Tag Archives: Liberal Party of Canada

Hard Work + Hope = Why I voted for Justin Trudeau

The leadership results are coming in the next hour. I am so proud of my party. Over 104, 000 people voted for Liberal leader which is more than voted in the last Conservative Party and NDP leadership races! So here is a quick post on why I voted for Justin Trudeau for Liberal Leader:

1. Justin can grow into the job:

Justin Trudeau has grown as a politician throughout this leadership race. In 1996 the Ontario Liberals seemed to have hit the bottom. They picked a young guy who hadn’t been in politics for too long (who also had a father with a political career) to be leader. Dalton McGuinty didn’t win his first election but he grew with his party eventually winning 3 straight elections. The Liberal Party of Canada currently has 35 seats. The 2015 election is going to be a fierce battle between the Conservatives, New Democrats and the Liberals.

Proof that the LPC/Trudeau have grown: The day after the May 2, 2011 federal election whenever the Liberal Party was mentioned by journalists it was to predict our demise. Today, some have written about a possible Liberal government in 2015.

2. Justin is a leader who listens:

Throughout the Liberal Leadership debates Justin was one of the only candidates who stood up for “Preferential ballot”, the type of electoral reform adopted overwhelmingly by the Liberal Party at the 2012 biennial convention in Ottawa. Trudeau argued that it’s time the leader of the Liberal Party actually listen to its members.

During the campaign Justin took his philosophy of “listen and learn” even further by launching a “Soapbox” website where members/supporters could debate policy.

With Stephen Harper and Mulcair dictating every decision their party makes from the top down, we Liberals can set ourselves apart by being the only bottom-up party. We’re off to a good start with the first truly open leadership contest in Canadian history.

3. Electoral-cooperation is a non-starter with Justin or me:

From Justin Trudeau’s Liberal leadership showcase speech:

The truth is, Canadians want to vote for something, not just against somebody. They want to vote for a long term vision that embodies our values, our dreams and our aspirations. They will not get that vision from a Frankenstein’s monster, at war with itself over fundamental issues like the Constitution, Natural Resources and Free Trade. It would fail in its primary goal: it would extend, not end, Mr Harper’s career.

4. Justin understands that this won’t be easy:

In his campaign launch speech delivered in Papineau Justin said, “My fellow Liberals, these values are not the property of the Liberal Party of Canada. They are not Liberal values; they are Canadian values. I’ve too often heard it said in Liberal circles that the Liberal Party created Canada. This, my friends, is wrong. The Liberal Party did not create Canada. Canada created the Liberal Party. Canadians created the Liberal Party.” He has approached politics and the Liberal leadership with an attitude of hard work and humility. By stressing “service” in his final speech he has shown Liberals the way forward from tonight to the 2015. We must put service at the heart of everything we do because it is good politics, not because it will get us elected but because it raises the quality of political life.

5. Justin Trudeau has a sense of whimsy that is sorely missing in Canadian politics at the federal level:

trudeaugif

Lessons for the Liberals from the Calgary-Centre by-election

Harvey Locke ran a great campaign in Calgary-Centre taking a strong second place. and keeping the Conservatives under 40% in the so-called “Conservative heartland” is nothing to sneeze at. I am proud of the campaign the Liberals ran in all 3 by-elections yesterday.

However, I do fear that Liberals across Canada are taking the wrong lessons from the Calgary-Centre by-election. There are those who will argue (out of their own self-interest) that the Liberals lost in Calgary-Centre because of vote-splitting and the only answer is progressive cooperation.

Vote-splitting was not the problem and cooperation is not the answer.

First, allow me a brief digression on how we got here. The in-fighting and tales of structural deficiencies of the Liberal party are well documented. However, I tend to view the last 2 elections from a game theory perspective. We Liberals campaigned fiercely against the Conservatives. The Conservatives campaigned fiercely, and more effectively against us. The NDP campaigned against both and that helped them leapfrog the Liberal Party to become the officially opposition (there is obviously more to it, this is only an examination of the 2011 Federal Election through a game theory lens.)

The Liberal Party has been trying to fight a 1 front war when we are clearly dealing with 4 separate adversaries (the Conservatives, NDP, Greens and Bloc.) We cannot treat the Greens/NDP as if they are a pool of voters for us to take from and we can’t treat Conservative voters as if they are an unpersuaded monolith.

The Liberal Party has been far too lenient towards the Green Party. Not running a candidate against Elizabeth May in 2008 was a big mistake. In some ways, like being respectful of Ms. May in the House of Commons, we have done the right thing. However, the Green Party does not owe the Liberal Party a single thing. Just like the NDP, the Green Party will always put itself first, neither party actually wants to prioritize progressive issues.

