Some reasons why Jean Chrétien is wrong: Speaking Against a Merger With the NDP

“Jean Chrétien is still promoting the idea of Liberals and New Democrats merging into one federal party, despite strong objections to the NDP’s approach to Quebec independence.

In an interview Monday, the former Liberal prime minister dismissed suggestions that a merger now – when the Liberals have been reduced to a third-party rump and New Democrats are on the rise – would amount to an NDP takeover of his once-mighty party.”

  • Liberal-NDP merger would create ‘political stability,’ Chrétien argues, JOAN BRYDEN, The Canadian Press as published on the Globe and Mail.com, Monday, Apr. 16, 2012 5:42PM EDT

Why is Jean Chrétien wrong? The reason is simple: Mr. Chrétien fails to understand the historical differences between the Merger of the Right in the nineties and any hypothetical merger between the NDP & Liberal Parties. Simply put the Merger between the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance was the reassembling of some of the Mulroney Progressive Conservatives. Or put different, in 1984, Brian Mulroney won a majority in Parliament by uniting three different groups. They were Neo-Liberals from Western and Central Canada, Red Tories in Central Canada and Soft Nationalists in Quebec.

Those three groups agreed on a number of issues. They agreed that abortion should be restricted and they agreed that the Canadian Federal Government should withdraw from a number of areas of contention. This included the withdrawal from many areas which were seen to be areas of provincial jurisdiction. This was an easy point of agreement. However, they did not have a vessel that could contain their views. Brian Mulroney became that vessel.

For example, many Libertarians in Western Canada agreed with this position because they could get a reduction in Government and a transfer of those responsibilities to the individual. However, those Libertarians could not convince the other members of the coalition that their views were valid. So Brian did it for them.

Likewise, the Red Tories had their beliefs. They liked the idea of transferring some responsibilities to strong societal entities that were non-State actors. In their opinion, Crown Corporations should not be allowed to run deficits. Therefore, the Mulroney Government should to accomplish this. By the time, his government was done only Parliament could run a deficit. Furthermore, the federal government looked at the creation of new Public-Private Partnerships. This is why the management of most Canadian Airports were transferred from the Transport Canada to various Airports’ Authority. Not-For-Profit institutions were allowed to take on other responsibilities. Nav Canada is just one example. It is now an entity which leads the world in airplane navigation. However, its mission, on a financial basis, is to break even.  

Mr. Mulroney even promised Soft Nationalists and Westerns to resolve their Constitutional Issues. By trying rewriting the Canada Act 1982, Mulroney attempted to reduce the strength of the federal Government. Westerners’, therefore, were promised a set of amendments which would provide an elected Senate; while, the Quebecois was promised a constitutional veto for Quebec.

However, something went wrong. History tells us that only Red Tories were the only satisfied party in this coalition. Westerners went off to form the Reform Party, while the Soft Nationalists organized the Hard Nationalists and some federalists to form the Bloc Quebecois. This all happened between 1988 and 1993.

The NDP, though, has never been a part of the Liberal Party. It was founded in 1961, when the Commonwealth Co-operative Federation (CCF) formed a partnership with labour groups and unions. While, the CCF was formed in 1932 in Calgary. It was created by a number of socialist, farm, co-operative and labour groups that included the League for Social Reconstruction. In 1933, the CCF proclaimed the Regina Manifesto and started a great tradition.

However, the social democratic legacy does not stop there. For many of the founders of the CCF were members of the Ginger Group or were left-wing Progressive and Labour MPs. Liberals have never been Social Democrats. Or put differently, Liberals and the NDP are not synonymous.  

Liberals are different. The problem is that very few Liberals get that. Ekos Polling in April of 2011 – before the Conservative Majority was elected – asked the public an interesting question: if you were to vote today, who would be your second choice? About 20% of both the NDP and Liberal Parties, did not have a second choice; while just above 40% of Liberals and NDP identified the other as their second choice.  Or put differently, about 40% of both parties would be willing to vote for other Parties, if the had a choice. Accordingly, 13.4% of the NDP view the Conservatives as their second choice; while 16% of Liberals had the same view. Therefore, if a merger were to happen, the Conservative Party, the Greens and the Bloc would all gain market share. (http://autonomyforall.blogspot.com/2011/04/could-ndp-and-liberals-get-along.html)

Since the Conservatives won just below 40% in the last election; a gain of 10% could mean a perpetual or virtual majority for the Conservatives. For, they would hold just about 47 to 48% of the voting public. The NDP –Liberals would have a high of 39%. This would hardly enhance the Liberal Point of View. This reality would just leave us with a Conservative World View.

That same Ekos Poll said something else: 37.1% of Bloc Quebecois supporters had the NDP as their second choice. Or put differently, The Bloc Quebecois was closer to the NDP then anyone else wanted to believe. The election only solidified that reality. Or put differently, while the BQ may be similar to the NDP, Liberals are not New Democrats and New Democrats are not Liberals.

In my view, Liberals should not confuse support of NDP for Liberal minority governments as support for the Liberal World View. In 1970’s, Trudeau could count on the NDP because the NDP wanted legitimacy. In 1985, Peterson could count on Rae because Rae wanted legitimacy for his Ontario NDP. In 2004, Martin could count on Layton because the NDP wanted legitimacy. Through that legitimacy, the NDP came to possess more power. In 1979, the NDP forwarded the motion to bring down the Clark Government. In 1991, Bob Rae became Premier. While, in 2010, Mr. Layton became the first federal NDP Leader of the Official Opposition. In the past, the NDP compromised their beliefs so that they can get more. Liberals should never be fooled by this tactic. Liberals are not Social Democrats. Liberals have a different point of view.

We believe in caring about the “Other”.  Sometimes, the “Other” might be a corporation or it might be a union. The “Other” could be a charity or an individual. Whomever the “Other” is, Liberals ensure that our programmes work for their and societies’ benefit. Furthermore, this care for the “Other” does not always mean a complete need for government programmes. Under the Leadership of Jean Chrétien, the Liberal Party cut government programmes. Our balancing of the budget allowed Liberals to ensure the success of other programmes. Furthermore, once the budget was balances, some of the cuts were restored. This pragmatic point of view recognizes the need for compromise but also the need to borrow policy positions. Liberals have borrowed from other parties and other countries to find the right problem to deal with uniquely Canadian problems.

Today, we do need to struggle to figure out who we are. We do not need to merge with Social Democrats. We need to find the problems that the “Other” is experiencing. We need to come up with novel policy solutions which balance corporate interests, societies’ interests and individual interests. Historically, only the Liberal Party has done this. We just need to remember and re-enact our history. Therefore, a merger is a non-starter.

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