Saturday, May 30, 2015

On cooperative priorities

As part of their new "Hope and Wild Flailing" campaign theme, plenty of Libs are looking for any pretext - however lacking in reality - to attack Tom Mulcair. And Mulcair's latest comments on a coalition offer the latest flimsy excuse. So let's look at how there's still a huge difference between the NDP and the Libs when it comes to a willingness to talk about coalitions - but how Mulcair could do far better by working with the NDP's longstanding willingness to cooperate.

To start with, let's look at the obvious distinction between the parties' respective stances.

Trudeau's position has been to declare that he is "unequivocally opposed to any sort of coalition". In other words, if one believes Trudeau's public statements (and once again, we shouldn't), the Libs don't care what kind of terms they could agree to on policy, cabinet positions or any other area, but are opposed to cooperating with any other party as their lone inviolable principle. And if that means propping up the Harper Cons, that's a result Trudeau is happy to accept.

In response to that position, Mulcair is now saying that he's not going to talk any more about a coalition in the period leading up to the election:
On était prêt à mettre beaucoup d’eau dans notre vin, parce que notre priorité est de nous débarrasser de Stephen Harper. M. Trudeau a dit qu’il serait peut-être prêt à travailler avec le NPD, à condition que je n’en sois plus le chef. J’ai soulevé le projet à quatre reprises. À un moment, on se lasse. C’est fini ces histoires-là. On regarde l’électorat et on leur dit que s’ils veulent du vrai changement, ça passe par le NPD. C’est dorénavant le seul propos que l’on tiendra là-dessus.
So the Libs have stated their bare refusal to even consider talking about any coalition, and have indeed stated that they'll never accept one in any shape or form. And in response, the NDP has said it won't bother continuing to make an offer that's been rejected.

Which isn't to say that I agree with that choice.

In fact, it should be clear that the period leading up to the election isn't the point where any deals would be reached in any event (since pre-election collusion along the lines of the Red Green pact has never been on the table). Instead, coalition discussions would happen only after the party standings are determined in October. And I'm at a loss as to why Mulcair is backing off any preparation for that discussion as the election approaches.

As I've pointed out before, any party presenting itself as focused on ending the Harper Cons' stay in power should be zeroing in on why that goal is important, rather than leaving any room for implication that working together isn't worth the effort. In the "change" versus "more of the same" argument that will ultimately determine whether the Cons cling to power, it doesn't serve the public interest to hint that there are circumstances where a party would turn down an opportunity for change.

Moreover, as has been clear for some time, a strong majority of voters - and particularly the ones likely to be choosing between the NDP and Libs as their options - prefer a coalition to the alternative. So it's hard to see why Mulcair would be backing off of his predecessor's strong stance that a narrow-minded focus on false majorities and resulting refusal to cooperate represents part of the broken Ottawa that the NDP is trying to fix. And indeed, a departure from that party-first mindset represents part of the change that voters are most likely to prefer even in choosing among their opposition alternatives.

In sum, Mulcair's stance is far from the outrage that the Libs' spin machine wants to present it to be, and in fact leaves open the possibility of a later coalition which Trudeau has repeatedly tried to shut down. But it does involve needlessly forfeiting what should be an important issue for the NDP and for the broader political scene alike.

[Edit: fixed typo, wording.]


  1. Anonymous12:20 p.m.

    Actually, has Trudeau publicly stated clearly that he has ruled out a coalition with the Cons? He had done so about a coalition with the NDP but it seems that I have a different take than you (you suggested that the Libs had also closed the door to a coalition with any party).

    I am suggesting obviously (don't we all love that word, eh?) that a vote for the Libs could turn out to be a vote for a Harper-Justin coalition.

    I do agree that Mulcair saying that there is no point talking about a coalition before the election results is not the same as Justin saying that he would not form one with the NDP. In fact, Justin had gone on to even offer an explanation why he would not do so .... that their values were too different.

    It should be obvioius (there is that word again) that even if the Libs win a plurality, and the recent believable truly random polls of EKOS and Forum are suggesting that they are back to third place standing, they are still very unlikely to be anywhere close to a majority. In fact, with the apparent momentum of the NDP, it is more likely for the latter to win a minority.

    Thus one has to question what is the game plan for the Libs to keep attacking the NDP? Are they really interested to help the Cons keep their power if they themselves cannot win it ... in other words, they would rather help the Cons win than the NDP?

    1. That's certainly a possibility as well, though I'd suspect that any future Lib support for the Cons would look much like what they offered in the past. An actual coalition would be based on some negotiated agreement as to policy and/or participation in government - but the Libs have shown they're happy to simply wave through the Cons' choices and hope to be able to force an election when they think it's to their advantage.

  2. As to why Mulcair would now say "To hell with that!" well, he's in politics. He doesn't want to look like a wimp and a beggar, because that's not an image that attracts votes. It's all fine in the abstract for voters to like the idea of a coalition, but they still won't respect a leader who gets sand kicked in his face and takes it. Look at Dion and Adrian Dix.

    Meanwhile, that poll from May 29 is very interesting. Quite the dead heat, but I think the NDP is actually in a stronger position even than it appears there. Seeing it like that next to the results in the last election draws my attention to the Green and "Other" vote. In the poll, Green and "Other" support is noticeably higher than it was on election day--and I think it's pretty likely that next election day, those will shrink down again. Sure, plenty of people like Elizabeth May, but the chips are down right now; how many will vote Green if they think it might put Harper back in? The problem with FPTP and a reason we need a better electoral system, but I'm just analyzing tactically here. So if those percentages shrink back down, where will they go? Knowing nothing about "Other", best assumption is those votes will split roughly evenly. The Green vote on the other hand . . . I think we can safely assume very, very little of that will go Con. So that's an excess 3.9% to split between Libs and NDP, and probably more to the NDP than to the Libs.
    So if nothing changed between today and election day, my read is the pressures of actual election would give the NDP at least an extra .6% from "other" (and about the same to the other parties) and, conservatively, 2-2.5% extra from people who prefer Green, adding up to 31.5% - 32% or so, compared to 30.2% or so for Cons (getting some from "other") and 28.9 - 29.4% for the Libs (getting some from "other" and some from Greens). Not exactly majority territory, but plenty of seats and maybe a slight plurality.
    Hopefully things will, in fact, continue to change in our direction. But it's something to keep in mind about the polling--the NDP may have a 2%+ cushion vs. the Cons relative to what the polls say, if Green numbers (as usual) fail to hold up on election day.

  3. Good points as to what we should take from the current polls. But I'd take issue with the "wimp and a beggar" description of a leader in talking about cooperation - and a conspicuous push to rise above the sand-kicking and mud-flinging (without abandoning substantive critiques of one's opponents like Dix) seems like exactly the way to gain both respect and popularity where none of the other major leaders are making the same effort.

  4. Anonymous7:39 p.m.

    In 1980 the NDP turned down cabinet positions in Trudeau's last majority gov't. Mulcair said no to a coalition in 2012. Now he wants one. Let's stop pretending that the NDP were always willing. They weren't. This could have been settled 35 years ago. Rightly or wrongly, Trudeau is saying "no" right now because of the con attack ad machine. When the seat count shows a coalition is possible then we'll see if it is still a no.
    Here's an idea. How about the Libs & NDP supporters stop helping Harper attacking each other.

    1. I've suggested exactly that, both at a party level and a supporter level:

      Any interest in working on that front, or only on trying to drag down the NDP?