The Calgary-Centre by-election was not a Liberal versus CPC competition, it was a Liberal vs CPC + Green one. The Green Party ran a negative campaign against both the Conservatives and the Liberals. If we ignore the negative campaign the Green Party ran in Calgary-Centre as we move forward, the Liberal Party is setting itself up for further loss.

On Chris Turner’s website there are 2 household lit pieces in PDF form. The first one is 3 pages, the majority of which is an anti-Liberal “Just visiting” style attack piece.

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The Liberal campaign focused on critiquing the Conservative candidate. I vehemently disagree with those who think that the Liberals lost because they “split the vote” with the Green candidate. The Liberals lost because they a) failed to persuade enough voters to switch from the CPC and b) didn’t take on the Green candidate with as much force as they went after Joan Crockatt.

The Liberal Party’s pragmatic and prudent policy positions can appeal to Conservative voters but if we write off that segment of the electorate before the campaign even begins, the Conservatives will only have to pick of a small segment of Liberal/NDP/Green/Undecided voters to win, as they did in Calgary-Centre.

The Conservative Party is not our friend. The NDP is not our friend. The Green Party is not our friend. The Liberal campaign in Calgary-Centre worked extremely hard and did a fantastic job.

Further reading:

A conversation between Micah Goldberg & Joseph Uranowski on: Progressive Cooperation

Why the Conservatives Love the “Strategic” Voting Sites

Vote Harvey Locke: The Progressive Choice for Calgary-Centre

Today (November 26th) is by-election day in the great riding of Calgary-Centre!

The Liberal campaign has been as exciting as it has been improbable and for the first time since 1968, Calgary-Centre might such send a Liberal to Ottawa. Though the moment began shifting from the CPC to the Liberals started in mid-November, the race first came to national attention when a Forum poll (November 20th)  had the CPC candidate Joan Crockatt at 35%, the Liberal candidate Harvey Locke at 30% and the Green Party at 25%. Many called that poll a fluke and noted that Forum had called the Alberta Provincial election for the Wild Rose (it should be noted that Forum was one of the only polling firms to correctly call the recent Kitchener-Waterloo provincial by-election.) The last poll of the campaign has Crockatt at 37%, Locke at 32% and the Greens at 17% (This poll shows the Liberals surging and was done by the firm that predicted Mayor Nenshi’s win.)

There are 3 keys factors that have led to a possible Liberal victory in the riding:

  • Harvey Locke is a great candidate: All of the Liberal candidates in 3 by-elections today (Victoria, Durham and Calgary-Centre) are strong candidates. Harvey Locke is a superb candidate and will do an excellent job representing Calgary-Centre in Ottawa. He has a long history with the riding and an impressive resume working as a photographer and conservationist . He was President of the Alberta Liberal Party, speaks English, French and Spanish. Harvey Locke is my kind of centrist Liberal and he is the only candidate transpartisan enough to effectively represent the people of Calgary-Centre.
  • Infighting between the Alberta PCs and Wild Rose: The Alberta provincial election earlier this year was divisive and hard fought by all sides. Calgary-Centre is where Premier Alison Redford lives, however Joan Crockatt endorsed the Wild Rose during the provincial election. The media was quick to focus on this by-election as a civil war on the right in Calgary-Centre.
    Harvey Locke received a warm welcome at the PC AGM, which just happened to be in Calgary Centre.  Crockatt didn’t dare make an appearance.  A photo of Harvey posing with Alison Redford at the event, with nary an inch of space between them, quickly spread throughout the Twittersphere, dispelling any misconception of a “united right” in the province.
  • Joan Crockatt is a divisive candidate who has performed poorly: Ms. Crockatt was editor of the Calgary HeraldShe presided over a prolonged and bitter strike at the Calgary Herald when she was editor there.  She avoided the first 3 debates and embarrassed herself at the 4th debate when she attacked the U.S. economy and accused the CBC (where she has appeared numerous times as a panalist) of showing pornography. Her Tea Party attitude towards the Obama administration is not reflected by the Canadian poulation (it seems like the only Canadians who wanted Romney to win are in Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet.) One of Joan Crockatt’s biggest slip-ups was skipping Mayor Nenshi forum’s forum on cities. Nenshi criticized the decision in the press and even tweeted a few of Locke’s criticisms of Crockatt during the forum. With Rob Anders next door, the people of Calgary-Centre have seen what happens when they rubber stamp a regressive conservative candidate who brings the wrong kind of attention to their city.

