Conservatives Don't Lose With A Minority
Poletical writer, Devon Stone, recently wrote a terrific article called Conservatives Lose With a Minority. He made a lot of good points, and I suspect that a united right in Canada will prove too difficult to overcome without the NDP and Liberals forming a union of some kind, sooner or later, despite protestations.
There are some huge problems, however, that weren’t addressed by Stone that I will breakdown in eleven, easy to read steps.
#1. The Liberals are afraid of losing centrist support if an NDP merger were to happen.
The Liberals like to think of themselves as a centrist party. They take some good right-wing ideas and some good left-wing ideas and they combine them into a synthesis that makes everyone happy.
The reality is that merging with the left-wing NDP would alienate many Liberal voters and those voters would switch to voting Conservative. Roughly 1/3 of Liberal voters choose the Conservative Party as their second choice.
The Liberals can’t afford the loss of 1/3 of their support.
#2. Many hardcore leftist NDP supporters would not vote for a merger.
As weird as it sounds for many conservatives, a lot of NDP supporters hate the Liberal Party because they view it as right-of-centre. There is a general mainstream feeling that the Liberals are left and the Conservatives are right. However, in the minds of ardent left-wingers, the Liberals are right and the Conservatives are bat-shit crazy. Only the NDP offers a proper left-wing option.
A merger will cause them to drop out or switch to the Green Party. Less than half would vote Liberal as a second choice.
#3. If the Liberals and NDP were going to merge, then why hasn’t it already happened?
The NDP in it’s current form has been around since 1961. Over the past 54 years those two parties couldn’t merge? Why not?
Bob Rae thinks they’re just too different. And many others feel the same. The differences are major enough that a union may cause more problems than it solves. Infighting, and lack of unity will destroy a party from the inside out, even if they are generally kept together under a political banner.
#4. If the Liberals regain official opposition status they will not risk a coalition.
The Liberals are likely to (at least) regain the title of official opposition in October. If they do this they will feel that they’ve got momentum. If Harper wins a minority, a new election could happen within a year or two.
They aren’t going to want to taint their ascendancy with a downward spiralling NDP coalition. They’ll bide their time and present themselves as a government in waiting. Until very recently, this was the "two-election" strategy that Liberals felt was a best case scenario anyway.
#5. If the NDP remain official opposition they will see themselves as entrenched.
If the NDP remain in official opposition, they will believe that the Liberals, being a third-place party possibly set for U.K. style extinction, means the new political establishment is entrenched. Mulcair will establish himself as the NDP heir to Layton’s legacy and business will continue on as normal.
Merger talks will fade as the NDP will simply focus on taking the next step: forming government.
#6. If Harper only wins a minority, the Harper era will be over.
Harper will appear to be past his peak if he’s reduced to a minority again. A slide toward Diefenbaker-style decline will be the expectation of the opposition.
Why merge when the end is near?
If the writing is on the wall for the Harper era, then voter fatigue will provide one of the opposition parties with the opportunity to govern anyway. As a result...they’ll wait.
#7. One plus one doesn’t equal two.
Even if the parties merge, there is no guarantee that the next vote count will be a simple matter of popular vote addition.
When the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance merged in 2003, the results of the 2004 election didn’t add up to the separate amount of votes both parties earned in the election of 2000. Both parties know that weird things happen when political landscapes change. The math isn’t guaranteed.
#8. A new median will occur.
As I outlined in points #1 and #2, a lot of people will gravitate to the Conservative Party when the party of their choice is compromised. We could be looking at a more U.S-style two party system as a result. If this were to occur, then a two-party outcome would be normal as well and Conservatives would rule 50% of the time.
Not so terrible considering that the 20th century saw Conservatives in power only 30% of the time.
#9. A single, united conservative party is hard to beat in Canada.
One thing people tend to forget about Liberal hegemony in the 20th century is that the Social Credit Party often took a mass of votes from the Progressive Conservatives. For those young ones needing a history lesson, check out this link. Social Credit was basically a grassroots, right-wing, social conservative party with heavy emphasis on populism and banking reform. Social Credit was basically the Reform Party before the Reform Party existed.
Would John Diefenbaker have lost in 1963 if not for almost a million Social Credit voters? Would Pierre Trudeau have won a two-seat minority in 1972 if not for 730,000 votes Robert Standfield lost to Social Credit? If Joe Clark had reached out with a coalition offer to Social Credit in 1979, he could have had a majority throughout the early 80’s? More recently, the rise of the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance, basically handed Jean Chretien three majority governments. It’s arguable that Chretien would have had three minority wins if not for the divide.
The 20th century would have had a lot less Liberal governments if not for a divided right-wing and it will stay that way, despite whatever the Liberals and NDP decide to do.
(Some might say, Progressive Conservatives were never right-wing enough anyway, thus necessitating the rise of parties like Social Credit and Reform in the first place. Imagine, however, if these parties existed more as a Tea Party movement within the Progressive Conservative Party at the time. It may have alienated some of the wimpiest conservatives in the party, but the lack wholesale conservative division would not have caused so much electoral loss. Something to remember the next time someone suggests that Harper isn't conservative enough.
#10. Hardcore leftists will not settle for “NDP-lite” and a new leftist party would form.
The NDP has already had encounters with different hardline groups in the party. The late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s had the Waffle movement. In the 1990’s the New Democrat Socialist Caucus, and the Left Caucus picked up the torch for representing the NDP hard left flank.
What would become of the strident left-wing factions if the NDP folded into the Liberal Party?
A new party would happen, that’s what.
Just as the Conservative Party splits and forms a new party every time it stops being hardcore enough...so too would the strident NDP faction if ever a Liberal merger were to happen.
#11. The Post-Harper Conservative Party will be an institution.
Many left-wing pundits are predicting (hoping) that a post-Harper led Conservative Party will tear itself apart with factionalism and power lust. They think there is a clear delineation between “Reform supporter Conservatives” and “Progressive Conservative supporter Conservatives”. They think pro-lifers will try to hijack the whole party or that progressives will do a counterattack and turn it into a leftist CINO (conservative-in-name-only) party.
None of this is likely to happen, because the Conservative Party brand is now firmly established and firmly entrenched. Oh sure...there will be a battle for influence as there always is, but nothing like what we saw in the 1990’s and nothing as ruinous as the Chretien/Martin rivalry that ripped the Liberal Party apart for ten years.
Even if the Liberals and NDP cobble together a coalition and usurp power from Harper...the Conservative Party won’t be down for too long. People were outraged at the cobbled together coalition in 2008...and they will be again. A coalition for a couple of years (months?) will simply set the stage for a Conservative Party return with a fresh face in charge and solid preparation and reinvention for the future. It would also help weed out some of the less committed MP’s from the ranks.
A coalition would serve as both an admission of defeat and a welcome reprieve from power that will allow the CPC to self-reflect and dream it all up again in order to come back stronger than ever.
Conclusion: D. Stone is being too pessimistic about the coming election. Current polls show Harper within a few dozen seats of hitting a majority anyway, but even if he doesn’t, the long-term implications for Canadian conservatism is bright.