Friday, April 17, 2015

No Pre or Post-Election Coalition Government in Sight for NDP and Liberals

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in happier times - Star photo
It's risky, unwieldy and neither party wants it.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 7, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Coalitions, though successful, have always found this: that their triumph has been brief."

- Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister, 1804-1881

A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has ruled England for the past five years -- will Canada see its own New Democrat-Liberal coalition running this country after October's federal election?

Don't bet on it -- because there are an enormous number of reasons it won't happen -- and as many equally good arguments against it.

UPDATE:  Since this column went to publication, Justin Trudeau has said that he "maybe" is interested in a coalition and then days later that "I’m unequivocally opposed to any sort of coalition."

But nonetheless, much of Ottawa's national press gallery appears infatuated with the idea -- and NDP leader Tom Mulcair has supercharged speculation recently with his comments opening that door.

An Ekos poll in December 2014 found 60 per cent of respondents would prefer a Liberal-NDP coalition government led by Justin Trudeau over the 40 per cent who want Stephen Harper's Conservatives to stay in charge.

Add in recent public opinion polls showing all three major parties within nine percentage points of each other and Canada could have a hung Parliament after the fall election.

Odds against a majority

And that means either a lot of backroom negotiations and horse-trading to form a coalition, or the biggest party attempting to run a minority government by doing deals with one or more of the other opposition parties.

With the Conservatives at 32 per cent, the Liberals at 28 per cent and the NDP at 23 per cent in a national Ekos poll in late March, none is close to the magic 40 per cent needed for a majority government.

The Stephen Harper Conservatives have ruled since 2006 but only got their cherished majority government -- and ability to implement hard right policies -- since obtaining 39.6 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election.

That vote was ironically the result of an ill-fated 2008 NDP-Liberal "coalition" vote in Parliament to defeat Harper and teach the Conservatives a lesson.

Some defeat, some lesson.

But a coalition government is a far bigger deal than simply defeating the government -- and an extremely risky endeavour.

Columnist and commentator Andrew Coyne makes the case for a post-election coalition, concluding: "A coalition might not sound like such a scary proposition to cautious centrists any more. It might even be a plus."

Or it just might not.

Maclean's columnist Aaron Wherry chimed in with a column headlined: "Why wouldn't the Liberals and NDP make a deal to replace Stephen Harper? Why not a coalition? Or at least an accord?"

But the reality is that the more a coalition is talked about before an election, the more voters will wonder exactly what they're getting afterwards.

A Conservative-Liberal coalition government? A Liberal-NDP government? An NDP-Liberal government?

All are theoretically possible. Even the Bloc Quebecois and Green parties could be involved if they have enough seats.

And a coalition government with what policies and priorities? Which prime minister? And how long would it last?

Conservative columnist Tasha Kheiriddin identified one big problem for New Democrats with a coalition:

"Once the darling of so-called 'progressive' Canadian thought, the concept of uniting the left to beat the right has slowly fallen from favour. That's probably because a coalition led by the popular Trudeau would look more like an enlarged Liberal party than a marriage of equals," Kheiriddin wrote in December 2014.

But for many New Democrats, the idea that Liberals are either "left" or "progressive" is both absurd and offensive. They see the Conservatives and Liberals as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Or in Tommy Douglas's famous phrase, Conservatives and Liberals are merely "black cats and white cats" who run Mouseland and must seek the votes of mice -- despite the obvious contradiction of interests.

So a "cat and mouse" coalition is ridiculous to many NDP voters. They also know that former federal NDP leader David Lewis got much progressive legislation from Pierre Trudeau's 1972-74 minority government without forming a coalition.

But for the Conservatives, the coalition word has an irresistible charm. It's how they defeated the ill-fated Liberal-NDP attempt to push them out of office in 2008 without an election. Public anxiety about the prospect of another possible coalition gave Harper his majority win in 2011.

The Conservatives know and love the fact that many left New Democrats and Greens are willing to throw in the electoral towel and demand an accord or coalition with the Liberals to stop the "horrors" of Harper.