Though the Green Party campaign has been surprisingly negative in Calgary-Centre, I believe that it time for progressives to unite behind the fiscally prudent, socially progressive and environmentally responsible candidate. If you  or anyone you know live in Calgary-Centre please vote for Harvey Locke.

Here is a poll that shows that Mr. Locke is the only candidate who can galvanize the progressive vote and send a message to Stephen Harper.

David Merner and the Conversation the Liberal Party Needs to Have

David Merner (left) and Alberta Liberal Party president Todd Van Vliet (right.)

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.

* Real, substantive health care reform and realistic targets to reduce carbon emissions were two such “sacred cows” that we discussed at the Friday evening event.

The Liberal Party: A Substantial Heritage, a Future of Substance (Co-written with Theresa Lubowitz)

Theresa Lubowitz on the Death of Substantive Policy

Canada is teetering dangerously close to the death of substantive policy as we know it, with the rise of a populist Conservative Government, a populist NDP Official Opposition, and a struggling Liberal Party so afraid of irrelevancy it has spent the last four years taking the safe road.

Government used to stand for something and had a proud legacy in Canada of improving the lives of its citizens. Some blamed nearly a decade of minority parliament as the culprit yet Pearson arguably put into action more substantive policy than any other Prime Minister in Canadian history despite the political environment he was forced to operate within.

Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government negotiated a $41 billion health care agreement with the provinces, legalized same-sex marriage, introduced the landmark Kelowna Accord, and had negotiated a national childcare program with the provinces before losing power. The Conservative minority government that followed has no record of substance to speak of, other than tearing down major advancements like Kelowna and national childcare.

Over 100 members of the NDP were elected in the May 2011 election, a feat that allowed the Party to take its place as Official Opposition in the House of Commons for the first time in its history. Yet what it was exactly the NDP championed during the election in their platform is murky at best. They successfully rode the ‘Jack’ wave of platitudes and props and now find themselves sitting opposite a government that reads from the very same playbook of highly charged populist partisan posturing, delivering little of substance. The Party released a year in review video celebrating the ‘highlights’ of their first year as Official Opposition that was low on substance and heavy on reading from one’s notes.

While the Conservatives have a history of releasing election platforms at the last minute and the NDP have a history of releasing them with little content and even less costing, the Liberal Party provided voters with very little to get excited about in the 2011 election. The Party of balanced budgets, universal health care, pensions, student loans, official bilingualism, multiculturalism, same-sex marriage legalization, and Kelowna to name just a few, offered a platform built around something called the ‘Family Pack’. Reduced to what were at the time shocking levels of support in 2008, Liberals played it safe, turned their backs on a century of bold, innovative, and substantive policy that shaped a nation and created something that sounded like it could be found in the lunch meat section of a grocery store.

With populism on either side of the political spectrum, the Liberal Party cannot continue to play it safe. Canada cannot afford us to. We must again become the party willing to take bold political stands regardless of the political winds. Our most successful political leaders were those who did not apologize for who they were or what they stood for and were rewarded for that authenticity. Living authentically is good practice in everyday life and the same is true in politics. It must be made true again in our public policy.

Joseph Uranowski on the Revival of Substantive Policy

The NDP just released an attack ad  that looks like it was written and produced by Stephen Harper’s own attack machine. Like the NDP, it offers no real solutions. With so much vitriol coming from the Harper Conservatives and the Mulcair NDP (how far we’ve come from Nathan Cullen’s calls for cooperation and Niki Ashton’s constant usage of the phrase “New politics”) there is a large space (not necessarily one in the so-called “centre”) for the Liberal Party to become the party of substance.

In the past the Liberal Party brought forward great policy in the form of legislation. However, just saying “trust us, we’re great at governing” is the height of arrogance and is a terrible political strategy. When Bob Rae was an NDP MP he was quoted as saying “the Liberals are a beanbag kind of party that looks like the last person that sat in it.” As we drift through the summer, I have a fear that this might be happening to my party. My solution: the Liberal Party of Canada should start releasing white papers, one every month from now until the 2015 election. When the house is in session we should tie each white paper to a private member’s bill.

