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Why Trudeau Can't Say Yes to a Coalition With Mulcair

07/28/2015 08:10 EDT | Updated 07/31/2016 05:59 EDT
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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is right to say no to any coalition talks with the NDP. It's a con game by the NDP and one that would make voters punish the Liberals. For one thing, the Liberals and the NDP are very different on issues like the Sherbrooke Declaration and the Senate. Then there's the question who'll lead and for how long. A coalition also begs the question why should you vote if the second and third status parties are going to knock out the sitting government.

In every coalition, there's only one leader. If the NDP and Liberals merged, the NDP would insist that Thomas Mulcair be the leader. The NDP would point to their current opposition party status as grounds for such a claim, and argue that Mulcair's character makes for a strong leader. Inevitably talk would turn to a merger of the two parties with Mulcair as the leader.

A NDP and Liberal merger would be problematic for one of the parties, much like the coalition merger of the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives. Conservative author Bob Plamondon says, "At the outset, both Harper and MacKay were hoping the talks would lead to co-operation in the House of Commons and perhaps a way to deal with vote splitting in the next election. After the merger, Conservative voters felt betrayed while the far right claimed victory." (Full Circle, 2006) There was speculation that MacKay agreed to the merger because it was assumed he'd be leader of the party once Harper left. Ultimately the merger led to the loss of MacKay's leadership and the dissolution of the Progressive Conservatives.

Justin Trudeau probably doesn't want the same thing happening to him or the Liberals. Gobbled up by the NDP, the Liberals would have to adopt NDP principles. A fractious rift inside the party would force Liberals into the remaining political camps. The winner would be Stephen Harper whose goal has always been to destroy the Liberal Party. Minimizing input from the Green Party and Independent MPs, Parliament would essentially end up as a U.S. style two-party federal system, something Stephen Harper has always idealized.

A left-wing coalition also begs the question: How will Quebec and the Clarity Act be resolved? The Clarity Act basically defines the rules for the secession of a Canadian province. We're talking Quebec separation. A Supreme Court ruling on the Clarity Act holds that democracy is more than a simple majority and only a clear majority can give approval for secession. The Clarity Act was drafted by the Liberals in an attempt to keep Quebec from leaving Canada. It's tough imagining the Liberal Party going against the act.

Meanwhile, Mulcair thinks the Clarity Act is vague and has promised to scrap it. He instead supports the Sherbrooke Declaration which became NDP policy under Mulcair's leadership. The NDP and Mulcair believe that the question of what makes up a clear majority needs only to be 50% + 1, and that Quebec alone can judge the clarity of any secession question. With such a clash of views on Quebec separation, one wonders how long any NDP and Liberal coalition would last before sparks flew.

Another interesting question that's being ignored is what would happen to provincial Liberals? Provincial Liberal members aren't forced by the party to vote only for federal Liberals. Provincial Liberal members can vote for any federal party they like. This is different from the NDP which considers federal and provincial wings to be one and the same. A provincial or territorial NDP membership means automatic federal NDP membership.

As a provincial NDP cardholder you can't support any other federal party except the NDP. If you do, then your NDP membership is revoked. Buzz Hargrove was expelled from the Ontario NDP after he backed Liberal leader Paul Martin in 2006. Some of Hargrove's tactics enraged former allies on the left, most noticeably NDP activists who were outraged when Hargrove suggested voting Liberal might be a better idea, at least in ridings where the NDP hasn't had a real shot at winning a seat. If one follows the logic of what sharing a common platform at both political levels means, then provincial NDP politicians support the Sherbrooke Declaration. Maybe it's why Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley keeps distancing herself from Mulcair, saying she won't help campaign for him. Does Alberta really want to wake up and find out they're supporting Quebec's sovereignty?

Finally, talks of an NDP and Liberal coalition only help Harper's Conservatives. Canadians, disgusted by what they see as the will of the voters being overturned, will punish the NDP and Liberals. In 2004, voters punished Stéphane Dion after he signed a letter with Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe to form a coalition asking the governor-general to look to the leader of the second-place party to run Canada. It went against Canadians sense of fair play even though it is a legitimate constitutional manoeuvre. (Macleans, July 24, 2015)

So while the idea of a NDP and Liberal coalition keeps being floated by the NDP, Trudeau must keep saying no. A yes would mean the destruction of the Liberal party and a very happy Stephen Harper.

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