Norman Spector, writing in The Globe and Mail, argues that the Liberal Party should unite with the Green Party and the NDP under a competent Stephen Harper- or Jean Chrétien-like leader for the Canadian centre-left to profitably challenge the Conservative Party.
[I]f I were Elizabeth May, I’d be having problems looking at myself in the mirror after contributing to the demise of the greenest Liberal leader in history. And, I’d be giving serious thought to David Suzuki’s warning that the Green Party marginalizes the environment as a political issue. I’d also be looking closely at what David Anderson accomplished for the environment as a Liberal cabinet minister.
Jack Layton, too, should be doing some serious soul-searching. To the surprise of no one (including himself, I’d wager), his application for the job of prime minister was turned down. Nor will he be serving as leader of the Official Opposition, despite having run an excellent campaign against a weak leader who arguably turned in the worst performance in Liberal history. Perhaps Mr. Layton – a man whose family has a long tradition of government service – should explain to New Democrats that their electoral success is greatest in provinces that have two-party systems.
In other words, if he can’t beat them, he should join them, particularly now that Liberals must be fearing Mr. Harper’s minority status will reinforce a centrist approach to governing. Moreover, the Conservatives are expanding their pool of voters among various ethnic groups, their areas of regional strength have a growing population, and a redistribution of seats in the Commons will bring the Conservatives closer to majority territory.
[. . .]
Uniting with the Greens and NDP would give the Liberals a core of principled supporters to match the Conservatives’ base. And, though neither of the smaller parties wants to sacrifice its principles, politics is about fighting for your position and then agreeing to compromise. The difference between uniting parties before an election, and forging a coalition after – be it under our electoral system or proportional representation – is mainly about where, when and how compromises are made.
Moreover, let’s face reality: Strategic voting will not defeat Mr. Harper. Few voters have the requisite information on local races. And no party leader is eager to recommend another party during a campaign, lest it taint their brand in the eyes of their own voters.
I’m reluctant to put it this way to my leftie friends, but sooner or later they’ll have to find their own Stephen Harper. The arguments against uniting the centre-left are no better than they were a decade ago when fragmentation of the centre-right allowed Jean Chrétien to cruise to victory. The key to political success is to give voters one alternative when a government has worn out its welcome.
Lysiane Gagnon disagrees somewhat, at least from the Québécois perspective.
During the election campaign, many wondered how the Liberal Party would have fared if it had been led by Michael Ignatieff. My guess — and everybody else’s — is the party would have been a formidable rival to the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois. It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of Quebec delegates at the 2006 leadership convention were supporters of Mr. Ignatieff.
[. . .]
Mr. Ignatieff, on the other hand, has many assets when it comes to winning Quebec voters: flawless, elegant French, and dark, intense good looks that somewhat resemble those of Lucien Bouchard, the beloved icon of the 1990s. Mr. Ignatieff is a public intellectual rather than a straightforward academic, and Quebeckers love public intellectuals — people who are cultured, at ease with ideas and can philosophize on various themes.
More important, Mr. Ignatieff is popular among the nationalists because he was the first to embrace the notion of Quebec as a nation. This was a skewed view — there’s certainly a French-Canadian nation, but Quebec as a province is not a nation — but it worked, and now that the idea has been co-opted by Stephen Harper and accepted by large segments of the political class, Mr. Ignatieff can look like a precursor.
By the time the Liberals choose a new leader, Mr. Ignatieff’s initial stand in favour of the war in Iraq will have been forgotten and forgiven, especially if Barack Obama is elected president.
The Obama factor might play in the Liberal leadership race. Even though Mr. Ignatieff is 14 years older than Mr. Obama, he’s the only Liberal contender (so far) who can generate a bit of excitement: He, too, comes from outside the box, and he’s not a typical politician.
I wonder: Could Michael Ignatieff be the sort of person Spector would consider a centre-left Stephen Harper?