Some topics I’d like to see the Liberal Party release policy solutions on:
  • Reform of Question Period: Now, the NDP is so petty and ruthless in their desire to deny the Liberal Party a win (like the Republicans down South) that they have actually worked to defend Dean Del Mastro. The Liberal Party needs to do politics differently, if passing good policy gives one of our opponents a win, it is still worth it to pass good policy. In that vein, I believe at the next avaliable opportunity the Liberals should introduce a private member’s bill that is word-for-word Michael Chong’s QP reform bill. We should ask him to co-sponsor and support the bill. He can bring over the dozen other CPC votes we need and we can shame the NDP into doing what is right.
  • Electoral Reform: At the 2012 biennial convention convention we passed a AV electoral reform platform. We should flesh it out as soon as possible. Let’s start a real debate.
  • Cannabis Legalization and progressive crime policy: We also overwhelming passed a cannabis legalization motion in Ottawa. The crime debate has changed in Canada with legalization going mainstream. This would be a great area to differentiate ourselves from the CPC andNDP. It has recently been reported that private companies are lobbying the Harper government to privatize our prisons. We have a unique opportunity to explain how terrible this policy would be and shift the crime debate once again.
  • The Environment: Scientists have literally taken to the streets on this issue. We have Kirsty Duncan (who won a Nobel Prize for her environmental work), Ted Hsu and Marc Garneau. Let’s put forward policies to take by the environment as an issue from the Greens and NDP with a pro-economic growth Liberal twist.
  • The Economy: Scott Brison is doing a great job shining a light on youth unemployment. A plurality of the white papers should be economic. If we can’t talk about the economy (every Liberal, not just our leader) we will never be relevant to Canadians.
  • Rebuilding the farm safety net: In many ways the Harper government is tryng to balance the budget on the backs of farmers. Income in the agriculture sector has been declining for 30 years. We need policies that will rebuild the farm safety net and focus on sustainability and affordability.
  • Some other issues: High speed rail, safe injection sites, free trade, foreign policy, public transit, education, public housing and veterans’ affairs.

 Uranowski and Lubowitz on the Verdict

Canada will not be bettered by the lip-service of populist politicians. It will be improved by substantive discourse about intelligent solutions in public policy. The Liberal Party of Canada has the strongest record in Canadian history in this area and is the only party showing any interest in speaking substantively about the issues. We’ve had a substantial heritage in public policy and have a substantive future ahead of us. While the populists blather and take jabs at one another, we should lay out a clear path for a better future for Canada.

Follow me on twitter at @Uranowski and follow Theresa at @TheresaLubowitz. Visit her awesome website “What Have You Done For Democracy Lately?

Justin Trudeau is a Serious Candidate for a Serious Party

I agree with Andrew Coyne that the Liberal Party of Canada needs to be the party of bold policy ideas and that on some issues we need to be to the left of the NDP/to the right of the Conservatives. However, I strongly disagree with Mr. Coyne’s assertion that “a party that is preparing to throw itself at Justin Trudeau is not a serious party.” The Liberal Party needs to have a competitive leadership race with many qualified candidates. Justin Trudeau would be a serious candidate and would be a solid choice for leader of the Liberal Party, if the Liberal Party wants to be patient and pursue a long-term strategy.
Justin Trudeau and the long-game:

As Premier McGuinty outlined in his speech at the 2012 Biennial Convention, the Liberal Party needs to elect a young leader and give that leader more than one election to rebuild the party. Liberals need to burn the phrase “two election strategy” into their minds. No one seriously believes that we can form the government after one election, and we need to show Canadians that we are a humble, substantive alternative to the divisive bullies Harper and Mulcair. This will take more than one election and we need a leader who can grow with the Liberal Party. Justin Trudeau is 40 years of age as I type this. In 2015, Prime Minister Harper will be 56 (with a full head of grey hair) and Thomas Mulcair will be 61. Justin Trudeau’s youth would bring a new energy to the Liberal Party. While his name evokes a nostalgic connection to the past, the fact that he was elected in 2008 would give the Liberal Party a clean break with the sponsorship scandal. Trudeau is fluently bilingual, but the fact that he grew up in politics makes him fluent in the political language of both French and English Canada.

Trudeau does have a ways to go before he is prime minister material. He is great at giving speeches (when I saw him speak in Parkdale-High Park there was a real electricity in the air) but he needs to speak with a substance and gravity that can only come with time. His name recognition is a great strength. I would also argue that the fact that a certain (small) percentage of Canadians who have a predisposition for/against Trudeau because of his name is another advantage as that good will will bring some Canadians back in to the Liberal Party and Trudeau will get to prove those who irrationally dislike him wrong when he enters the national arena. Becoming the leader the Liberal Party needs will be a lot of work. Justin has shown his strong work ethic on a number of occasions. Running and winning (twice) in Papineau was no small feat. Trudeau has also been a loyal liberal soldier traveling the country for the party. One specific example that I believe shows his commitment was his boxing match with Senator Brazeau. Trudeau saw that he was outgunned, so he spent months training and preparing himself. This is the kind of commitment the Liberal Party needs from its next leader.

The 4 pillars of a winning political campaign:

In the past, Canadian political parties have relied on a combination of three elements to win: a strong leader, strong policy,a strong political machine and disorganized opponents. Under Jean Chretien the LPC focused on having a strong leader, a strong political machine and disorganized political opponents.

