Put nation, not party first

Coalition and cooperation only way to uproot Harper Cons in 2015

Much as it stands today, Canadian political culture was born in a state of deadlock.

Back in 1864, before Confederation, Upper and Lower Canada were fragmented along pronounced religious, cultural and political lines. These animosities, often felt between French- and English-speaking populations, led to frequent stalemates within the Legislative Assembly of the United Provinces and stifled progress amidst a vexatious atmosphere of distrust.

Faced with a splintered political apparatus, the “Fathers of Confederation” - George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown and John A. Macdonald - came to realize the need for cooperation, and the Grand Coalition was formed to unite all Canadian parties and consolidate the whole of British North America.

By the time of Confederation in 1867, the government had begun as a bona fide coalition in Macdonald’s view.

While such governments are historically less common in first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral systems than in legislatures with proportional representation, the Great Coalition of 1864 stands as a testament to (or rather precedent for) the importance of cooperation in modern politics.

It’s an important historical anecdote, rife with lesson and example, but one that, today, appears lost on Canada’s opposition leaders.

Harper’s Canada

Not since the Mulroney era has Canadian society been caught in a dilemma of identity as striking as that fostered under Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government.

Holding the support of just one in three Canadians, his seven-year (and counting) reign has proved a profoundly divisive force across the nation. It has politicized some and disillusioned many more, and even witnessed cries to save our celebrated social democracy from the clutches of regressive policies and bullheaded discourse.

Evidently, such displeasure is not simply rooted in the delusions of radicalized young people and university students; it is grounded in fact.

The Conservative doctrine that has certified itself beholden to transnational corporations, the petroleum industry and profit-driven corporate rights agreements - otherwise known as “free trade” - concurrently stands in opposition to labour, unions, the environment, and carries a conclusively atrocious foreign policy record.

So what must be done to end this anachronistic period of Canadian history, the fate of which rests on opposition leaders to cooperate and place the nation, not their parties, first?

Coalition or bust

Although it may not have the same implications as the Great Coalition of 1864, cooperation between the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens is the only viable method of uprooting the Conservative Party in the next election, slated for October 2015.

But it will not be simple.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May was among the first to enter the discussion, positing an endorsement of a “cooperative strategy” based on “shared values across a political, progressive spectrum” on her party’s webpage.

B.C. MP and Liberal leadership hopeful Joyce Murray similarly advanced the notion of cooperation between the three parties, receiving praise from May and proposing the selection of a single candidate to challenge Tories in vulnerable ridings.

Murray maintains this would be a one-time measure, but while she and May engage in actual conversation and substantive planning, Liberals and New Democrats remain mired in their own personalities.

In the case of Thomas Mulcair, the dogged and tenacious leader of Canada’s Official Opposition, his New Democratic Party has long held a fixation on political advantage that is responsible for handing power to Stephen Harper in the first place.

His hurried and depthless preoccupation with winning seats in elections, not introducing policies or any cogent vision for Canada, is a temporary fix with a shortening expiry date.

The Liberal Party - currently embroiled in a mission to re-brand itself - doesn’t seem to grasp the need for cooperation either. Their imminent selection of a new leader, regardless of his or her celebrity, will merely present a vote-splitting force in 2015 without the necessary inertia to secure, at the very least, minority rule.

What is more, poll data from Nanos research suggests ironclad Conservative support among those who really matter: actual voters.

Despite only holding one-third of the Canadian electorate, the Conservatives are far ahead of both the New Democrats and Liberals in voter turnout and, therefore, actual support.

While it may be true there are lingering and indeed potent anti-Harper sentiments throughout much of Canada, the Conservative Party still captures a dramatic percentage of potential supporters while progressive voters increasingly stay at home.

This suggests an acute disconnect between Canada’s opposition parties and their bases of support.

If Harper is indeed the enemy of social democracy, of the cultural, social and economic foundations of this country, then the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens must make significant strides - and place party concerns aside - to flesh out and establish a coalition force able to challenge the Conservatives in 2015.

And while the power of nostalgia has the power to obfuscate conditions in the present, one might hope Mr. Mulcair looks to the lessons of the Great Coalition to inspire a change of perspective that truly possesses the ability to alter the course of the Canadian nation for generations to come.

Harrison Samphir is the online editor at The Uniter.

Published in Volume 67, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 21, 2013)

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