ILLUSTRATIONS: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Conservative Leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, get together in a liaison dangereuse … actual Canadian politicians may not behave exactly as predicted, or expected. Below: The real Mr. Harper, NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, the real Mr. Trudeau and notorious Republican political consultant Karl Rove.
Today’s serious question is this: If Justin Trudeau’s Liberals end up holding the balance of power in the next Canadian Parliament, will they tilt toward the New Democrats under Thomas Mulcair or the Conservatives under Stephen Harper?
If the latest polling trends hold – and they may not, of course – it seems most likely it will be the Liberals, not the NDP as many of us are still used to instinctively thinking, that will be the third party with a slightly smaller slice in a “Pizza Parliament.”
The Globe and Mail’s election-forecast page yesterday concluded that the probability of winning the most seats is tied roughly 50/50 between the Conservatives and New Democrats, but that if an election happened today there’s a 97 per cent chance the NDP and Liberals together would hold a combined majority.
Even putting it this way tells you what the Globe and Mail assumes will happen right after the federal election scheduled for Oct. 19 if no party emerges with a clear majority.
The CBC’s poll tracking effort – overseen by the estimable Eric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight.com – estimates voter support in the traditional percentages to reach a slightly different conclusion. On Wednesday, the CBC concluded from several polls that the New Democrats are in the lead with the support of 32 per cent of committed voters, the Tories are virtually tied with 29 per cent, though on an upward trend, and the Liberals have the support of 27 per cent.
Seen the CBC’s way, this would result in an NDP minority.
Regardless of how you slice the pizza, the conventional wisdom in mainstream media nowadays seems to be that since the Liberals and the New Democrats are both “left wing” parties (neither are, and especially not the Liberals), they are bound to form an alliance of some description in the event neither has a majority but together their MPs outnumber those of the Conservatives in the House of Commons.
For one thing, while all three major parties are safely in the neoliberal right-wing political sphere on economic issues, with Mr. Mulcair’s NDP just a smidgen to the left of the other two (hysterical Conservative propaganda notwithstanding), there is almost no difference at all between the Conservatives and the Liberals on the economic course they are likely to chart.
So from an economic perspective, it would make more sense for the Grits to strike a deal to keep the Cons afloat at the expense of the Dippers.
But on the matter of their approach to democratic politics, New Democrats and Liberals still think in terms of traditional brokerage politics, in which a government tries to reach a compromise among competing interests voters can support. Both also show considerable regard for human rights as traditionally defined.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to have enthusiastically adopted the strategy of the notorious Republican political consultant Karl Rove of appealing to the most extreme groups in the conservative voter base – electors who have little taste for compromise but can be counted on to vote. As National Post columnist Stephen Maher usefully explained this strategy yesterday, Mr. Rove’s approach is “to increase the turnout of reliable voters rather than building a broader coalition.”
These tendencies explain such Harper Conservative traits as the party’s disdain for science, its emphasis on punishment and revenge, its willingness to allow wedge voting strategies to promote anger and even hatred against certain religious and cultural groups, and its contempt for broad application of human rights that emphasize traditional fundamental rights.
In this regard, an alliance between Liberals and New Democrats would be much more natural. It also explains why it was a serious strategic error for Mr. Trudeau to back the Conservatives on the unconstitutional Bill C-51, which may account for the recent polling successes of Mr. Mulcair and the NDP, and the decline in support experienced by the Liberals.
Then there is the imponderable psychology of Canadian voters, at least here in the West. As both the rise of the Reform Party throughout Western Canada a generation ago and the recent success of the NDP in Alberta illustrate, it is surprisingly easy for many rank-and-file Conservative and NDP voters to move back and forth from one column to the other.
This may drive their party ideologues nuts, but it is a real phenomenon.
Moreover, since neither typical Tories nor typical Dippers seem to be able to stand the Liberals – even though the Conservatives and Liberals are closer on economic issues and the NDP and Liberals are closer on social and democracy issues – it’s hard for many Tories and New Democrats to contemplate working with Liberals.
So the likelihood that whatever alliance the pundits might conclude makes sense from a policy point of view needs to be tempered with an understanding of what typical party members will stand for, and it isn’t necessarily what you’d expect.
Add to that the chemistry among the three leaders and, at a guess, the possibility of a deal between Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau is much smaller than one between Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau, which may not be all that great either.
Indeed, assuming the prime minister stays at the head of the Conservative Party, as he seems determined to try to do, a deal between Mr. Harper and anyone seems hard to imagine!
Moreover, who can deny the possibility that, however they normally feel about one another, a significant percentage of NDP and Liberal supporters could never forgive their leaders for doing anything that allowed Mr. Harper to remain in power.
All of which is a long way of saying the conventional wisdom is probably right, all things being equal – which they do seem to be right now.
But people will do strange things to get power and to hang onto it, so don’t rule out anything at all – including anything from an informal legislative alliance to a coalition government between the Liberals and the Tories.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.