A Liberal- NDP coalition? Forget it One is about sensible, pragmatic government; the other is about labour and dissent. And that’s just one reason - Burrard Strategy
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A Liberal- NDP coalition? Forget it One is about sensible, pragmatic government; the other is about labour and dissent. And that’s just one reason

The Liberals are better off without Jack Layton’s NDP, but Michael Ignatieff should work on making the party a ‘ big tent’ again, Mark Marissen writes.

There has been a lot of media-driven talk lately about the Liberal party joining forces with the NDP to beat the Conservatives. Most Liberals recognize this talk as counter-productive, potentially playing into the hands of the Conservatives.

Instead of talking about coalitions or mergers, Liberals should continue to pursue what works for them best. They must be the “ big tent” party — not a coalition of the left, but a coalition of the sensible.

Much of this coalition speculation arose after what’s happened in Britain. The argument goes something like this: The only way to break the standoff between the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals is to “ unite the left” much like Harper “ united the right” earlier this decade. By this thinking, NDP + Liberal = more than the Conservatives.

This talk doesn’t make sense for a whole bunch of reasons.

First, “ uniting the left” as an election strategy is not about a coalition, but instead about either a union or strategically fielding candidates. Neither works because the parties are fundamentally different. The NDP is about labour and dissent. The Liberals are about sensible, middle-of-the-road, pragmatic government. They don’t mix. Even more to the point, as Jack Layton proved by overthrowing the Martin government in 2004, it isn’t clear which result New Democrats prefer: a Liberal government or a Conservative one.

Second, Harper will play fast and loose with the facts, and be very successful in painting a coalition as antidemocratic, like he did when Stephane Dion attempted a postelection accord with the NDP, with Bloc support. He can play on confusion about what parliamentary democracy is about and raise the separatist bogeyman, even if the Bloc is not part of any formal coalition. This argument is particularly potent in British Columbia, and would threaten every single Liberal MP in the province.

Third, coalition talk is loser talk. Liberals should focus on winning, not losing. You need to have faith in yourself if you want to succeed. It may seem crazy with current polls, but Liberals have had tough times before, and rose again to offer strong, effective government for Canadians.

Fourth, grassroots Liberals won’t stand for not running a full slate of candidates. Some Liberals look back with regret when the party endorsed Green leader Elizabeth May without running someone in her seat. It probably would have been far more effective — for May, the Liberal party, and the green movement — if she and other sensible Green candidates abandoned their party and ran under the Liberal banner.

And let’s remember that Liberals are already a “ coalition” of sorts — a coalition of people who reject rigid dogma and want balanced, fair government.

Think about who Liberals attracted in the past decade: Outside B. C., people such as former NDP premier Bob Rae, and former Conservative MPs Belinda Stronach and Scott Brison.

Liberals know that they succeed when they reach out to both the left and the right.

This theory was proved in British Columbia in 2004 and 2006, when Paul Martin conducted one of the most aggressive candidate recruitment efforts ever, pulling in people such as former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh, former Canfor president David Emerson, IWA union president Dave Haggard, native leader Miles Richardson, Conservative MP Keith Martin, and B. C. Liberal minister Gulzar Cheema, and appointing left-wing Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell to the Senate. Some of these people didn’t win their seats, but they demonstrated that Liberals were serious about reaching out in B. C., and more Liberals were elected ( with the best B. C. results since 1968) against the national tide.

Big tents are better than complicated schemes. Instead of speculating about coalitions, Liberals need to continue sharpening their strategy and recruiting sensible Canadians from all former political stripes under a Liberal banner. Because Liberals should be governing for everyone, not the left or the right.

Besides, in the event that Liberals do form a minority government, recent experience shows that the only durable parliamentary arrangement is one where the dominant party has the plurality of seats or is reasonably close to that plurality.

This means: focus on winning the election, period.

Worry about all of these other issues later.