In the last few elections the Conservatives have relied on their leader, their political machine and a disorganized opposition. The NDP have gone all in with their leader in 2008/2011 and are trying to play organizational catch up while keeping the Liberals weak. In 2011 the Liberal Party tried to go all in with policy with disastrous results.

In 2015 the Liberal Party needs to have a strong, charismatic leader who campaigns with a solid machine and a solid set of unique policy proposals. We have done a great job explaining why Harper is bad, we need to do the same with Mulcair while always saying what we would do if elected.

Trudeau’s magnetism is not something that a politician can necessarily learn, as is his ability to promote progressive policies in the language of the centre-right and the values of fiscal and personal responsibility in the language of the left.

Justin Trudeau doesn’t fit into the CPC or NDP paradigm:

One distinct advantage that Mr. Trudeau has is that his reality is frustratingly foreign to the Conservatives and New Democrats.

Conservatives purged their party of the genuine grassroots energy and principled policy positions of the old Reform Party and have become solely the party of their leader, Stephen Harper. The CPC’s divisive, slash and burn politics would see an election against Justin Trudeau as the opportunity they’ve always wanted to against Justin’s father. The NDP have a different  mindset. New Democrats do not care about getting real results for Canadians, they only care about getting more NDP seats in parliament. When Jack Layton decided to betray the progressive budget that Paul Martin had negotiated with him in 2005, he did so because the NDP only had 18 seats in parliament. In the NDP worldview Jack Layton, who has no major accomplishments at the federal level, is a hero simply because he helped elect 103 NDP MPs. The NDP and CPC both seem to believe that the Liberals would try and run Justin Trudeau on his father’s accomplishments. They would both be trying to attack the Liberal Party from a perspective that would not be accessible to the majority of Canadians who aren’t as blindly ideological as the CPC and NDP.

Conclusion:

Justin Trudeau still has to prove himself as a leader, as does any candidate running for that position. He may be the unique blend of charisma, substance and hard work that the Liberal Party needs. However, one thing he needs from Liberals is patience.

Liberals need  to stop panicking. We aren’t going to die out in one election–but we aren’t going to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, either. Every single Liberal needs to be working hard to rebuild the party. No political party can win solely on the strength of their leader.

Justin Trudeau has been thoughtful and contemplative in his approach to entering the Liberal leadership race. He is a serious candidate and should be treated as one.

A conversation between Micah Goldberg & Joseph Uranowski on: Progressive Cooperation

Micah Goldberg is one of my favourite people (he has guest blogged for me on a number of occasions.) One of our first conversations together was an argument about some electoral reform proposals I had put forward when I was Education & Government Commissioner on the University of St. Michael’s College Students’ Union.

He is a committed Liberal, but above all he is committed to Canadian democracy. After the NDP convention we decided to write a point/counterpoint discussion on the prospect of Liberal-NDP cooperation. Please read, share on facebook/the twitter and comment if you feel so inclined.

Micah Goldberg:

We should never be afraid of ideas. We should never be afraid of a conversation.

These two sentences, spoken by Nathan Cullen, an NDP Leadership candidate who fell off on the third ballot really exemplify why I joined his campaign team. Although I consider myself a center/center- left voter and thus a Liberal, Mr. Cullen’s call for cooperation in the form of joint nomination meetings between Canadian progressive policies were something, I felt, transcended party lines entirely, and effectively promoted what was best for Canada as a whole. I decided to attend the convention to be on the front lines of the movement, albeit without voting rights. It was the first time I had ever been involved in something so much larger than myself. I really did feel as though Nathan’s team was fighting to remove an arcane tradition, working together to move Canada forward towards a progressive future.

I fear many people do not fully understand what Cullen’s cooperation plan was, and their ignorance fuelled fear. Voluntary joint nomination meetings in Conservative-held ridings are not a merger. It only occurs if NDP and Liberal party members in the Tory constituency are willing to vote for one candidate, and only members would be eligible to elect one candidate to run under their own partisan banner, with the intention of turning a Conservative seat into a progressive one.

There are some New Democrats and Liberals who feel as though an ocean of difference between the parties will block any path to cooperation. This may be a good argument against a merger, but I don’t see it as an effective one against cooperation. I freely admit the union influence within the NDP, the adherence to the Sherbrooke Declaration, aggressive tax policies the NDP supports (just to name three) illustrate why I did not want to join the party; however if we remove party titles, and focus on individual members and average Canadians the common ground far outweighs the areas of difference. Progressives want clean energy, a better standing in foreign relations, better conditions for the impoverished and seniors, better schools and empowered Canadian youth. When parties move past their partisan instincts and work together in parliament, Canadians reward their cooperation, because it matches their values. If Liberals and New Democrats are willing to think about what kind of government they are currently enjoying, I strongly believe they will accept a progressive solution.

