada, but with the NDP and the Greens holding the Liberals back that $20 million seems like a fundamental waste of money.

The Conservatives meanwhile have been so flush with Albertan oil money that they've been pushing attack ads for the last two years in an effort to make Liberal leader Stephane Dion look like a poor leader, attack ads which evidently have done their job as the Liberals have slipped behind the Conservatives in the polls.

The problem is the leftwing doesn't have any huge corporate sponsors like the oil industry that they can waste money like that constantly. The leftwing is entirely funded by donations from regular people and much less flush-with-cash corporations. The $29 million the NDP/Greens are spending would be better off tucked away for future advertising campaigns, by-elections and promoting leftwing media and a leftwing agenda.

The Conservatives are doing it. The right-wing media is a virtual machine, especially in Alberta. Why can't the leftwing do the same thing?

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