That means many sitting NDP Members of Parliament and potential MPs will be defeated as just enough panicked progressives vote Liberal in NDP-held or friendly ridings to let Conservatives squeak in with three and four way splits.

So count on Harper to focus on the NDP and Liberals coalescing as a means of consolidating Conservative votes -- and attracting apprehensive right-Liberals who are increasingly anxious about Trudeau's inexperience and abilities.

Mulcair's strategy is different -- and has changed dramatically since he outright rejected any coalition government talk in 2012.

"The 'no' is categorical, absolute, irrefutable and non-negotiable. It's no. End of story. Full stop," he said then.

Last month Mulcair said it was Trudeau, not him rejecting any coalition talk.

"Whenever we have opened that door, Justin Trudeau slams it shut," Mulcair in March. "My first priority is to get rid of Stephen Harper. The first priority of Justin Trudeau is Justin Trudeau."

"We're a progressive party. We want to get results. I'll let other parties explain to you why they don't think that that's a good idea," Mulcair said.

Trudeau opposed to coalition

Trudeau said last year that a coalition was a non-starter.

"There are significant substantive disagreements on very serious matters of policy between the NDP and the Liberal Party -- on unity and economy, for example," Trudeau said in February 2014.

"It's very clear that they are not part of the better government that Canadians need and... they're just trying to offer some sort of different government, and that's not good enough for us."

That was then, this is now. But the odds of Trudeau warming to the idea before an election -- or after it -- seem increasingly remote given Mulcair's recent attacks on the Liberal leader.

"Whether it's meeting premiers to work on the future of our federation or meeting world leaders to discuss economic opportunities or terrorist threats, being prime minister is not an entry level job," Mulcair said to a Montreal NDP audience in March, directly targeting Trudeau as having neither "the experience or a plan" to govern.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, one of two Green MPs, is all for coalition, cooperation, electoral accords -- just about any deal.

That's not surprising, since the Greens would benefit the most from any changes to the electoral system that reward small parties with more seats in any form of proportional representation -- long a Green goal.

The Greens also face the potential of being this election year's Bloc Quebecois -- the party Harper used mercilessly against the Liberals and NDP in 2008 as a reason to reject the coalition approach and later to elect a Conservative majority.

Count on Harper to publicize Green policies as damaging to the fragile economy and ask what price May would exact from Trudeau and Mulcair for her party's support.

While a post-election coalition is not impossible, the odds against it happening appear to be going up, not down as voting day gets closer and closer.



Jim Nelson said...

There should be a coalition with policy differences clearly laid out, with each party laying out a defined number of coalition breakers, perhaps: invading/bombing more countries, tax cuts for wealthy/corps.,cutting of programmes for the poor, etc.

They might agree to no non confidence votes for two years,

P.M. leader of party with most seats.Cabinet positions shared - it's not that difficult.
How badly do we want to get rid of the Conservatives?

I know it won't happen - neither party wants to bow to the other and let's face it, with Ontario's antipathy to the NDP, it would be a Liberal led coalition.

The minimum agreement should be strategic voting. Any riding with Lib. leading N.D.P by 25% or more, NDP candidate should drop out and vice versa.
Were I not in a solid NDP riding (Fin Donnelly), this might well have been the first election I would consider voting Liberal.

scotty on denman said...

There won't be a coalition slate for a whole bunch of good reasons---the growing expectation of a hung parliament probably being the most immediately accessible one: letting MPs cobble together a government after the voters have made their marks will absolve voters from having to put too much effort into it.

The reason why Harper won was enough Liberals didn't vote last time (because they couldn't support their illegitimately appointed leader), handing the Conservatives victory by default. Coalitions were far from the minds of voters in the booth.

Talk of coalitions reflects Harper's unpopularity and fear of his reputation for dirty tricks. Reality precludes a coalition slate. Attracting volunteers at the riding level is difficult enough, achieved mainly by incrementally increasing partisan rhetoric and morale-boosting as the big day nears. I have a hard time believing the average Liberal or NDP riding volunteer would welcome with open arms the rivals they've already commenced to criticizing for this upcoming match. Time is too short to affect the kind of trust-building required for official coalition.

