Thursday, May 27, 2010

Come Together Right Now

There's lots of blogobuzz about coalitions, mergers, and accords this week - Bob Rae celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Peterson-Rae Accord, the Tories fear monger about a coalition for the gazillionth time, Kinsella muses about Liberal-NDP deals (well, a reader does), and Frank Graves talks about mergers:


How to unlock the Tory lead? Do the math, EKOS president Frank Graves says, and that “may shed some light on the issue of possible alliances and coalitions in the future.”

Mr. Graves says an NDP/Liberal model is the most discussed alliance. (Indeed, earlier this week former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was on Parliament Hill for the unveiling of his official portrait, told CTV’s Tom Clark the issue of a merger with the NDP was put to him early in his tenure but it never went anywhere.)

Considering today’s poll, Mr. Graves notes the two parties “enjoy 42 per cent of voter support which certainly elevates them from also-rans to clear contenders for power, perhaps even a majority.”

Small problem, however: Mr. Graves says his past research has shown the union is not “perfectly efficient” as some Liberal supporters would move over to the Conservatives.


I'd say "not perfectly efficient" is a gross understatement. When the Alliance and PCs merged, they managed to keep just 78.5% of their 2000 vote (from 37.7% combined in 2000 to 29.6% in 2004)...this, despite being given the gift of Adscam. And remember, that was a reunion - this ain't. By Graves' own numbers, just 37% of Liberal voters list the NDP as their second choice, while 35% of NDP voters list the Liberals as their second choice.

Let's run a quick experiment on the 2008 vote totals. Let's say 80% of the Liberal vote decides to vote for the new Liberal Democrats and their catchy Red and Orange colour scheme, 10% votes Conservative, and 10% stay home and watch American Idol. For NDP voters, I doubt the transfer would be quite as fluid - after all, the new party would be led by a Liberal and if NDP voters really cared about stopping Harper or being in power, they'd just vote Liberal in the first place. So, maybe half of them go along with the deal, a quarter vote green, and a quarter stay home. In terms of popular vote, that would actually work out to a 73% vote transfer to the new party, similar to the PC-Alliance merger rate.

So what would be the end result of this?

CPC 163 seats
LD 93 seats
BQ 50 seats
Other 2 seats

Hell, let's assume 80% of both Liberal and NDP voters join the new party, with the others just staying home - not a single former Liberal casts his or her vote for the Conservatives. The end result is still a narrow 7-seat Harper minority.

So, yeah. In a world where 1 + 1 = 2, talk like this makes sense. And maybe after a decade Canadian politics would recalibrate itself (although I suspect the Greens would just end up playing the role of the "new" New Democrats).

Maybe a coalition or a few non-aggression pacts here or there make some sense. But a "unite the left" merger? It won't happen and it wouldn't work.

29 Comments:

  • See here for some more detailed calculations on what type of retention rate would be needed to make an all-out combination worth the effort. (With substantially the same conclusion.)

    By Blogger The Jurist, at 6:54 PM  

  • Spoilsport.

    The other thing too is that a merger wouild presumably require conventions and leadership races and etc etc. Lot of money, lot of of time, and no reason for Harper not to drop the writ at an inconvenient moment.

    Considering an arrangement should the next election give LPoC + NDP a majority would be okay. But why now? UK coaltion didn't really come onto the radar until about a week into the campaign.

    By Blogger bigcitylib, at 6:54 PM  

  • Not a fan of coalition. I hate the idea of a two party state like the US. Polarizes politics too much. We need to maintain the multi-party state to keep some hope of retaining European-like liberal democracy.

    What I do like is the idea of a "deal" to split up "winnable" ridings prior to an election. It doesn't even have to be formal... Just something like "whoops... we forgot to run someone in Danforth", etc., etc. We can also make it look like the Cons' fault for trying to catch the parties with their pants down by calling an election before we have nominated all our candidates...

    Both parties - right now, should target nominations for the most "winnable" ridings - where we are up against the Con incumbent (for the NDPers that's mostly on the Prairies; for the Libs mostly in suburban Canada). Let us wait for Harper to drop his writ before we decide what further to do in those ridings where there is NDP or Liberal strength. Worse case scenario, the leaders appoint candidates as they often do... Meanwhile we focus on more winnable ridings.

