Proponents of a merger between the NDP and the Liberal party rely on a flawed assumption that, somehow, all the people who voted for one or the other would simply join forces and vote for a single merged party. On the contrary, a merged New Democratic-Liberal party could encourage even more people to vote Conservative next time.
Many Canadians are looking for a political party -- indeed, a government -- that does four things: achieves economic prosperity; uses that prosperity to ensure equality of opportunity and enhance quality of life for all Canadians; holds progressive social values and encourages social justice; and defines Canada's role in the world as tough when necessary, but balanced and focused on promoting peace and prosperity whenever possible.
This all sounds straightforward (none of these words are new). But if you get beyond the rhetoric, no political party seems to fit the bill. Not all of it, anyway.
The good news is that this challenge also creates a huge opportunity. If one political party were able to capture all of these qualities -- with deeds, not just words -- it would gain tremendous support. One thing is sure, though: Such a party will not result from a merger of the New Democrats and the Liberals.
Why is this?
Ask "Smith," a hypothetical voter who does not represent everyone's views, but who does represent the views of a very large number of Canadians, based on what I have seen and heard over the years. Smith is neither "left" nor "right." At the same time, Smith is not a "centrist," because s/he does not view him/herself as being in the middle of anything. In 2011, such concepts no longer apply. Voter Smith is simply looking forward.
Voter Smith runs a small business. S/he understands the benefits of the market, and of competition. S/he also wants Canada to embrace global opportunities, not hide away. Smith is not a protectionist: S/he supports free trade and lower taxes that encourage businesses to succeed in our global environment. Smith also does not want to be beholden to unions.
A merged New Democratic-Liberal party would reflect the opposite of these values. And because economic prosperity is the number one issue for most Canadians, that party would not get Smith's vote.There is more. In order to lower taxes, voter Smith wants smaller but more efficient government. S/he understands that some government activity and involvement is needed to provide the services and social safety nets that allow for a minimum quality of life for all Canadians, that health care and education are fundamental to ensuring equality of opportunity, and that taxes are needed in order to make all of these things possible.
Many Conservatives feel this way, too, but Smith wants our taxes to be used efficiently and effectively, and, given examples such as the $50 million spent on gazebos and never-used facilities in Muskoka, money spent on fake lakes, and millions of dollars more spent on partisan government advertising, Smith -- like many Canadians -- doesn't see the current Conservative party as the answer.
On the other hand, despite the Liberals' strong record of cutting spending and fiscal prudence, many Liberals -- and virtually all New Democrats -- still support a relatively big and interventionist government, backed by large public-service unions. And they are willing to ask for the tax money needed to pay for it. We know, therefore, where a merged New Democratic-Liberal party would stand. Would Smith vote for such a party? No.
On questions of social justice, however, voter Smith holds what most people refer to as "progressive social values." When it comes to abortion, s/he supports a woman's right to choose. S/he supports same-sex marriage based on fundamental equality rights. S/he wants a society where those who need it are given a helping hand. And s/he believes that crime is best reduced through prevention, rather than relying on punishments after the fact. These positions do not fit with the Conservative party.
Voter Smith is proud of Canada's international record -- of its willingness to step up when called to war. But s/he is equally proud of its peacekeeping role, the Land Mines Treaty, Responsibility to Protect, and the country's refusal to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq. S/he disagrees with spending billions on F-35 stealth-attack fighter jets. Once again, the current Conservative party provides no home for voter Smith.
So what does this hypothetical voter do? Based on economic issues alone, Smith won't vote for a merged New Democratic-Liberal party. S/he will also be hesitant to support the Conservatives, but, given the importance of economic fundamentals, if there were such a merger between the New Democrats and the Liberals, the Conservative party would need only become a bit more progressive on some social and international issues in order to woo voter Smith. This might not be too difficult, given that many in the party still see themselves as Progressive Conservatives who support more moderate social-justice views.
Indeed, contrary to what many supporters of a merged New Democratic-Liberal party hope, such a merger just might ensure a longer Conservative reign.
This article originally appeared in The Mark.