The compromise is strategic voting, where those who want to get rid of Harper (the majority of voters) simply vote for the candidate most likely to defeat the Conservative in their riding. One thing to recommend it is the likelihood
of a hung parliament, even by strategic voting. It might actually be one route to a formal coalition.

What's an opposition party leader to do, especially if it happens to be leader of a party that has its best shot ever of becoming government, or the one who has to live up to---and happens to be dyed in the bush by---a monolithic legacy? Volunteers' partisanship has to be cultivated---it's absolutely vital--- but at the same time a promise of compromise and cooperation has to be offered voters. It almost goes without saying neither can be achieved by way of backroom dealing between the two big opposition parties---and this is what Harper will accuse as loud and as often as he can because, naturally, secret dealings between Mulcair and JT would offend the very people each depends on, voters and volunteers. The leaders' approach must be, therefore, to reject running as a coalition, but to acknowledge that contingencies for any outcome are always calculated and recalculated---as politics has always been from time immemorial. One suggestion I hope each leader observes is to avoid personal attacks against each other---they may, indeed probably will, have to work with each other to form a government.

I will always point out that Green vote-splitting has been a problem. It has contributed to the election of governments antithetical to the Greens' environmental ethos. If I could be assured that every other partisan would strategically vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Conservative, I probably wouldn't have to worry about the Greens continuing to spoil many non-Harper outcomes; but I can't; so I'll point out that since there's a very good chance a hung parliament will result this time, it's sufficient---for now--that the Greens repeat their strategy of redirecting riding contributions collected across the country on the one or two ridings they stand a chance of winning. Given that the Greens and Bloc have virtually no chance of becoming government except by way of balance- of-power, it shouldn't be such a sticky situation like it is for the Liberals and NDP regards overtly instructing their supporters to vote strategically. Again, their leaders should be charmingly enthusiastic about being ready to productively co-operate in developing progressive policies in any outcome---as long as Harper is denied a majority.

Oh yes, and Harper will actually counter that it's undemocratic to vote against him. He's said and done more preposterous things!

Anonymous said...

Bill, you're way off (again). What policies are borrowed from the Liberals and what policies are borrowed from the NDP (and what gets left behind)? Who becomes Minister? Does Jenny Kwan become a Minister over Joyce Murray? Does Fin Donnelly over Peter Julian? There's huge egos and much difference in ideaology to ensure that this coalition idea doesn't walk.

As far as the Greens go, they need to win more than 1 seat to be credible.

Grant G said...

The only ones beating the coalition drums are those wanting Harper to retain his grip on power..

Andrew Coyne started the coalition fear-ball rolling last month in his National Post article..

Coalition talk by rightwing media and those lefty media who are stupid enough to fall into Harper`s trap..


Get off it Tieleman...coalition talk(even by media lightweights) hurts both the NDP and Liberal party..

Those who hate the NDP might not vote for Trudeau if they think he will join forces with Mulcair, and vice versa.

And besides, many people, myself included would be content with a minority government, Harper, Trudeau would not be able to bring in nasty legislation..And Harper would no doubt be given his walking papers, and that is indeed a good thing...

Jason Kenny, I would love that next contest, ...Jason Kenny as Con leader...Adios Conservative party.

Stop trying to back-door Mulcair into power...You Tieleman will be the cause of another Harper majority, that would in turn hurt every sane Canadian, hurt our country...

Stop hurting Canada Tieleman!

Look in the mirror Bill T...

You see the polls, Mulcair languishing in distant third place for the last 2 years, you want the NDP propped up..

Get a new leader and garner new support...Stop helping Stephen Harper with your petty little NDP political blathering..

No coalition, not today, not tomorrow, definitely not before a federal election where the NDP support has collapsed!

Grant G said...

One more thing...

If Thomas Mulcair was polling at 40% across Canada, polling in strong majority territory...

