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 – 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.

In reality, though, it’s said here it’s not that simple.

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.”

In addition, under the neoliberal strain of conservatism exemplified by Mr. Harper, only one right really matters – or at least trumps all others – and that is the right to property.

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.

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  1. Thanks for the article, Dave. However, I am sad that you have given up on Alberta politics. I guess the NDP government is perfect in every way. You should change the title of your blog.

    1. On point: It was Klein who said he would change this province in ways that no other elected party would be able to change them back. The NDP outside of the obvious revenue challenges have a whole cart load of problems to face yet. The grazing land review is a hero’s leap I would say but it didn’t mention the worst of the worst.

      Before Mike Cardinal left office he sold off or gave to what he called “the agri food industry” the grazing lands on the east slope of the rocky mountains where incidentally all our ground water aquifers originate. All my efforts at the time and that was considerable could not get me the names of who he turned them over to. First in Line and first in time are the rules that govern who owns the water and Nestle would be considered an “agri-food industry”

      My guess is the NDP will have some court time ahead of them and i really hope they go for it rather than be scared away.

  2. Which brings up a little conundrum that I posited elsewhere. What happens when a repeal of C-51 comes forward in the House? Will the Liberals join with the CPC to, perhaps, bring down the Government (if it is a confidence vote) or, at the very least “save” C-51 and do the very thing that lost them their support? In which case may they rot in Hell.

      1. You might be right about that, “Jean,” since C-51 will allow the Harper government to cheat more effectively and intimidate more legitimate opponents. I know this isn’t what you intended to say, but it is the reason I allowed this comment. I thought you were trolling from the West Coast. Welcome back to Edmonton.

  3. I think Trudeau is trying to coast into office with a smiley face and a bunch of Hot IT guys throwing policy and promises out like candy. Trudeau doesn’t seem to have to support of the “old guard” but has one of the most high powered internet presence between all the parties. He expects he can win the new generation of voters though IT although, I don’t think there is a new generation of voters. Most people now are on bicycles or closeted with their games. On line voting would change all that but, I don’t know which way.

  4. I must disagree with your statement that to Mr. Harper, “only one right really matters – or at least trumps all others – and that is the right to property.”

    It depends on who owns the property. Western Canada’s farmers used their own money to build and pay for all the property of the Canadian Wheat Board not the least of which was its international reputation for quality, honesty, and reliability. Mr. Harper’s government has nationalized those assets without paying any compensation to western grain farmers.

    1. My sense of Harper’s logic about the CWB and logic of the farmers opposed to CWB, is that they have the right to sell their property any way or via any means they see fit, and that property right should not be infringed upon by any collective decision the CWB might impose.

      Being required to sell their property through the CWB system was in their view, a form of government enforced taking of their property, given their argument that they could get higher sales value on their own.

      The freedom to do as you will on your own property or with your own property is, IMO, the foundation of Harper’s ideological argument and the farmer’s who were with him against the CWB.

      As I’ve come to see it, freedom from government/socialist/collective interference with private property is the creed/ideology of the Fraser Inst. et al/CalgarySchool/WildRoseParty/TeaParty/CPC leaders.

      You know… this is standard fare in the ideology/propaganda of ‘taxes are theft’ kind of anti-society, dog-eat-dog, bootstrap fantasy world on the right.

      1. Hi Sam, sorry my comment was a bit vague; I’m so inside baseball, I’m looking out.

        You are right that the Harper administration and the Astroturf gang killed the CWB because they dislike collective bargaining – at least for some. Now that they have killed the single-desk CWB, their next step is to give workers a similarly bogus freedom to dispose of that most basic property, one’s labour and time, by gutting labour unions.

        However, here’s why I said the Prime Minister also has no respect for private property: Just like most homes are collectively-owned private property paid for by couples, and most companies are collectively-owned by their shareholders, the Wheat Board collectively owned real property paid for by farmers.

        Western grain farmers voted to use the money generated from the CWB’s operations to buy about 15,000 rail grain cars, two grain ships, an office building, staff, foreign sales offices, and to build up a savings account north of $100 million in cash. All of it essentially mortgage free according to their last audited statement. They also built a “brand value.”

        Ottawa simply seized these real assets without any compensation being paid. No different than if they seized your home or car without compensation or the NDP nationalized an oil company without compensation.

        In the Federal Court the Harper government successfully argued that since their legislation privatizing the CWB did not specify compensation, no payment to farmers was necessary – which looks like a legal precedent which ought to sober up his supporters in big business.

        So that’s why I said Prime Minister Harper only respects private property when it suits him.

        Much of this legal saga is documented by the Friends of the CWB here:

      2. It’s more than this, Sam. It’s also making sure that the ‘commons’ is slowly (or quickly) degraded by turning it over to a private elite. That way, those who don’t have property (or have relatively little property) end up having little to no rights, making them more beholden to those with property/power. This was the whole point of the Enclosure Acts that created the labour force out of previously free peasant farmers during the Industrial Revolution…and we are seeing it more and more as private property eats up more and more of today’s commons, like DNA, knowledge (think high tech lawsuits on frivolous patents), and the like.

  5. I often wonder about the long-term damage this sort of wedge politics that Harper practices will inflict on both the body politic and the very culture of Canada. At some point, those left out of the national dialogue (that is to say, all voters who do not vote Conservative) will start to feel mighty disgruntled – a disgruntlement that could conceivably last a generation or more if the Cons succeed in becoming the new natural governing party (as John Ibbitson seems to claim). When another party gets elected, it will be under tremendous pressure from its supporters to quickly (and probably not particularly carefully) tear down the changes the Conservatives have made, enraging Con supporters, and on and on. In short, this new type of wedge politics could really pull the country apart and impart longterm (possibly irreparable damage) to the respect we generally have for our fellow citizens who think differently from us. Add regional politics into the toxic mix and I truly fear for this great country.

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