Sign of the apocalypse: several prominent Liberals are talking about merging with the NDP
With the federal Liberals a mere shadow of their former selves in Parliament, the obvious question of what the Grits should do next occurs. Do they try and claw their way back to power, inch by inch? Or do they consider what would have once been unthinkable: a merger with the NDP? According to some pretty senior Liberals, the idea isn’t quite as crazy as it would have sounded only a few months ago.
On the weekend, former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien said a merger would have helped defeat the Conservatives in the May election, and former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff highlighted the shared values of his party and the NDP.
[Liberal MP Denis] Coderre, one of the best-known federal Liberals in Quebec, said negotiations could lead to a new party of Liberal Democrats or a coalition. “We are currently divided, and we have to look at all of the options,” he said.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau said he is not convinced of the benefits of a merger, but added he could change his mind.
Let’s all take a minute to boggle at the idea of Pierre Trudeau’s son not immediately shooting down the idea of winding down his father’s party, before we move on to the actual substance: mergers aren’t a quick fix, nor are they a guaranteed route back to power. Still, there are advantages, namely a merged party doesn’t give up quite so many easy electoral wins with split votes. The anti-merger talking point is that the Conservatives actually lost voter support after their merger, which is true as far as it goes, but ignores the fact that they picked up more seats despite a smaller vote. So while it’s possible an NDP-Liberal merger would cost them votes, it’s also possible it would add to their seat count anyway (ah, the joys of a first-past-the-post voting system).
We’d normally think that all the hypothetical seat counts in the world would be irrelevant because it’s impossible to imagine the party of Laurier, Pearson and Trudeau voting to merge with the party of Jack Layton—but things are weirdly in flux right now. NDP MP Pat Martin is now saying that a merger with the Liberals should absolutely be on the table, and if none of the leadership candidates are open to it then he’ll run and make sure it’s at least discussed in the party. So it seems likely that we’re going to keep discussing this too for a while yet.