OTTAWA - Jean Chretien 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.
Chretien said the shape of a new political entity would not be determined by the number of seats each party holds but by the respective strength of their ideas.
"In a new party, this (numbers game) does not matter anymore. It's intellectual capacity that will make the difference," he told The Canadian Press.
On that score, Chretien expressed confidence the Liberals would hold their own in any merger negotiations and that their predominantly centrist viewpoint would prevail.
"I'm sure," he said categorically.
"The result of a situation like that is you would have a new party that would be a centrist party."
The historical references of the new party would be iconic Liberals like Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in much the same way that Sir John A. Macdonald is a touchstone for the current Conservative party, formed in 2003 from a merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance, Chretien said.
"The minority group in the merger was the party of John A. Macdonald," he pointed out.
Chretien allowed that "the harsh left-wingers of the NDP might not be very comfortable and the very conservative Liberals might not be very comfortable" with a new centrist party.
But noting that Canada has had three minority governments since 2004 and describing the current Conservative majority as "very narrow," he predicted a merger would "create a lot of political stability in the land."
Chretien vehemently disagrees with the NDP's position that a bare majority referendum vote would be sufficient to kick start negotiations on Quebec secession.
As prime minister, he introduced the Clarity Act, which stipulates that the federal government would only enter into such negotiations following a "clear majority" vote on a clear question.
He noted Monday that most countries, corporations, private clubs and political parties, including the NDP, require qualified majorities to change their own constitutions or structures.
"You need two-thirds of the vote in the NDP to change anything in the constitution of the NDP but with one vote you will break Canada?"
Chretien said the NDP position would mean one person who accidentally checked the wrong box on a referendum ballot could decide the fate of the entire country.
"You don't lose a vote because somebody does not have his glasses, you do not lose a country because of that. . .I find it's flawed logic," he said.
Still, Chretien shrugged off suggestions that such a fundamental disagreement on such a crucial question could be an insurmountable obstacle to a merger. He predicted the NDP would abandon its position should it ever form government.
"If you come with promises in your program that make no sense, you will not implement them. Common sense has to prevail in public life."
Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)
Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)
Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Muclair has voted in past French elections, but says that now that he is leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he will not take part in the upcoming French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)
<a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.