Time for the Liberals and the NDP to unite

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Sept. 21, 2018.   By

I live in the provincial riding of Etobicoke Centre. It was here where Premier Ford grew up, where former mayor Rob Ford lived until his death, where the premier lives today, and where most Ford Fests have taken place. To no one’s surprise, our riding, like the other two Etobicoke ridings, chose the PC candidate in the recent provincial election. It only stands to reason that the very heart of Ford Nation is deep, deep blue.

Except that it isn’t. The Liberal candidates in Etobicoke Centre won each of the four provincial elections that preceded the June 2018 vote. The smallest Liberal victory margin in the last three of those elections was 16 per cent. The federal riding of Etobicoke Centre is represented by a Liberal and has been for 21 out of the last 25 years. In the 2018 provincial election, the Liberals and the NDP together won 52.43 per cent of the vote in this riding, just a smidge below their province-wide combined total of 53.16 per cent.

In Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the Liberals and NDP combined to win the favour of 57.12 per cent of the voters, nearly 19 per cent more than the PC candidate who represents them at Queen’s Park. (The Green Party also did well here, receiving a higher percentage of votes than it did in several downtown ridings, including University-Rosedale, Toronto-St. Paul’s and Toronto Centre.)

Etobicoke Centre and Etobicoke-Lakeshore are just two of the many ridings where Progressive Conservative candidates represent an electorate that the vote count suggests is more progressive than conservative. In the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean, the PC candidate received 16,591 votes, slightly ahead of his NDP and Liberal opponents, who received 16,415 and 14,809 votes respectively. Ideologically, the MPP of this riding does not represent the majority of his constituents.

When confronted with these incongruous results, many disgruntled voters argue for proportional representation, a system that would ensure the composition of the legislature more accurately reflects voters’ preferences. As a supporter of our current system of single-member constituencies, I wish to suggest another solution: the Liberals and the NDP unite to form a single party.

The distinctions between the two parties — one traditionally centrist, the other social democratic — have diminished at both the provincial and federal levels in recent years. Both the provincial Liberal and NDP platforms in the 2018 election included increases in the minimum wage and minimum vacation time, pharmacare and dental benefits (though delivered in different ways), added protections for renters, and a continuance of cap-and-trade. The two platforms weren’t identical, but they were certainly similar in many respects, especially when compared to the PC platform.

Federally, the parties appear interchangeable in many ways. In 2005, the Liberals made Canada the first nation outside Europe and the fourth one globally to recognize same-sex marriage. The Liberals are currently legalizing cannabis and have voiced a strong commitment to Indigenous rights, gender equality and the environment. These would be NDP priorities as well.

It’s not even always clear which party is to the left of the other. In the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau pledged to run an annual deficit of approximately $10 billion (and has since run deficits significantly higher). In the same election, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair promised to balance the budget.

There are undoubtedly differences among the members and supporters of the two parties. But those differences exist intraparty, in every party, as well. It’s not clear from the policies adopted by the Liberals and the NDP in recent years that these differences are so profound as to make a merger of the two parties impossible. What holds the members of a party together, apart from a shared desire to govern, is a willingness to focus on the common ground, of which there is plenty between the Liberals and the NDP.

To my mind, Stephen Harper’s single greatest accomplishment as a Canadian politician wasn’t anything he did as prime minister, but rather his willingness and efforts to (re)unify the two federal parties on the Canadian right, the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance, in 2003. That merger paved the way for three Conservative Party election victories over a divided left and nearly 10 years of Harper in power despite his never winning 40 per cent of the vote. Is it not time for Canada’s two progressive parties to draw the obvious lesson here and become one?

Anthony Minna is a retired lawyer and former CEO of UBS Trustees (Cayman) Ltd.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/09/21/time-for-the-liberals-and-the-ndp-to-unite.html

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