To those that say there is no interest on either side, or that this idea will never work, allow me to say this: First, a quarter of those who voted in the New Democrat leadership race believed in Nathan Cullen and his cooperation idea. It makes me optimistic that among the grassroots of at least one party, his idea has momentum. Second, it seems as though people believe it will never work purely out of mistrust for the other side. I am told there is a history of politicians abusing the trust of the other side. Let me phrase a question to members of both parties: if you had the option to make 15 Conservative members New Democrats or Liberals (depending on your affiliation) would you? I’d bet that most would, and further, I’ll argue that both parties will take joint nominations seriously. If they don’t the political system can always return to how things were: a candidate in every riding.

When Bob Rae was interviewed on CBC this past Sunday, he was asked why the NDP and Liberals shouldn’t be working together. His answer was not that the parties are too far apart, or that there was something categorically wrong with cooperation amongst cooperative parties. Rather, the leader of the Liberal Party only suggested that because the leader of the New Democrats wouldn’t consider it, he wouldn’t waste time on it either. Bob did not come down against cooperation, and it, at the very least, stands as a possible pillar of his leadership campaign (though I doubt he would risk his front-runner status on it).Both major progressive leaders have spent time in the others’ camp. Obviously there are reasons they left, but the fact remains that there were a Liberal or New Democrat in the first place. There is a great deal of overlap, and rather than fighting over the 20% that lies in one unshaded area of the political Venn diagram, lets concentrate our efforts in bringing the 80% that is going unrepresented in Ottawa to realization. Let’s bring a halt to the current unaccountable majority, and replace it with a more optimistic, transparent, cooperative Canadian Government. I encourage all partisan Canadians to come out of the woodwork and bring an end to vote splitting. Voyons travailler ensemble, pour progressistes et pour Canada.

Joseph Uranowski:

After following the NDP leadership race fairly closely I believe we are in “violent agreement” that Nathan Cullen is an excellent and inspiring politician. Though I am a proud member of the Liberal Party of Canada, I cheered for Cullen because his election as NDP leader would have forced the Liberal Party, Green Party and NDP to have the co-operation conversation that we have been avoiding since the ill-fated coalition of 2008. However, although I like Nathan Cullen personally, I disagree with many of the assumptions that lead him to suggest cooperation as a solution. I would/will argue that the specific kind of cooperation he suggested would not work logistically and would fail due to a number of issues within our electoral system and the NDP/LPC/GPC. I also believe that the various policy differences and the gulf in trust between the Liberals and the NDP are a valid argument against cooperation. We cannot run our political parties with the purpose of solving the problem of “how can we remove Conservatives from office?” The question “How can we best serve Canadians?” should be the underlying principle of the Liberal Party and the wider-progressive movement.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” – Cassius (Julius Caesar I, ii, 140-141).

Some problems with Nathan Cullen’s underlying assumptions:

Though I have cited Alice Funke’s excellent article “Why the Conservatives Love the “Strategic” Voting Sites” in my blog post “After a jump to the left, the Liberal Party needs to take a step to the right.” There is one paragraph that really addresses the fundamental premise that leads to calls for cooperation. That premise is that “if only progressives worked together we would win all 308 ridings.” Here is what Ms. Funke has to say:

The sites’ entire raison d’être validates the concept that people who voted for the Conservative Party in 2008 can’t be appealed to further to change their vote now, and thus discourages people from even trying. This is a fundamentally defeatist proposition for the sites’ founders to take, one that also underlies the decision by the Liberal Party not to bother making appeals in that marketplace, but to turn its attention towards other competitors instead. It also implicitly discourages people from voting at all where things seem “hopeless” based on previous election results, which feeds precisely into a vote suppression strategy for the Conservatives, and in fact does at least part of that suppression for them.

The sites’ obsession with who can win has virtually eliminated issue-based politics from either election coverage or debate at the riding level. This is a perfect state of affairs for a party such as the Conservatives which is consciously trying to move the ideological centre of the country a few inches to the right.

