06/12/2012 01:03 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Why the Liberals Should Not Merge With the NDP

Over the weekend a new poll was published that said a majority of Liberal and NDP supporters are in favour of merging. I'm not one of them. This isn't a matter of political expediency. I'm mystified at why so many Liberals appear so ready to fold the tent and call it a day on one of the most impactful institutions in Canadian history.


A recent poll was published that said a majority of Liberal and NDP supporters are in favour of merging. I'm not one of them. This isn't a matter of political expediency. From where I sit, there are simply far too many very basic and irreconcilable differences.

I'm mystified at why so many Liberals appear so ready to fold the tent and call it a day on one of the most impactful institutions in Canadian history. Taken in context, the decade in the political wilderness is a blink of an eye. Centrism is alive and well in the Canadian experience. And the notion that the Harper Conservatives or Mulcair's NDP are moving to the centre is a cruel and cynical ruse.

Still, there's a growing chorus -- including among prominent Liberals -- that declares that the "centre-left" parties should merge. Perhaps they should, but we aren't a centre-left party; Liberals are situated squarely in the middle. The sensible centre has not gone anywhere. Centrists must jolt the Liberal Party of Canada toward change and renewal. And we must help it rediscover its lost voice. After all, it is really our lost voice.

So, what does this Liberal think we stand for? I want us to believe in a strong national government that leads in areas where the national interest demands it. We believe that a strong and vibrant market economy is indispensible to funding a caring society. Liberals want to strengthen international institutions and be a constructive force in the world.

Liberals do not believe in the omnipotence of government and the socialist creed of social and economic engineering of the NDP. Nor do we believe in Adam Smith's infallible "invisible hand" of the market that many Conservatives do. Canada was built on a careful and pragmatic balance between the two.

Liberals reject rigid ideology of the left or the right. We believe in the power of incentives to drive a vibrant, innovative, knowledge-based market economy. We favour a robust and efficient regulatory regime that serves as a magnet for investment while safeguarding against market abuses. We believe in the power of fair and rigorous competition as the catalyst for prosperity, free and fair trade, smart regulation -- not over-regulation -- and in an equitable and less burdensome tax regime.

To pay for a progressive society, private enterprise must be the engine of wealth creation. A healthy market economy and prudent fiscal management are prerequisites for expansive government initiatives. We cannot modernize health care, make major investments in post-secondary education, pension improvement, security for seniors, critical infrastructure, arts and culture, or our police and military without a strong and competitive business sector.

Deficit, debt reduction or even balanced budgets are not ends in themselves -- they are means to achieving larger goals of economic growth, security, and shared prosperity. We must find the right balance between fiscal discipline and sustained investments in what drives a healthy and clean economy. We must not seek a planned economy, as the NDP does. That is a goal more properly defined with socialism. That's not us.

Liberal policies must be predicated on realizing our long-term economic potential, drive greater investment in human and physical capital, motivate innovation through a smarter tax system, and improve our market structures to place a premium on creativity and innovation.

Core Liberal values are unshakable. Last year, a student asked Michael Ignatieff to define his political values. He replied: "I'm passionate about freedom." In that brief but profound response, Ignatieff powerfully articulated what it means to be a Liberal, at least for me.

Liberals stand for independence. For us, dependency cripples. We believe that human beings must be free to develop and act upon their full capabilities. But that doesn't mean very much if the playing field isn't level. Liberals believe that if independence is good for the few, it ought to be good for the many.

To paraphrase political scientist Alan Wolfe, Liberals seek to include rather than exclude, to accept rather than to censor, to respect rather than to stigmatize, to welcome rather than reject, to be generous and appreciative rather than to be stingy and mean. Liberals are impatient with arguments rooted in fear and self-protection.

At the root of a renewed Liberal Party will be the impulse to reform, to tackle the big problems, to seize the big opportunities, and to fix what is broken. Canada's most intractable problems are deep and structural, so that is where our focus as Liberals must be -- reform. Liberal policies should make our country freer, more equal, fairer, more inclusive, more democratic, more tolerant, more welcoming, and more generous.

In the key spheres of public policy -- including national unity, economic prosperity, social justice, environmental sustainability, democratic renewal and constructive international engagement -- fundamental reform is long overdue. Liberals agree that Canada needs many more immigrants, not less. We need their work ethic, their skills, and their entrepreneurial drive.

Federalism itself must undergo a serious renewal. We must modernize the core instruments of governance if we are to deal effectively with the challenges we face. Quebec's exclusion from signing the Constitutional Act of 1982 remains an important piece of unfinished business.

If we are to renew, I believe Liberals must rediscover our roots as the original party of reform. We must dare to be bold again in policy innovation that is firmly anchored around a reform agenda for the 21st century.

Education, economic growth, and productivity must necessarily be the centerpiece of our action. For without them, everything else we want to achieve to create an environmentally sustainable, more united, tolerant, caring and just society will be just a cruel pipedream.

For me, a Liberal Canada is where our unity is revived. Where our economic and social union is fortified. Where our cultural soul is nourished. It is where equality, social justice, and economic opportunity meet.

There is an underserved public out there in the vital center that is just craving for substance and intellectual honesty from us. Liberals have never been more ready to deliver on that need. Let us at least try to fill that massive void in Canada's polarized body politic before throwing in the towel out of understandable -- but profoundly misplaced -- frustration and despair.