The political centre cannot hold us all.

There are political scientists who will claim there is no such place as the political centre. To them, the centre is just an imaginary dividing line between politicians of the left and the right. Conversely, there are politicians who see themselves as being in the centre and looking at fences on the right and left over which they dare not climb. The three current federal party leaders in Ottawa see themselves that way. They think they are in the centre.

There are, of course, those who will think it is a crock to suggest that Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands anywhere near the political centre. The problem is you have to deal with his view of things. Harper thinks he is standing in the middle when he rejects the social conservatism of the lunatic fringe of his party. And we are damn lucky he does.

You might want to argue that Thomas Mulcair is hardly going to lead the New Democratic Party down the middle of the road. Yet, he knows and has said publicly that he wants to move the NDP out of the socialist international into the guise of social democracy. He has the same weight of extremists on the socialist left in his party as Stephen Harper has on the lunatic fringe of the right of his. And yet the two leaders are arm wrestling in the centre.

That leaves Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae looking like a referee between the two protagonists. And Rae thinks the centre belongs to the Liberals. His problem is that he is in the weakest position to keep the peace between the right and left wings of the Liberal Party. He is a glib and industrious interim leader but the degree of trust in him by either right or left of the Liberal Party is not very high.

While these three leaders are scuffling in this supposed middle ground, few, if any, are paying attention to Canadian voters. Anyone who has done political surveys can tell you that the voters are not as easy to label as are politicians. Sure, you get the occasional ranting right or left winger but you often catch them contradicting themselves on issues. It is like you expect Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance, to be a raving fanatic for the right until you discover she is not Pro-Life. People can differ on issues.

Maybe all the parties need to spend a few thoughts on where they stand. The NDP just went through the exercise of choosing a leader and it became very clear in that process that there was a division between the strong union supporters and the members who put social issues first. Mulcair won for social democracy but the unionists who coalesced around Brian Topp on the final ballot were no small rump.

The Conservatives are likely to wait about five more years before they will need to find a replacement for Stephen Harper. A strong candidate from the extreme right might tear that party apart to drive out the red Tories once and for all. We might be able to return to having two parties clearly on the right.

The Liberal Party will start to determine its direction in the next year, culminating in a leadership convention in 2014. There will be a growing chorus by then supporting a cooperative arrangement, if not outright union, with the NDP. Liberal leadership contenders will not be able to use the ‘big red tent’ approach but we can expect that some will try to maintain that liberalism is based on the rights of the individual in society and can exist with both right and left wings.

Judging by how the voters reacted to Paul Martin’s right-wing Liberal Party during 27 months from 2003 until 2006, the Liberal Party should finally make a decision about what it wants to be.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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