Cullen’s plan assumes that the majority of LPC/NDP/GPC supporters in a riding would rally behind one candidate. The problem I have is that this would once again allow Stephen Harper to have a rock solid 29% of the vote, which lets the Conservative Party put all of their resources into the handful of ridings they need to pick up to win a majority. Though I consider myself a progressive voter on free-trade, federalism, and fiscal responsibility, my views are so incompatible with the NDP (and the Conservative Party for that matter) that I am not sure how I would vote if the only options in my riding were Jim Flaherty (my current MP) and an NDP candidate. We cannot assume that the Liberal/New Democratic and Green vote would coalesce if the options were limited. What we do know is that Stephen Harper wins with lower voter turn out, and in many ridings I could see the Liberals/NDPers/Greens staying home. I find the idea that the NDP/Liberals steal votes from the Liberals/NDP to be profoundly arrogant. Votes do not “belong” to any one party, just as no party is Canada’s “natural governing party.” I am not saying that Nathan Cullen has ever put forward this view explicitly but his argument tacitly implies this worldview.

The operative words in you opening sentence are “we should never be afraid to have the conversation.” That is the core problem with the centre-left parties in Canada, not vote splitting. What has been glossed over with his death and subsequent beatification is how tepid/cautious as leader Jack Layton really was. Sure, his buzz words were “bold” and “inspiring” but, in my opinion, the bases of his argument for why he was a “visionary” leader was mainly in the fact that the NDP have never formed federal government. Jack Layton didn’t argue in favour of legalization of cannabis during the last election, his party even joined in with the Conservatives in bashing Stephane Dion’s green shift. Stephen Harper wins because he has, to quote Andrew Coyne, “brought the centre to himself.” When we debate crime, we debate how long a 16 year old should be put in jail because they have 6 pot plants, not over the very nature of our justice system. Same goes for taxes (and the Liberal Party is guilty of this), no one wants to discuss raising taxes for fear of losing votes, even though some taxes should be raised. Jack Layton’s caution got the NDP into opposition but the only real way to defeat Stephen Harper is by putting forward bold ideas. When  the Liberal Party adopted the policy motion to legalize and regulate marijuana I was ecstatic because it was the first time a major political party had taken that position. This allowed Bob Rae to make the argument for legalization in his closing speech of the convention and helped shift the crime debate in Canada.

“If there are two parties pitching liberal ideas in the next election, voters will choose the real one.” – Brian Topp

I somewhat agree with Brian Topp’s scaremongering statement above. I would also argue that if there are two NDP parties running in the next election, Canadians will vote for the real one. With so much talk about the death of the Liberal Party after the 2011 election, what message would it send Canadians if we didn’t run candidates in every riding? As someone who worked every day of the last federal election for a Liberal candidate, I can just imagine how volunteers of every progressive party would feel if they were asked to volunteer for someone they worked against 4 years earlier. I know that I would go to a different riding with a Liberal candidate, which would take my experience/knowledge of Whitby to a totally different area. Ask Scott Brison to define what “progressivism” is and his definition would be way different than Charlie Angus. A joint nomination meeting between the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens in my riding would be an extremely divisive event because of the large trust deficit between the Liberals and NDP. Months would be spent repairing any rifts and that time would be way better spent going after Harper and laying out what our vision is. The Liberal Party needs to get better at community organizing if we are to stay alive as a political party and if we are to grow in the next election and eventually form government.

Policy Differences Matter:

You mention the Sherbrooke declaration in your initial argument. I find that document so repugnant that it could be placed as the main reason that I could not see myself joining the NDP. There are many policy differences between the Liberals and the NDP but our stances on federalism are a deal breaker. If you believe that the federal government should do large projects (like high-speed rail, universal health care or national house/day care strategies) then you need a strong federal government. The NDP’s cognitive dissonance on this was on full display during the leadership race. Peggy Nash laid out her views on health care in English and was unequivocally in favour of universal health care, she was then asked (in French) about Quebec bringing in user fees and she said she would respect Quebec’s jurisdiction. As Stephane Dion laid out in this op-ed, it’s not just support for 50% + 1 that separates the Liberals and the NDP.  Federalism is just one issue and though it is probable issue #1 for me, there are many other Liberals and New Democrats who are in fierce disagreement with the other party’s platform. If cooperation was based upon the Liberals and the NDP abandoning some of their core beliefs/policy proposals, then that very cooperation would be based upon the notion that winning is more important that a political party’s values which would make both parties into Stephen Harper-style Conservative Parties. If there are three Conservative parties running in the next election…

The Trust Deficit:

In 2005, Jack Layton had the opportunity to work with Paul Martin and get progressive results for Canadians, he choose to side with Stephen Harper and bring down the government. Fast forward to today, where in the House of Commons I see NDP MPs bashing the Liberal record as much as they do that of the current government. I have heard it said a countless number of times at Liberal events and online that “the NDP hates the Liberals more than they hate the Conservatives.” I am sure that New Democrats feel the same way about us. The problem seems to be that we don’t trust each other enough to work together and we can’t work together because we don’t trust each other enough.

