The Liberal-NDP coalition.

A guy at my office sent around this email, which I thought was kind of funny:

Please be informed that the Calgary Stampeders must give up the Grey Cup.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and the BC Lions have formed a COALITION. Combined, they won more games and have more points than Calgary, so the cup will be shared between Saskatchewan and BC. Edmonton does not really give a shit about the CFL or the Grey Cup as long as Calgary does not have it, so they support the COALITION.

For the record, I think this coalition (the Liberal-NDP coalition, not the football one) is the stupidest idea ever. Not that my love for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives is that great, but I’d kind of like the Liberals to be in a position to win an election again in my lifetime, and this deal strikes me as a sure way to finish off the gasping remnants of their support in the West.

Ordinarily I don’t have much confidence in my skill as a political prognosticator. But I did manage to foresee that Stéphane Dion was a sure loser – not that it required much insight to do so – and I could make the argument that, as an intermittently engaged, temperamentally moderate, Liberal-leaning uncommitted voter, I can speak for the precise segment of the electorate that the party needs to win over to have a chance of forming government. But I’m not arguing against the deal solely on ideological grounds. I also think it’s a tactical mistake.

Speaking as an ideologue, I’d prefer that the Liberals arrest the leftward slide that has, in recent years, made them increasingly indistinguishable from the NDP. What happened to the prudent, business-friendly Liberals of the mid-90s, the deficit-slaying Liberals whom one of my New Democrat friends hyperbolically described as the most regressive government in Canadian history? I want my most regressive government in Canadian history back. Federal politics already has an anti-capitalist, anti-American, pacifist party (two if you count the Greens; more if you count the numerous crackpot collectives operating out of hippies’ basements). We don’t need another.

But as a matter of tactics, it’s customary for Liberals to campaign as a non-crazy version of the NDP. “We’re just as keen on social justice and egalitarianism as those guys,” they argue, “but we’ll get there without driving the economy into the ground.” It’s been a successful argument for a half-century – Liberals have won election after election, and the New Democrats have languished in third place. But what do you say when you’ve just come out of a government that included New Democrats in positions of authority? Either Industry Minister Jack Layton has driven the economy into the ground – and you have to explain to voters why you allowed him to do so – or he hasn’t driven the economy into the ground, and you have to explain to voters what the hell the difference is between the two parties, then.

Speaking as an ideologue, I don’t see what’s so dreadful about forming an alliance-of-convenience with the Bloc Quebecois.* But as a matter of tactics, in the West there’s a visceral dislike of Quebec separatism – or more accurately, a visceral dislike of uppity French people that is only allowed open expression as an antipathy to separatism. Many folks out here would prefer that their representatives in Ottawa snub the BQ altogether – I mean, “accidentally” bang into their shoulders when passing them in the hall, shun their table in the cafeteria, conspicuously face the other way when they rise to speak in Parliament, and so on. The fact that other MPs are perfectly courteous to the Bloc despite their treachery is inexplicable; that they would negotiate deals that are obviously of equal advantage to both sides is intolerable. I think this hostility is silly, as the Liberal geniuses who negotiated this deal apparently do. But its silliness doesn’t make it any less politically poisonous.

Speaking as an ideologue, does the Liberal team really believe that Stephen Harper’s government is going to so dramatically mismanage the economic crisis that any available means must be grasped to rescue Canada from his rule? If they fear that their intervention is the only means to avoid catastrophe, then I suppose it’s their responsibility to step in even if it means sacrificing their party’s future chances. But do they really have such a Messiah complex? The difference between the hypothetical Harper stimulus package and the hypothetical Dion-Layton stimulus package is not the difference between death and salvation. It’s the difference between a few million bucks here, a few million bucks there. The Liberals and New Democrats would like to butter up their favoured industries in southern Ontario; the Conservatives will undoubtedly find ways to butter up their favoured industries in the West. Our economy will drift along regardless, as is her custom, in the wake of whatever happens in the United States.

But as a matter of tactics, of course no-one believes that the Conservatives’ economic stewardship, or lack thereof, is anything but a pretext for the opposition to seize power. Fair enough; so far both sides have played by the democratic rules. But playing by the rules doesn’t mean you’ve played well. When the whistle blows, Stéphane Dion, or Bob Rae, or whoever is quarterbacking this shambles, might come up with possession of the ball. But I fear he’ll be standing on his own one-yard line.

Whaddaya know? I think that’s my first ever football metaphor.


* But then, I’m not all that bothered by the threat of Quebec separatism. Given the ongoing stress and expense of dealing with these interminable, idiotic Quebec-Canada tiffs – minor in any given year, but enormous when you add it up over the decades – it would probably be simplest to just divvy up our assets, negotiate some kind of trade and currency federation, and split. Instead we act like those married couples who hate each other but persist in sticking it out year after year “for the sake of the children”, and drive the kids mental with their constant bickering. Our good intentions are going to give everyone a nervous breakdown.

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Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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