“It’s funny, I thought I would be running as a pro-business, pro-environment West-coast Liberal but it looks like I’ve become the ‘cooperation candidate.‘” That was former LPC(BC) President David Merner’s reaction when I told him that I had read Gloria Galloway’s article in the Globe and Mail and I had some questions for him about Liberal/NDP cooperation.
Mr. Merner held a meet-and-greet in Toronto at the Duke of York on Friday (it was the second of these type of events that I had attended in as many weeks.) With Jean Chrétien openly musing about the prospect of a LPC-NDP merger, David and I agreed that the party needs to talk openly about cooperation (though Merner, like myself is vehemently opposed to a merger) and we can’t be afraid of talking openly about so-called “Liberal sacred cows.*” If the Liberal Party doesn’t have a serious conversation on what I have termed “progressive cooperation,” there will be fissures within the party that may weaken us going in to the 2015 election. However, Nathan Cullen only received 24.6% of the vote on the 3 (and 2nd last) ballot at the NDP leadership convention back in March. The pair of candidates on the final ballot (Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair) were two of the fiercest opponents of cooperation with the Liberal Party in the running to succeed Jack Layton.
When Merner talks about cooperation he focuses on reaching out to the Greens, red-tories and (a term he introduced me to that I now love) “conservation-conservatives.” As a Liberal campaigning in Victoria B.C., he realizes that in ridings in that area, and in places like Vancouver and Toronto, cooperation with the NDP (our main opponents) wouldn’t make sense. Merner’s approach to cooperation fits in well with the pragmatism that is a pillar of the modern Liberal party. “We should be about creating choices for Canadians not reducing choices.” Merner believes that any practical form of electoral cooperation must, like the debate on cooperation, come from the bottom up. He pointed to the deal between Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May not to run candidates in each-others’ respective ridings as a top down decision that had negative results. This pragmatic attitude was on display when I asked Merner about two of my top issues, cannabis legalization and high-speed rail. Merner supports legalization, calling prohibition a “waste of police resources” while pointing out how cannabis would be a cash crop in British Columbia. On high-speed rail he wasn’t afraid to disagree with me bluntly. We talked about the proposed Edmonton-Calgary and Quebec-Windsor lines. He compared commitments to building massive high-speed rail lines to previous Liberal governments failure to reach ambitious environmental goals. “We need to be the party of practical solutions to real problems.”
David Merner bristled at the fact that certain party officials have said that progressive cooperation is “not up for discussion.” I agree. As the third party we need to show that the Liberal Party’s approach is different than the NDP or CPC‘s. To do this the Liberal Party needs to produce and promote bold policies and we need a competitive leadership race where the candidates aren’t afraid to constructively criticize the party.
David Merner is an intelligent and engaging candidate. Let’s not close our minds to any of the candidates because the media interprets one of his or her positions narrowly or incorrectly.