Uniting the Left

There’s a lot of talk on the net and in the media right about how to “unite the left” post election, with Murray Dobbin, many folks at rabble.ca and a few others talking about the need for an immediate coalition of the opposition parties to defeat the Conservatives.

The project of some immediate union of the supposed left of centre parties is not going to go anywhere fast:

– the Bloc are a mixed bag ideologically and, while the social democratic element is strong, they are not about to join a federalist coalition; at best they can and will co-operate to a greater degree on progressive projects in Parliament

– while the Liberals are are not indistinguishable from the Conservatives and contain some progressive elements, they are not and do not see themselves as a left or even centre left party … and if anything they may be about to shift right in search of votes, as counselled by most of the more astute pollsters.

Many Liberals see their historic worst showing ever as a reflection of a poor (leftish) program and not just poor leadership.

– rightly or wrongly, Jack isn’t going to play this game, yet… and, for all of its warts, the NDP remains a genuinely social democratic party. It will cease to be so when progressives seek to blur genuine party differences on key issues.

– Most folks would say, with some reason, that Harper and the Conservatives did not win a majority, but they still won and have mandate to govern for a while

My personal preference is for a modified PR system which would produce a closer alignment of ideologies and votes, and also force parties with distinct ideological positions to work together post election.

In the meantime – which will be a long time – I think the task of progressive economists along with others on the left is to push a programmatic agenda, in the hope and expectation that the opposition parties can unite more or less around it. Who knows, we may yet get some gains driven by circumstance as a less ideological Harper confronts the reality of a crumbling economy in the context of a minority Parliament.


  • “a less ideological Harper,” may be speculation. ‘Less ideological actions’ might be more accurate. And those are being brought on by the force of circumstances. I didn’t project any of my hopes or desires onto Barack Obama recently and I certainly won’t do it with Bush’s Canadian mini-me.

  • Andrew,

    Strategically speaking what you wrote at the end is key:

    “Harper confronts the reality of a crumbling economy in the context of a minority Parliament.”

    If I were any of the opposition leaders why would I want to take power in what appears to be at best a minimum of two years of stagnant growth?

    At a practical level the liberals do not have a leader and will not until May. So even if a coalition were possible ( and like you I do not think it is ) it is moot point until the liberals get a leader. Imagine they choose Ray.

  • new coalitions of action forming globally around events this weekend, some interesting combinations:

  • While the MPs who make up the Bloc may be mixed bag ideologically, I expect most of the people who voted for them are not happy with a Conservative government. I don’t think they would be happy with the Bloc if they knew they where the one group standing in the way of the removal of the Conservative government.

    When the Liberals had a majority they acted like the Conservatives. If they acted like that again, the NDP shouldn’t support them, but unlike the Conservatives I believe they can be bent to be progressive when they need NDP support.

    In his election night speech Layton seemed to emphasize that he was willing to work with all parties in Parliament. I think that was a signal he was willing to support an opposition coalition.

    It’s odd that there is this new push for PR when we got a house with a similar balance of power to what we would get if there was PR, with left wing parties with the most seats, but needing to make uncomfortable alliances to take power.

  • I’m waiting to see what happens to the Liberal fundraising pool after the next leadership contest. The last round appears to have tapped out the maximums for their donors for three years straight, undermining the main party’s ability to fundraise for general elections. Call me a economics geek, but I’m pretty quick to blame Dion’s demise on the party’s poor finances. Remember what he said when he stepped down, that they weren’t able to counter the negative imagery portrayed in tory attack ads in the pre-election period. Surely the inability to pay for rebuttal ads was a factor.

    If the next leadership race has the same problem with candidate debts, they could end up with the same problems with party finances, lose to more attack ads, lose another leader, repeat as necessary.

    They say every leader should get two elections. However, with respect to Jack Layton, I would say he should get at least one more. It appears the parties that are not having leadership contests are getting the upper hand. With the NDP only 6% below the liberals, there is now a possibility after the next liberal leadership race of the NDP pulling ahead. Then discussions of “unite the left” become totally different.

  • I have no idea why the Liberals are running a serious leadership contest. Why do they want raise and then waste all that money on internal campaigning when they are already broke with no capacity to fight a general election? They should cook the deal behind closed doors and hold a leadership coronation in the early new year.

  • I find the position of some Canadian progressives utterly bewildering. I am not referring to Andrew’s post per se, but rather to the recent debates around alliances, coalitions and strategic voting.

    A military-building, tax cutting (“tax relieving”!), arts-hating, government-destroying, anti-abortion, “tough on crime,” and highly strategic movement conservative is governing, and the opposition is fragmented and unable to remove him.

    Harper will continue to win as long as the opposition is fragmented and competing against each other for seat counts in a shrinking pool. Meanwhile Harper’s seat count keeps growing…

    I continually come back to the same question for progressives who oppose alliances, coalitions and strategic voting: what is it about the electoral status quo that is so great?

  • Brian Topp hit the nail on the head in a Globe and Mail discussion about the NDP’s future. The federal NDP should be prepared to co-operate with the other opposition parties to the extent that meaningful opportunities exist. But the federal NDP should also prepare to compete with those parties in the next election campaign.

    I would go a step further. These two approaches are not only compatible, but complementary. To have any chance of pushing the Liberal Party into a left-wing coalition, the NDP must pose a credible electoral threat to the Liberal Party. Otherwise, the Liberals will just ignore New Democrats and the progressive policies that they represent.

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