05/12/2014 08:19 EDT | Updated 07/12/2014 05:59 EDT

The Liberals and the NDP Are Undermining the Left

Now that we freely coin verbs, as Orwell predicted we would, by adding the prefix 'un-' to nouns (e.g. unfriend), allow me a little 21st-century lexical liberty. I submit to you a phrase with the same ring, and hopefully the same political influence, as 'unite the right'. Whether the answer is a formal merger or an agreement to cooperate, it's time to 'un-cleft the left'.

Despite that Canada is a left-leaning country and Ontario is a left-leaning province, our left and centre-left continue to split hairs and attack each other -- ostensibly for the benefit of each distinct party -- guaranteeing another split vote, and opening the door to another less than 45% popular vote Conservative majority (as in the 1995 Ontario election) or, an even lower bar, another less than 40% popular vote Conservative majority (as in the 2011 federal election).

Last week, Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP made a shamelessly opportunistic move in not supporting a Liberal budget that looks more like an NDP budget than a Liberal one. The NDP decided it would grandstand over the scandal of the Liberals' previous leadership and try to seize what they see as an opportunity to grab a couple more seats. Choosing to not prop up the Liberal government by voting down this particular budget transparently shows that the NDP cares more about its existential distinctness, and about being a slightly stronger third horse, than it does about its principles.

The Liberals' proposed budget was packed, contrary to what you'll hear over the next month from glossy PC politicking, with what the majority of Ontarians and the majority of other Canadians have always wanted, and still want: investment in social services. It was custom-made for NDP support, and showed once again that -- although Liberals come in a variety of colours and have been known to sway from the centre in either direction when expedient -- the centre-left and left parties are ideologically closer than they let on. Wynne's Liberals (Trudeau's too) are more left than most Liberal Party incarnations, which illustrates the NDP's opportunism and the degree to which this epitomizes the left dividing itself to its own detriment. It's not as though everyone on 'the right' saw eye-to-eye on everything when theyamalgamated.

Even after amalgamation with the Reform Party, the popular vote for the Conservative Party in Canada has exceeded 50% only three times since World War 1. The last time, and the only time, more than 50% of voting Canadians voted for an agenda resembling a modern PC agenda was in (no allusion intended) 1984, with exactly 50.0% support. The last time the popular vote for provincial Conservatives exceeded 50% in Ontario was in 1929. But the left still has trouble gaining and retaining power, and often works against itself.

I have supported the NDP most of my life, and last year I lambasted the Liberals' Bill 115, which posited a false dichotomy of 'putting students first' and respecting teachers' labour rights. My antipathy toward the provincial Liberal party and their spin rivalled any political frustration I've ever felt. But after the then-Premier and then-Minister of Education seemed to skulk out of politics altogether, Premier Wynne and Minister Sandals apologized for the party's error and made Bill 122 a law acknowledging that collective bargaining is a Charter right and mandating Provincial bargaining in the future. This doesn't necessarily mean teachers or other public sector workers will be treated fairly by this government, if it is re-elected, when the next round of 'collective bargaining' rolls around. But I'll take my chances over an NDP government whose only platform thus far has been 'cheaper hydro bills for all'.

Scandals happen to all governments at all levels, and I might speculate that the only reason the NDP hasn't been implicated in something deemed a scandal recently is that the last time they were elected Provincially was in 1990. They've never been elected federally. Jumping on other parties' scandals, as Ms. Horwath has, is a convenient way to avoid offering substantive policy alternatives and maintain the illusion of principled superiority. Scandal obsession dominates political discourse and freezes our governing institutions in wasteful bickering until the next scandal. This situation calls for some classic Canadian political sobriety, moderation, and -- I'm loath, because of the last two years in Ontario's education landscape, to say -- Liberalism.

By the numbers, Ontario is not and has never been a Conservative province -- not even when it elected the 1995 and 1999 majority governments. The vast majority of Canadians, including Ontarians of course, simply don't believe in privatization and cut-throat capitalism over sound investment in social services. Yet the jockeying and divisiveness within the left, both federally and provincially, make it seem as though the majority does believe in the Conservative agenda as we continue to elect governments that belie our true colours. They make it seem as though Ontarians believe in Hudak's plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs and magically replace them with 1,000,000 temporary, low-wage private sector jobs (for "real people"). I guess people who work in public sector jobs aren't 'real people'.

It may be too soon to sign on to a two-party system, but the lack of cooperation within the left is undermining both the Liberals and the NDP. Focusing on differences rather than similarities continues to give power to a party whose platform the vast majority of Canadians oppose. I say let's un-cleft the left and let Ontario, and all of Canada, be what it is: a liberal democracy. Or, as we could coin it, a New Liberal Democracy.


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