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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Sunday 18 March 2012

A House Divided: To Merge or Not to Merge?

     - Nathan Cullen, NDP Leadership Candidate

     - Abraham Lincoln

To be honest, I haven't spent much time thinking about the potential of a merger between Canada's Federal Liberal and NDP Parties.  It just seems like such a stretch for entrenched Party diehards to look beyond the institutions they've defined themselves by.  Political Parties are, by nature, clannish (hence the whole “my Party right or wrong” mentality); each embraces its ideology as superior to the others, who are then viewed through the same stigmatic lens we might reserve for any Inscrutable Other.  Call it political ethnocentrism.

As such, it was a biblical ordeal for the right to unite; since then, Stephen Harper has viewed cooperation as a sometimes necessary tool in his toolbox, but the endgame has always been about control.  Now that he has a majority, cooperation has been discarded entirely.  People of disparate perspectives from the former Conservative and Reform Parties have fallen behind him.  Their ideological beliefs (like transparency and accountability) were so important, whatever means to gain control of the system were justified.  Now that they’re there, the need to keep the socialists and separatists at bay is so dire, they are warranted in “postponing” a few of those agenda items and maybe overlooking a couple of their beliefs.

Politics, after all, isn't about solutions - it's about winning the biggest blocks of influence possible.  You work your Machiavellian magic to whatever degree you have it in you and to the victor go the spoils.  In this sense, Canadian politics is pretty feudal, much the same way as our service delivery is.  Between the Parties we see policy duplication, gaps and overlaps, plus extreme views taken to differentiate one from the next.  Again, it’s not about what’s best, but rather what sells.
The best policy, on the other hand, comes from the convergence of ideas.  That’s the whole reason we have a Parliament; debate allows for criticism and amendments to policy directions, ideally resulting in the best thought-out options.  Dictatorships, apart from surviving through oppression and secrecy, have very one-track minds.  The directions that come out of totalitarian governments are invariably flawed and short-sighted.

What I would like to see is a collaborative Parliament – four Parties bringing different views to the table not with the goal of trade-off bargaining, but with the intent of finding middle ground that builds on the best interests of all.  You can call me wildly idealistic; I look at the trajectory Western society has taken from fiefdoms to representative governance and feel pretty comfortable we’ll get there, eventually. 

I’m also a realist, though.  Team Harper has power and is loath to take any risk or neglect any factor that can manipulated to engineer outcomes favourable to themselves.  We can count on a mounting boil-the-frog effect in Canadian politics as long as Stephen Harper leads the government and the Canadian Conservative Party (which won’t be forever, but a lot of the pretenders to the throne don’t play nice with others either).  This isn't good for them or for the collective us.

So, should the Liberals and NDP merge?  I think the best thing the two Parties can do is set the example of how Parliament is supposed to function by working together to find the best possible solutions to the country’s woes.  That means a bit of tag-teaming in the House, joint-amendments to Tory Bills, meaningful discussions amongst themselves about what matters to Canadians and what the best opportunities and challenges are moving forward.  Above all it requires understanding, patience, creativity and a willingness to budge.  It makes a far more powerful statement for the two Parties to remain whole and yet work together than to merge entirely.

After all – isn’t it Canada’s tradition of strength through diversity and solutions through compromise that makes us great in the first place?

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