You Bill, and every other NDPer would be rejecting a new, proposed merger with a third place party..

In other words, let`s talk coalition because we can`t win!!!

The public doesn`t like that..I don`t either..

Lastly, ...I`m all for a new political party, let`s make one..

We can call it..

{New Democratic Liberal Party}

{Liberal Democrats}

Call it whatever you want, but...The party, what they stand for, what the party wants to achieve must be formed before an election, and run under a single party banner..

In Layman`s words...When one goes to the polling station he/she doesn`t see three mainstream parties on the ballot..Two mainstream parties on the ballot, along with the Greens and the other Bit Player parties on the ballot.

You want to join forces, be a coalition of like-minded people?

It must be done before an election, under a single banner.

Nothing but BS taking your chances at the voting booth under NDP or Liberal banner then joining forces after a loss...

You want a new party?

The public does, but not an after-the-election-is-over-and-we-lost-

let`s come-together-under-the-mistletoe and sing kumbia!

One banner, one party...Who, or which party will fold first?

Anonymous said...

What's "new" in New Democratic?

In this coalition concept, who loses? Obviously with give and take, one party is going to come out ahead of the other. The Liberals and NDP are not equal to each other in terms of political strength and quality of its MPs.

Face reality kids. This coalition concept isn't going anywhere. Has nothing to do with stopping Harper. If you want to stop him, try something new.

COme up with workable ideas that the overall voters (and not just the socialists, who do nothing but sip herbal tea and smoke a roach while reading propaganda from the Tyee all day.

scotty on denman said...

This controversy has been maliciously lobbed into the oppositions' camps. Like most of Harper's tactics, it's excused with spurious, absurdisms. But he's successfully ditherized both his main opponents. Both opposition leaders must be unequivocal and tactfully discreet regards undecided voters.
Harper's associating himself with a position that voters confused about coalitions might also identify with. It's up to the opposition to counter. The tricky part to convince that the same position has been arrived at independently by each. Even alluding to co-operation before the election is dangerous.

That position is nothing more complex than a straightforward, authentically independent statement of the fact that all parties contemplate contingencies for the complete gambit of possible election-result scenarios, and are always prepared to co-operate with fellow parliamentarians. JT's ham-handedness is the example of what not to do: he is being punished by having to recant amidst his rivals' ridicule.

Voters should be reminded of Harper's assertion that coalitions are unconstitutional and undemocratic (both are patently incorrect). We have to remember the reason why this is an issue in the first place: a coalition, no matter in which of the number of ways it can be affected, is a direct threat to a Conservative majority. Harper's taken a pre-emptive shot by lobbing a hot potato at JT and TM, but, naturally, he fears the broad interest in coalitions---he depends, therefore, on maintaining widespread misconceptions about it.

Voters should be reminded of Harper's hypocrisy: his own party is a coalition which loudly drummed its motto to "Unite the Right!" It even called an "alliance" to underscore the coalescent desire. Never heard any of 'em characterize themselves as "undemocratic" or "unconstitutional".

Coalitions most often they arise circumstantially from a hung parliament electoral result, not as an agreed body seeking election. Many see the benefit of minority parliaments, and strategic voting is most likely to produce such a parliament.

The majority of voters do not support Harper. A lot Opposition would do well to remind pro-rep is not an option in this election, and not voting because we don't have pro-rep simply aggravates the worst aspects of FPTP. This isn't the election to make electoral reform an issue--it's more important to get rid of the Conservatives.

IMHO, strategic voting is the best way to assure Harper's demise. Neither opposition leader can very well advocate this for the simple reasons that such talk kills volunteer morale and confuses an already flighty electorate. Again, the clear statement noted above, should be enough, with the help of ordinary voters, to emphasize the effectiveness of voting for the candidate most likely to beat the Conservative in any given riding.

The issues about which the parties could coalesce would be more apparent after the election than before when they tend to get lost in partisan clutter. In this circumstance, it makes no sense to eschew the possibility of an anti-Harper coalition of any kind simply to maintain rote partisanship at the riding level.