    By Blogger WesternGrit, at 7:46 PM  

  • For the merger to happen, the Liberals would be admitting they are no longer a viable, credible national party. Have they reached that point yet? And does Ignatieff want to go down in history as the guy who sank the party?
    Given the Conservatives usual trend of shooting themselves in the foot everytime they get a lead in the polls, all might not be lost yet.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 10:10 PM  

  • Yeah, 4 years out of power is hardly desperation territory yet.

    The problem with the non-agression pacts is a bit the same - the vote doesn't always transfer fluidly. Plus it pisses off local party members and hurts you in terms of the vote subsidy.

    I'm not dead set against doing it in a handful of ridings against CPC incumbents (I didn't really mind the Liz May deal), but there's a lot to consider beyond just the math.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:17 PM  

  • And remember, that was a reunion

    Rubbish.

    A large chunk of the 1993 and 1997 Reform votes and seats, which then got passed down for another one or two elections before the "reunion" election in 2004, came straight from the NDP column.

    They were congenital protest-voters who would never vote PC OR Liberal. Significant numbers have already started leaking back to the NDP and even to the Greens.

    By Anonymous adduant, at 12:42 AM  

  • Rubbish.

    No, it's not rubbish, although you do make a valid point about many western 1988 NDPers becoming 1993 Reformers.

    The NDP appear to have gained some back some of that support from the Tories in BC, but are still sitting at roughly the same support levels in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (the latter in which they've won zero seats in three elections, down from 10 out of 14 in 1988.

    Overall, the merged Conservatives have done pretty good at holding onto their NDP-turned-Reform support.

    But getting back to your point, I don't see how Reform taking support from the NDP tells us much about how a Liberal-NDP merger would turn out. Most of the NDP switchers back then were likely populists, and were thus attracted to Manning's democratic reforms (that was their raison d'etre, after all). I can't see the Liberal Democrats getting a big swing of support from either the Conservatives or the Greens simply on the basis of a merger.

    But CalgaryGrit, you did make one obvious error: the combined Alliance/PC vote in 2000 was 37.7%, not 44.3%. (It was 38.2% in 1997 and 34.7% in 1993.)

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 1:55 AM  

  • How much of an effect would a charismatic leader with an inspiring vision have on the aforementioned calculations?

    By Blogger MississaugaPeter, at 7:34 AM  

  • MissPete - That would help. But it would help with or without a merger...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:30 AM  

  • IH - You're right. I added 2000 CA vote to 97 PC vote by mistake.

    The end result is still that 1 + 1 doesn't equal 2.

    As for adduant, the point is that a PC/CA merger is a lot more natural than a Liberal/NDP one.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:31 AM  

  • Liberal majority = zombie idea. Time to get creative.

    By Blogger Greg, at 10:52 AM  

  • If Liberal voters really cared about stopping Harper they'd just vote NDP in the first place.
    In my riding the Liberal candidate ran for shits n' giggles with hand-painted signs, and 2,400 Liberals still voted for him - just about enough to ensure that the Con defeated the NDP incumbent.

    By Blogger Lenny, at 10:59 AM  

  • A merger doesn't make sense right now.

    A coalition is a different story.

    With a coalition, they'd each run a full slate of candidates, but their ads and literature wouldn't target each other.

    Either before or after the election they would announce to the Speaker that they are sitting as a coalition, much as Joe Clark and the PCs did with Chuck Strahl and the DRC back in 2001.

    Sitting as a coalition, should their numbers exceed the Conservatives in the next election, the Governor General would first invite them to form government. They could also choose to dissolve their coalition at any time (say, for example, the Liberals failed to include enough NDP ministers).

    If it weren't for the justifiable backlash from their horrible first attempt, they'd probably already have all of the logistics worked out and would be sitting as a coalition as we speak.

    P.S. If the coalition were highly successful THEN the party could merge. Historically the only reason for mergers was if one of the parties was going to die without it. Not the case here.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 11:40 AM  

  • Dan,

    Any talk of a merger shouldn't really focus on the next election. It'd be more important to think about the longer term equilibrium. Such a merger would considerably strengthen the green party and increase the tensions there between the prtogressive and conservative elements of the green party.

    There are some second order effects too: the elimination of the NDP as a federal entity would impact the provincial NDP parties and likely these provincial parties would stand in the way of such a merger.

    Any change a stronger green party could actually win some seats as the new third party? could one or two of them be in Alberta?

