Cooperation between NDP, Liberals flies in the face of democratic values

Electoral cooperation will lead to American-style polarization

I have a confession to make.

On occasion, and with increasing regularity come exams, I have been known to spend an inordinate amount of time doing some primary research on the best beers and wines at my neighborhood Liquor Commission.

My poison? Depends on the season and the occasion, but I love a good bottle of red, a bit bold and a bit subtle. Alternatively, I am prone to taking a few nice strong, cheap beers into the summer night and making the most of it.

But as everyone knows, you never mix the two. Both are good things apart, but together, a recipe for a colourful disaster.

This basic and useful knowledge is typically acquired in the teenage years, and yet somehow it’s political equivalent has managed to escape fully-grown members of both the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties over the past several years.

In recent leadership debates, members of both parties have floated the idea of electoral cooperation. In ridings where the Conservative Party has the potential to take the seat, one party would abstain from putting forth a candidate in order to avoid splitting the vote and handing the election to the Tories.

More dramatically, the idea of a wholesale merger between the two parties has entered the national debate as a viable means of toppling the Harper Conservatives.

In the last NDP leadership contest, candidate Nathan Cullen argued an alliance with the Liberal party would be the most effective way to oust the Conservatives and instigate meaningful electoral reform.

More recently, current Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray suggested that all opposition parties hold their own pre-election meetings to determine which party’s candidate would be running against the Conservative in a given riding, ensuring that a more progressive candidate would be chosen.

But when, exactly, did the Liberals become progressive?

The Liberal party is a very traditional, structured organization. It’s recent downfall can be attributed to its inability to conform and adapt to the current terrain of Canadian politics and produce a coherent and attractive image of Canada’s future.

While individual members, Ms. Murray among them, may be more progressive than the average Liberal, the Grits have been bleeding their young, progressive politicians into open NDP arms.

The NDP has a strong history of empowering organized labour, activists and agricultural groups under a common banner in order to argue for a more equitable country, often fighting against the Liberal party.

Political parties can and should merge if they have genuinely overlapping histories, values, and vision for the future. If we think commonly, we should act commonly.

But the Liberals and the NDP are not common. They simply share common deficiencies.

The allure of power overwhelms the common sense distinction between a party of labour and a party of business that would ordinarily make them political opponents, as they have been in the past.

The ideological foundation of the NDP is gone. They are no longer the righteous party of the left.

Meanwhile, the institutional power of the Liberals has abandoned them along with the possibility of political power.

To make up for these deficiencies, cooperation is a ready and simple remedy. But a remedy for whom?

As voters, the destruction of choice, either in the manner proposed by Mr. Cullen or Ms. Murray, is a fundamental erosion of democratic values.

The destruction of nuanced political discourse, and the polarization of politics into either left-wing or right-wing, is a hallmark of fractured and distasteful American politics.

We should value the diversity of political options available to Canadians and view it not as a dilution of the potential power of strange ideological bedfellows, but as a hallmark of an equally diverse nation.

If not, I may throw up on my shoes. 

John Mcleod Arnould is a student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 67, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 7, 2013)

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