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How Liberals should respond to coalition attack, embrace it

September 9, 2009

I have some advice for Mr. Ignatieff and his Liberals, and to a lesser extent for Mr. Layton as well*.  Apparently, one of the main strategies being considered by the Conservatives for the upcoming (possible) election is to attack the idea of an NDP/Liberal+Bloc coalition. I say, the Liberals and NDP should do an end run around the overconfident Conservatives and accept the challenge.  Make a minority coalition part of the discussion. 

Face the threat head on and explain it to the electorate, like the rational adults we are, rather than the naive children the Conservatives would like us to be.  Remind us that coalitions are perfectly legal in Canada, and are practiced in many, in fact most, other democracies and would actually result in a larger share of Canadian’s views being represented in Ottawa.

This may seem a risky strategy.  I admit, its mere appearance of being risky all but guarantees the Liberals will not embrace it, since they seem incapable of taking anything other than cautious baby steps in any direction. But just imagine how freeing it would be to be able to truly vote for your preference of NDP, Green or Liberal.  If these parties all promise to work together, if required, then you can vote for any and it could work.  The voters in each riding would still vote strategically (only a fool would deny that is necessary in our system) but they could really pick one of the opposition parties rather than pitting them against each other, ensuring both parties lose.  I’m not suggesting parties collude to bow out of ridings, but knowing that any win for an opposition party is potentially a win for the new governing party frees up the constraints a bit when voting.

Some kind of agreement would need to be informally made with the Bloc as well, but this need not be a deal breaker.  If NDP+Liberal seats are more than the Conservative seats they could form government and deal with Bloc support on an as needed basis.  The Conservatives can do nothing but go it alone with their current approach and so will have the less support in the house in this case.  Of course if the Conservatives still win more seats than the NDP + Libs + Green then the Conservatives would form government unless a more formal alliance with the Bloc were formed, an unlikely scenario.

But I would advise the Liberals to talk openly about coalitions.  You should explain that you want the votes of Canadians but will not stand by and allow partisan misrepresentations about how our democracy functions.  You should explain you will not discount the possibility of a coalition, and under the following such and such circumstances would enter into discussions with the NDP and Greens to form one.  Make this part of the Liberal campaign.  For all the anger about the coalition last year, people learned a lot about our democracy.  Don’t forget the crowds who showed up in support of the coalition.  For all the extra mobilization in Alberta and rural BC the Conservative strategy would generate, it would generate just as much energy in Quebec and Vancouver and Toronto and in union heavy southern Ontario in favour of a real representative government for a change.

Be frank with us. Tell us which portfolios are off limits (no finance or defense ministries for the NDP, no ministry for the Bloc under any circumstances) and tell us what you might do.  It will be exciting and inspiring.  And being inspiring and proposing a real change to our government is the only way the conservatives are going to lose this one. The Conservatives are right about one thing, voting numbers have been sliding for years, in the recent BC election only 50% of people bothered to vote.  If they are mobilizing their base, you need to mobilize yours. You need to get fed up centre left Canadians out to vote in large numbers because they believe in something, believe there can actually be a change in Ottawa, believe their vote might not be completely wasted this time because the parties are going to recognize that 1+1+1=3 and just because someone got 2 doesn’t mean they should rule if you can cobble together 3.

That’s my advice, no charge.

*Clearly this advice goes for the Green party as well, if they can win a seat this election, but I’m pretty sure they’d be ok with it.

Update 8:10PST : ooh, this is a hot story, update happening in real time, check out some of what Harper said recently about “their little coalition”. So he just wants to win out of spite? Other’s say he revealed even further plans, although this would have to be confirmed somewhere.

Update 8:15 PST : confirmed take a listen to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his plans for the gun registry, his opinion on justice appointments and his desire for a majority mandate to “teach them a lesson” and stop their “little coalition” from happening. Oh its so on.

See the full video here.

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