Sunday, August 02, 2015

On end goals

We can fully expect Canada's election campaign to feature plenty more talk about possible coalition outcomes - which are favoured by the public, and may represent the best way to ensure the Cons' replacement if Stephen Harper again tries to cling to power. And as I've noted before, there remains little reason to take the Libs seriously in their threats not to cooperate.

But I'll take a moment to answer the latest excuse as to how the Libs are trying to present themselves as a party of change while needlessly ruling out what may prove to be the only way to get there - that being in a junior role in a coalition might be a fatal blow to the party.

Back when a coalition was formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the UK's 2010 election, I had this to say about the difference between what the Lib Dems negotiated for and what the NDP has pursued in past election cycles when it's sought to be the junior coalition partner:
Particularly during the 2008 coalition discussions, the NDP has consistently made clear that its top priority has been securing positive policy outcomes. And in order to reach those, it's been willing to trade off any expectation of top cabinet positions such as deputy Prime Minister, as well as to work in structures where its goal of electoral reform isn't on the table.

In contrast, the two largest benefits for the Lib Dems in their agreement seem to have little to do with substantive policy. Instead, Nick Clegg's appointment as deputy PM and the promised referendum on an alternative vote model look to be the main carrots for the Lib Dems in an agreement loaded with conservative policy priorities with only a modicum of mitigation for the worst off.
In other words, a party negotiating from a third-place position doesn't have a lot to gain merely from pursuing cabinet positions rather than policy accomplishments, particularly if it has no clue what it wants to achieve once it gets a seat at the cabinet table. And the subsequent annihilation of the Lib Dems offers evidence in favour of that argument.

But a third-place party which has a genuine policy vision will find few better opportunities to see it brought to life than in at the negotiating table and the cabinet table alongside a party seeking which needs its support to win a majority in Parliament.

Now, it's true that it's possible to support legislation on a case-by-case basis without a more formal coalition. But if anybody's needlessly confusing the issue, it's the party which is prematurely ruling one of those options out in the absence of anything even remotely approaching a defensible reason.

Moreover, a coalition which signals the availability of a stable alternate government to the Governor General forms an important subset of the cooperation options which can usefully be pursued - placing a significant onus on the Libs to provide a better explanation than they've deigned to provide so far.

In sum, if there is a reason for the Liberal Party to exist other than inertia, that reason should offer a justification to work with others - as well as the promise of building the party in the future through the accomplishments achieved under the coalition. We should then expect the Liberals to be able to articulate what they'd want to pursue (under a coalition or otherwise) if they do end up as the third party in a minority Parliament - and to be willing to work with the NDP and others to get it done.

On the other hand, if the Liberal Party is so confused about its own reasons for existence as to have no idea what values or policies are important enough to make cooperation worthwhile, then it's hard to see what Canadian voters could possibly have to gain by keeping it around. And so the more the Libs whine that they'd be doomed if they tried to work with anybody, the harder it is to escape the conclusion that they're broken beyond repair either way.

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