Party unification of the Liberals and the New Democrats has been discussed and debated for quite some time now, usually referred to as a “merger.” We include the Green Party, of course, mainly because of its environmental policies, and because it has become a real player in Canadian politics. You might be surprised by which politicians and prominent Canadians have expressed their support for inter-party cooperation or unification in the past.
Note: inclusion in this list reflects that person’s past statements, and does not indicate or otherwise imply their current position.
Former Prime Minister (from 1993 to 2003) and Liberal leader Jean Chrétien has long been a vocal supporter of Liberal-NDP unification. In an April 2012 interview, he stated that unification would “create a lot of political stability in the land.” The article continues, “Mr. Chrétien said the shape of a new political entity would be determined not by the number of seats each party holds but by the respective strength of their ideas. ‘In a new party, this [numbers game] does not matter any more. It’s intellectual capacity that will make the difference.’”
A few months earlier, in September 2011, he expressed confidence that Liberal-NDP unification “will be done one day.”
In an interview with Global News, Chrétien said “the move could have solidified the progressive movement,” adding that “[he] should have done it.”
NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) has been very outspoken about his support for unification, stating in September 2011 that the NDP and the Liberals should stop “pussy-footing around” and cooperate. “By being divided we are playing right into Stephen Harper’s hands, he is counting on us bickering and squabbling just like we always have, and the only thing that keeps him awake at night is the specter of a united centre-left political force because that would be the end of the neo-conservative dynasty.”
In his 2013 book Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff writes that “some day in the years ahead, a realignment bringing together Liberals from the centre and the New Democrats from the left might well offer Canadians a credible alternative to the long Conservative hegemony” and that as an MP, he “was aware as anyone else that unless progressive forces in Canada got together, the Conservatives could be in power for a long time.”
In 2011, in a Facebook note reflecting on Jack Layton’s funeral, Ignatieff wrote that “yes we [the Liberals and the NDP] are separate families, separate traditions, and yes, we’ve fought each other over the years, but now sitting together in the same hall, isn’t it obvious how much we have in common? The words we [the Liberals] care about — generosity, justice, hope — they [the New Democrats] care about them too... These values are bigger than all of us, bigger than our divisions and our arguments.”
Two elder statesmen of the NDP, former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, reportedly took part in unification discussions with Jean Chrétien, among others. See the section on high-level discussions below for more.
In June 2010 prominent political pundit, lawyer, and former Liberal Party strategist Warren Kinsella claimed that Alfred Apps, then president of the Liberal Party, had told him that there had been high-level” talks with NDP officials regarding the creation of a new party, and that there was “a lot of interest in merger in the NDP.”
At the same time, John Mraz, a former director of communications with the Liberal Party, claimed he had heard rumours of talks between Jean Chrétien and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Apps denied the claims, saying that it had in fact been Kinsella and Mraz who had brought the meetings to his attention. Kinsella and Mraz swore affidavits asserting the truth of their stories.
In Kinsella’s affidavit, he affirms that Apps had told him there had been “many discussions at a high level… involving the NDP saints (whom [Apps] described as [Ed] Broadbent, [former Saskatchewan premier Roy] Romanow).”
In his affidavit, John Mraz states that Apps had told him “the only conversation that makes sense before an election was to talk about a merger” and that Apps had “been involved in those discussions, and they not only include[d] Broadbent and Chrétien, but Romanow, [Joe] Clark, and [former Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Roy] McMurtry.”
In August 2011, speaking to reporters at a Liberal caucus retreat, MP and now Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said: “I’m not convinced a merger is the way to go — I’m certainly open to being convinced… If we’re serious about getting this country on the right track and reflecting the will of the vast majority of Canadians who didn’t vote for Mr. Harper, I think we have to be open to looking at different possibilities.”
Speaking to students in Victoria on March 12, 2012, Trudeau was asked about Liberal-NDP unification. He replied: “If by 2015, with the election approaching, and neither party has got our act together enough to shine and to be the obvious alternative, then there will be a lot of pressure for us to start looking at that. I think there is not anyone in Parliament, outside the Conservative Party of Canada, that is willing to risk seeing Stephen Harper become prime minister one more time.”
Later, in October 2012, he rejected the idea of unification or even electoral cooperation.
Montreal mayor and former Liberal MP Denis Coderre has expressed his support for unification, according to an August 2011 article: “Coderre suggested that the united mood after former NDP leader Jack Layton’s funeral had reignited flames lit before the last  election by senior party statesmen concerned that the only way to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives was to join forces. ‘I think that it would be a valid discussion to continue what Mr. Chrétien, Mr. Broadbent and Mr. Romanow did in the past,’ Coderre said, referring to secret talks reportedly convened to explore the possibility of not just working together in a potential coalition government, but actually merging the two parties.”
In August 2011, former president of the Canadian Auto Workers union (now Unifor) Ken Lewenza sent a letter to NDP MP Pat Martin and the rest of the NDP caucus expressing his support for party unification. “The writing has been on the wall since the Conservative alliance,” the letter read. “To suggest otherwise would be misleading and not credible. The CAW would be prepared to take part in this [merger] idea in the interest in progressive politics in the interest of all Canadians.”
Today’s Conservative Party owes its success to the 2003 merger of the right-wing Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties. Just as skeptics and opponents of centre-left unification are numerous, the same was true of the CA-PC merger debate. One of these opponents, former Prime Minister and Progressive Conservative Party leader Joe Clark, made dire predictions about the failure of the merger — virtually identical to the arguments against progressive unification — and in hindsight, we can see he was wrong.
Clark was vocally opposed to the 2003 merger between the Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform Party) and the Progressive Conservatives that led to the creation of today’s Conservative Party. In a November 2003 Globe and Mail column, he made some eerily familiar arguments against the merger. “Progressive Conservatives are being asked to vote ‘yes’ to suicide,” he wrote. “The argument is that a new ‘Conservative’ party — a party ashamed to call itself ‘progressive’ — would be competitive in more seats in the next election. That is simply not true,” he wrote.
“By assisting in the suicide of the PC Party,” he continued, “[the Canadian Alliance] will gain some of those votes. But not all of them. At least one in four people who voted for me in Calgary Centre in the 2000 election would have nothing to do with Reform/Alliance under any name. They would vote Liberal, or NDP, or abstain.”
In fact, in 2004 (the first election following the creation of the Conservative Party), Conservative candidate Lee Richardson won 51.15% of the popular vote in Calgary Centre, boosting that to 55.41% in 2006, to 55.60% in 2008, and finally to 57.68% in 2011. But in the 2012 by-election, we saw the same vote-splitting phenomenon among the centre-left parties as in other ridings (and the overall popular vote) in 2011: Conservative Joan Crockatt won the riding with only 36.87% of the vote, with the Liberal candidate winning 32.68%, the Green candidate winning 25.65%, and the NDP candidate winning 3.85% — for a combined total of 61.18% of the popular vote.
Sound familiar? These are some of the same arguments we have heard over and over against progressive unification. To read articles by others that make even more of the same arguments, check out this collection of articles against the PC-CA merger, whose concerns and predictions, like Joe Clark’s, didn’t come to pass.
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