#49 – Merging the Liberals and NDP: Whose decision is it anyway?

Hold on a minute. Now we have former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien supposedly arguing with current Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff over the proposal to merge with the NDP. Why? They, of course, have the right to an opinion but it is not their decision to make. The question of merging of two political parties has to be decided by the parties involved. It is not for present or past leaders to decide.

Stephen Harper’s manoeuvring the takeover of the Conservative Party by the Reform party was so obvious a move that people who understood the situation wondered why it took so long. The two parties had become locked into regional positions and it was an easy process to put them together.

A Liberal-NDP merger is a far more complex situation. The Liberal Party of Canada has always been a centrist party. It was lucky over the years to have some key centre-left thinkers working within the party that gave it moral character. People such as parliamentarians and cabinet ministers Herb Gray and Lloyd Axworthy contributed much of the humanitarian appeal of the party over their years of service.

But they had to do their work amid colleagues from the right of the political spectrum. There was little they could do in the 90’s when Chrétien gave then Finance Minister Paul Martin the green light to gut programs such as unemployment insurance and transfer payments to try to balance the books in Ottawa. It also left little choice for the voters in 2004 between Stephen Harper’s new Conservative Party and Paul Martin’s right of centre Liberals. The Liberal Party might have chosen Stéphane Dion next as leader but the right-of-centre parliamentarians left him to blow in the wind of ugly attacks by Stephen Harper in 2008.

When the Liberal Party next gathered in convention in Vancouver, the parliamentary rump had Michael Ignatieff firmly settled into the leadership role. The party, expecting a fast election, felt there was no other choice and the selection was confirmed.

But what the party really got was a pig in a poke. The party had no idea where Ignatieff sat on the right or left but gave him control of party policy. So far, there has been no policy and no election. Is it any wonder that the news media report that the natives are getting restless?

The one thing that is very clear is that if the Liberals do not carve out a different space in the political spectrum than Mr. Harper, they might as well surrender early. A merger with the NDP can solve that problem.

While people think of the NDP as a socialist party, it is nowhere near as socialist today as it was in its inception. Today, the NDP is more of a socially conscious party and that is what the Liberals desperately need. The NDP no longer needs the unions to hold it up as a party. It no longer needs the socialist rants of past centuries. Today, it needs to become more forward thinking, more environmentally tuned in, more humanitarian in its outlook. It can do that within the Liberal Party.

And the Liberal Party desperately needs that.

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