Conservative agents provocateur reveal themselves by demanding a formal coalition be united before the election. This would be the worst thing either the NDP or Liberals could do---which is what Harper would like.

Anonymous said...

" Voters should be reminded of Harper's hypocrisy: his own party is a coalition which loudly drummed its motto to "Unite the Right!" It even called an "alliance" to underscore the coalescent desire. Never heard any of 'em characterize themselves as "undemocratic" or "unconstitutional"."

All parties are coalitions. There was a green element within the BC NDP until they split off and joined the BC Greens. The NDP tries to comfort environmentalists with labour most of the time failing to do so as was seen in their 2013 campaign.

"Coalitions most often they arise circumstantially from a hung parliament electoral result, not as an agreed body seeking election. Many see the benefit of minority parliaments, and strategic voting is most likely to produce such a parliament. "

Not exactly true. Strategic voting doesn't work.

"The majority of voters do not support Harper. A lot Opposition would do well to remind pro-rep is not an option in this election, and not voting because we don't have pro-rep simply aggravates the worst aspects of FPTP. This isn't the election to make electoral reform an issue--it's more important to get rid of the Conservatives."

Right now there is a small minority that support Harper and the other Trudeau, there's no large group supporting Mulcair as he is around 20%, but that could change.

"IMHO, strategic voting is the best way to assure Harper's demise."

Not going to work, since the Greens are not there to help the NDP, and the Liberals are not there to help the NDP. Both are there to get their members in. So the concept of "a vote for Trudeau is a vote for Harper" doesn't work.

"Neither opposition leader can very well advocate this for the simple reasons that such talk kills volunteer morale and confuses an already flighty electorate. Again, the clear statement noted above, should be enough, with the help of ordinary voters, to emphasize the effectiveness of voting for the candidate most likely to beat the Conservative in any given riding."

So whom does the NDP member choose? Sukh Dhaliwal over Jinny Sims the incumbent MP? Not going to work since Sukh hasn't done much of anything since he was MP and is also a crook, while Sims has accomplished for her riding.

The NDP supporter will go for Jinny Sims. In that riding the Conservative candidate wouldn't win anyway. It's a toss up between Sukh Dhaliwal and Jinny Sims.

"Conservative agents provocateur reveal themselves by demanding a formal coalition be united before the election. This would be the worst thing either the NDP or Liberals could do---which is what Harper would like."

A bit far fetched. Are there not agents provocateur les Liberaux? rather than les agents provocateur les Conservateur?

Face facts kiddo, the coalition idea of Liberal/NDP ain't makin' it.

scotty on denman said...

The coalition idea absolutely ain't makin' it---thats why agents provocateur keep suggesting it should happen, and why MSM keeps speculating about the the two opposition leaders' positions: it would hurt both to overtly agree to coalition before the election results are in, and only somewhat less so if a covert agreement is suspected---precisely because the results aren't in yet. The only way around that would be to merge the two parties, which, this close to the election, would be perilous: the Libs have only just gotten back their wayward supporters (who sat the last one out because of Ignatieff)---if these were so loyal as to not vote for somebody else, it's unlikely they'd acquiesce to a merger with the NDP. The NDP has yet to cement the new Quebec faction which went from near-zero to now half of its national caucus only just last election---a merger with the Libs would prematurely test this unhardened bond.

Finally, a coalition might be acceptable if and only if the election results warrant it---which is really the most prudent thing either opposition leader can say at this point. In my view, the opportunity for a hypothetical merger still would not arise until after a hypothetical coalition, formal or not, has showed it can govern, and probably not even then until such a "coalition" has survived another election.

That's why an NDP/Lib coalition ain't makin' it---and also why elements from the right like to keep the notion alive: it definitely gets a rise out of the electorate in a meta-partisan sort of way that effectively distracts from the oppositions' more relevant policy proposals.

