People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Talk of a merger is premature

Contributing Editor Mark Bourrie ponders the math — and the politics and the funding implications — of an NDP/Liberal merger. Conclusion: 2+2 doesn’t always equal 4.

Politics is a game of numbers.

There are 102 NDP members of Parliament and 34 Liberals. But a merger of the two parties would not create an official Opposition party with 136 seats. In fact, when it’s all over, what seems to be 2+2 would likely equal 3.

There would be what people in the diaper industry call leakage. In fact, the entity that would come from a merger would be a bastard child disowned by many of its parents.

Not all Liberal MPs are slow NDPers. Some are more like Tories in a hurry. Forced to decide between a merged “left” party and a centre-right party that’s in power, a lot of small-town and rural Liberals, and some from the cities, would likely join Stephen Harper’s team rather than make common cause with unions, anti-Israel groups, Quebec nationalists, and other loud snorers in the NDP tent. Harper would have accomplished his dream of making the Conservatives the dominant political party in Canada.

As well, any new political creature created by a Liberal-NDP merge would have very little chance of winning Quebec under anything resembling a Liberal banner. Could the party hold its nationalists in Quebec and still be the party of Trudeau and Stéphane Dion? Liberal senators would hardly be willing to go along with a merger with a party that wants to do away with their jobs.

The Liberals have always drawn support from big-city and small-town lawyers, teachers, business owners, and other professionals who would be leery of some kind of Liberal-NDP hybrid. These are people who are the Liberals’ donor base.

NDP support, meanwhile, comes from unions, urban professionals — especially those with public sector and teaching jobs — socio-economic groups with real or perceived grievances, and, now, Quebec nationalists.

The unions probably would not be keen on bedding down with the Liberal Party’s Bay Street element, the people who brought us John Turner and Michael Ignatieff.  The environmentalist left would likely leave the NDP for the Greens. A shift to the right by the NDP — and that’s what a merger with the Liberals would be — could simply drive many NDP supporters out of politics altogether or to fringe parties.

And a merger would not change the dynamics of this parliament. Harper has a solid majority, and no machinations of the opposition parties can change that.

All of the merger talk is premised on the idea that non-Tories hate Harper and the Conservatives so much that they are willing to do anything to get them out of office. The foundation for all this speculation is that all Liberals and New Democrats despise the Tories more than they loathe each other.

But it’s not always all about Harper. It’s about forging unity in the party of Ralph Goodale and Sid Ryan, of Naomi Klein and Belinda Stronach. The math simply doesn’t work .

Those who talk merger live in a world without history. They look for short-term advantage and ignore the realities of two very different political parties with very different pasts. And they think that the future is just the events of today dragged forward.

The results of the last election last for just four or five years. Every political party, even in apparent one-party states like Alberta, have a chance of wooing the people. The Ontario Tories were supposed to be dead in the 1980s, but Mike Harris came along. The federal Liberals were, in the 1990s and early years of this century, what one befuddled columnist called “the friendly dictatorship.”

Then Stephen Harper came along.

If he’s a problem, simple numbers games won’t be the solution.