There has been much media speculation this past week about potential merger talks between the Liberals and the NDP, but it is simply too early for them. Neither side is ready for a merger.
Both parties have not yet reached the point that the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives were at in 2003. We considered a merger after fighting an all out war with each other for over a decade. Only then did it slowly sink in that we were wasting time, resources and energy fighting each other, rather than the common enemy -- the Chretien government.
Ignatieff's Facebook comment "Sitting together in the same hall, isn't it obvious how much we have in common" is pretty accurate, but it won't win him any supporters for potential talk of a merger between the two rival parties. Neither will it win Justin Trudeau, Denis Coderre and Pat Martin any friends, in fact they might lose a few as hardcore partisans dig in their heals to oppose any discussions with "the enemy." A potential PC Party and Canadian Alliance merger had one additional point in its favour, while we fought each other at the federal level, members of the Canadian Alliance and PC Party often joined forces to assist local provincial conservative candidates in Ontario and elsewhere. The Liberals and NDP don't have that opportunity as they oppose each other at the provincial level as well.
At this point in time, any talk of a potential merger or coalition will be quickly squelched by party officials, Liberal leader Bob Rae and potential NDP leadership candidates. Any NDP leadership candidate proposing a merger will find out how quickly they lose support and votes. At the same time the Liberals cannot openly talk about a merger with the NDP as this would be an admission that they can never regain power on their own. At this point in time, I doubt many would ever want to admit that publicly.
There have been some suggestions that the Liberals and NDP could cooperate in Question Period and this is a valid point. A united strategy could offer them the opportunity to work together, coordinate strategy and better hold the government to account.
Back in 2000, this is exactly what the then Reform Party and PC Party did during the Transitional Job Fund scandal. Some may recall the "Billion Dollar Boondoggle" which was a phrase coined by yours truly and first used by PC Party MP Jean Dube in a question to Jane Stewart the HRSDC minister. At that time the two parties cooperated for a short time on Question Period preparation, sharing research, tips and even going so far as to decide who would ask what question and when. It was a short-lived but excellent example of cooperation that merged their superior research skills and budget with our experience from being in government and our knowledge of how minister's offices functioned and the department worked.
I might add that the NDP and Bloc also met with us for a short time, before going their own way on the issue. This was one of the few times that I experienced full cooperation between all four opposition parties on an issue.
The Liberals and the NDP both need more time out of government before there is any chance of merger talks moving forward. Right now neither of them is frustrated enough with their inability to form a government and they need a few more disappointing elections under their belt before they can consider the merger option. In the meantime, diehard partisans will be very public about the folly of a merger of the two parties and proponents will be scorned. While the two parties spend years fighting each other as well as the Conservatives, Harper will enjoy a divided opposition and have time on his side to reinforce the Conservative brand as he moves forward with his agenda.
Keith Beardsly's pundit blog can be found at http://www.atory01.com