Strategic voting does work---that's why conservative shills and Greens keep saying it doesn't: they both have much to lose if even a minority of rival partisans resorts to it. The distinguishing feature of this upcoming election is that given a hung parliament is the likely result ( only possibly opportune for an NDP/Lib coalition), strategic voting should be a more palatable option for either NDP or Liberal supporters who might have to vote for either party as their "second choice", as 't were. The case for strategic voting has never been so good, and it's potential for success is the best ever.

Naturally the Harperconbots will disagree.

Anonymous said...

Strategic voting doesn't work 100%. If it did, most ridings would turn over to the NDP or Liberals, which they haven't.

Coalitions won't happen if election results warrant it. It's the leaders who decide if coalitions are a go, the electorate, the members of the coalition parties have no say.

There is no "second choice" either ya vote NDP or ya vote Liberal.

I would vote Liberal over that idiot Jenny Kwan in Vancouver East.

and there's no "agents provocteur les liberaux federale contre les agents provocteur les parti neo democratique"? Surely you're not that blind.

scotty on denman said...

Naturally the Harperconbots disagree.

scotty on denman said...

It's a trite assertion that strategic voting does't work because most voters haven't tried it. My point is simply that this election is the most propitious in memory for voters to consider trying it if they would rather not have Harper running government.

Anonymous said...

If most people haven't tried it, then strategic voting doesn't work (since there's little interest in actually trying it).

Don't need strategic voting.

The idea is to get more people to vote for your guy, and the party to convince more supporters to vote for their guys so that the party ends up with more of their guys than the other guys in Parliament.

So the NDP has to convince those who read these blogs and that propaganda thing named the Tyee to get off their collective asses and vote NDP rather than sitting on their rear ends whining and complaining about how bad the current government is.

So if you want your goal achieved, get off your ass and work the NDP campaign in your neighbourhood.

Writing to blogs and that eco-left propaganda paper The Tyee isn't going to help.

scotty on denman said...

Don't need strategic voting? Well, I guess that depends whose side you're on. I make no bones about it: I'm flat out against neo-rightism because it's economically and environmentally irresponsible, unfair and unpatriotic.

The idea behind strategic voting is to vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Conservative (or their even farther-neo-right kin BC Liberal)---not to vote for "your guy". Or, put another way, whoever looks most able to beat the Conservative in my riding will be my guy or gal to vote for. Is that better?

As I explained above, neither the Liberals nor the NDP will be advocating strategic voting for very good reasons. So, far from whining or complaining, I'm advocating strategic voting---that is, don't waste your vote against Harper by splitting the opposition.

This election is probably the best opportunity in a long time to vote your second choice in opposition to Harper (if that's your thing) because it's more likely than it's been in a long time to see your first choice party in government as a coalition partner at the cabinet table.

I'm hoping reason will be more convincing than sleights, insults and innuendo. I'm particularly hoping young voters who have previously not seen a reason to vote will be attracted to their potential importance---and to exercise a little quid pro quo themselves by way of influencing a new, coalition governments to attend to issues particular to them, like tuitions, jobs, housing and young families.

I will be getting off my ass, as usual, to campaign for the NDP because, as near as I can tell, that's the party whose candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservative in my riding. I'm lucky because that's my first choice, but I'd vote for any other candidate who looked more likely to get the job done. It almost goes without saying that I'd prefer the NDP be part of a coalition, formal or not, over being Official Opposition---a vantage that does little to affect the hardline policies of the single-minded Harper. I'd be just as happy to support a Liberal candidate if he or she was most likely to beat the Conservative because it would vastly increase the odds that my first choice NDP would be representing the things I want done in cabinet, not from the Opposition benches.

I'm not a hateful partisan, I just think the Conservatives would be of better service to Canada by suggesting amendment to legislation from the opposition benches. I must say, though, I'd love the Greens (who been the butt of criticism from me for splitting the vote---you know, voting for their "guy" to no discernible or practical effect) form the Official Opposition so we wouldn't have to keep listening to the hateful, condescending vitriol even the honour of majority didn't wash out of the Conservatives' mouths.

Do you think writing responses to "eco-left" sites helps your own neo-rightist cause? If not, why do you do it?