    Anyway, not likely to happen anytime soon.

    By Blogger Michael, at 12:19 PM  

  • Michael - I think a Lib/NDP merger would just make the Greens the de facto leftish party. The Tories would also shift left a bit (because there would be votes there from those who don't like the NDP elements in the new party).

    So, really, you'd just be reseting politics to it's 60s/70s dynamic, with the Conservatives replacing the PCs, the Lib Dems replacing the Liberals, and the Greens replacing the NDP.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:25 PM  

  • Lenny - fair enough. And the same holds true in ridings like Trin Spa, where it's a Liberal/NDP race.

    But, if you look at people who actually JOIN political parties, I suspect NDP members aren't as hung up on being in power as Liberal Party members.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:26 PM  

  • btw, I've fixed the CA-PC merger numbers in the post based on IH's catch above.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 2:37 PM  

  • So, from my reading of Mr Rae's posting, his idea of a merger was one wherein the Liberals and the NDP, *after* the election results are in, combine to form a merger. (As he did in 1985, though he does not seem to propose it in 2010). So all of this spin with Reform-Alliance-Conservative numbers amounts to just that -- spin! But keep spinning, it seems to be the season for it!

    By Anonymous Vancouverite, at 4:24 PM  

  • People are confusing a "coalition" or an "accord" with a "merger". What Rae did in 1985 was an "accord" between the Liberals and NDP. They remained totally separate parties. I think that the discussion right now is about how Ignatieff needs to get his head out of the sand and stop his absurd refusal consider any deal with the NDP. No one is talking about merging the parties - these are parties that have a separate history going back over 80 years!

    If only we had AV (Alternative Voting) as is being considered in the UK. Then people could vote NDP #1, Liberal #2 and Tories dead last - or Liberals #1 and NDP #2 - then no more vote splitting!!!

    By Blogger DL, at 4:40 PM  

  • But getting back to your point, I don't see how Reform taking support from the NDP tells us much about how a Liberal-NDP merger would turn out.

    I wasn't aware that that was my point.

    My point, in case it wasn't clear enough, is that it is far-fetched to call the (Reform)CA/PC unification a "reunion", at least where their electorate is concerned, since a very large chunk of the Reform/CA electorate had not been in the pre-Reform Rise PC fold in the first place.

    By Anonymous adduant, at 10:41 PM  

  • I support a coalition... between the Conservatives and Liberals. This country faces great challenges and needs a stable government. An agreement by the two largest parties could focus on steady, centrist management of the country.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 1:47 AM  

  • Such a grand coalition works in terms of numbers and - generally - ideology. Unfortunately, neither the current leadership nor activist base of either party is prepared to consider it. Perhaps one day we will gain the kind of political maturity present in Germany or even the UK, but it might take a national crisis first. We haven't had anything approaching that since 1995.

    By Blogger Josh, at 10:17 PM  

  • I wasn't aware that that was my point.

    Hmm, guess I was over-interpreting you. Sorry about that.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 11:20 AM  

  • As someone who "leans" Conservative, I'd like the Liberals and the NDP to merge. I'm not spinning. I'd really prefer it. I think enough votes would migrate to the Conservative party to put them over 40%, higher than the combined Liberal/NDP vote, which I believe would end up in the 30s.

    There are a lot of right-leaning Liberals who would definitely move to the Conservatives. There are also many NDP votes that would switch to the Greens, or even the Bloc.

    I'd also like to see a more clear election of the left vs. the right. Although I fear what we'd see instead are two parties running against each other on virtually the same platform.

    Finally, it'd be nice to have a leader's debate without 5 people involved.

    By Anonymous Michael Fox, at 4:57 PM  

  • Anyone else remember the 308 strategy?

    By Blogger Brad, at 4:41 PM  

  • I wish there was more talk of a Liberal/Green merger... that I think is more workable than a Liberal/NDP one.

    A Liberal Green Party could essentially create a highly visible and active Green sub caucus.

    By Blogger MERBOY, at 10:16 AM  

  • I don't think your math is taking into account the fact that the Liberals lost many of their Blue Liberal anti-coalition people already because of the fear of the NDP becoming a government (via the Quebec surge and belief no one would get a majority).

    I think the Liberal popular vote right now reflects the retention rate between mergers that would have existed had it be done with our usual public opinion polling of 30%ish percent.

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