This reminds me of the “Tit-for-Tat” strategy from studying Game Theory in International Relations class. The Liberals and the NDP need the opportunity to work together so we can build that trust (the last best hope for that was the 2008 coalition.) With the NDP at its greatest strength there are enough within the party who believe that they don’t need to cooperate with the Liberals, or that cooperation would be a means to an NDP majority government.Though I am cynical on the prospect of cooperation, there is an experiment currently taking place. If you look at Ontario, there’s the NDP opposition that have the opportunity to work with a Liberal minority, and Premier McGuinty has created a committee to reach out to them. We get to see, in real time, if the NDP will work with the Ontario Liberals or if they believe, like Jack Layton did, that more seats in parliament is more important that progressive policies being implemented.

Proportional representation:

I do not believe that cooperation is the answer as I differ with Mr. Cullen on what the question is.  If the Liberals, the Green and the NDP are able to form a coalition government, or Canadians elect a non-Conservative majority, and they change Canada’s electoral system (which is Green, NDP and Liberal policy) then political parties will be forced to work together. The largest flaw in Nathan Cullen’s plan is that it is based on voluntary cooperation when our political system is designed in such a way that parties have only cooperated when they are forced to.

Micah Goldberg:

In advocating for cooperation, the stiffest resistance I’ve faced is where it seems Joseph is driving his main argument: the ocean of difference between Liberal and NDP members. To some it seems unlikely that NDP members would ever vote for Liberal members let alone work on their campaigns. For many people like Joseph, it might simply become impossible to work on a New Democratic campaign, but according to a recent poll (http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1153428–poll-new-democrats-riding-mulcair-wave) fifty percent of both parties’ memberships are willing to cooperate. To me it seems like the memberships realize this ocean, is more like a river.

Divisive issues like the Sherbrooke declaration are enough to keep me from advocating for a merger; however, when it comes to environmental degradation, poverty, aboriginal issues and many others, I find the New Democrats to be stalwart allies. There are differences, but if we can cooperate to get Prime Minister Harper’s government out of power then we can at least start a discussion on child poverty, education and healthcare, because there is no back-and-forth in Ottawa, only a stream of ideological demagoguery. I think after New Democrats and Liberals consider the current condition of the country, they will agree to run 330 candidates, instead of 338 in the next election – hardly what I would consider an indication of weakness.

While a perceived notion of difference is the most common form of rebuttal I’ve come up against, the most difficult argument to answer to is what Joseph concluded with: the parties simply do not trust each other. This issue was not raised in a single NDP leadership debate. The truth of the matter is, there is no way trust can spontaneously be created. If both parties actually want to stop the Conservatives from a second majority, they will have to do something differently. Stephane Dion did not run a candidate against Elizabeth May when he was the Opposition Leader, why could we trust her not to run a candidate against us?

This road is the more difficult one to traverse, but I am a stalwart defender of its utility. It would not be a perfect marriage, and it would come with certain detractions, but if Liberals and New Democrats can agree to end the vote split where their local organizers deem it is acceptable, then the parties ought to take back progressive seats that sit in ideologically opposing hands. If not for our own party, or for us as individuals, then for the greater good: for the citizens that want their country put back on track.

Joseph Uranowski:

I agree that running 330 candidates out of 338 is entirely reasonable.

However, Nathan Cullen is not the leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair is. Earlier in our discussion you referenced how Nathan Cullen had received 25% of the vote during the convention. You inferred that at least 1/4 of the NDP supports cooperation. I would just like to draw attention to the fact(s) that 75% of the NDP rejected cooperation (by your thinking) and on the final ballot 42.8% of NDP voters supported Brian Topp who was the most emphatically anti-cooperation candidate in the running to replace Jack Layton.

In researching and considering the topic of cooperation, I have come to a very different conclusion (on the topic of how Mulcair won the NDP leadership) than the one I had reached on March 25th. After Mulcair won, I thought that NDP voters had repudiated the so-called “party establishment.” However, if you look at caucus endorsements (of which Nathan Cullen received 4, tied with Niki Ashton) Mulcair received way more than Brian Topp (who got a paltry 13.) Mulcair’s victory wasn’t a defeat for the New Democratic party establishment, it merely revealed that there is a new set of party elites in the post-Layton era. I believe this is confirmed by the fact that Nathan Cullen won a plurality of the vote during the convention, but Mulcair owned the pre-convention vote. Even if 50% of NDP supporters polled say they want to see cooperation (and who doesn’t) only 4 NDP MPs (+ Nathan Cullen) were willing to advocate for the idea.