Thursday, November 20, 2008

On common purposes

A couple of weeks back, I discussed the possibilities for NDP cooperation with members of Canada's other political parties, and concluded that the most interesting prospect would involve joining forces with all or part of the Bloc. With that in mind, it's worth noting a couple of recent stories which help to flesh out the opportunities and limitations of such an effort.

First off, let's note Kady's comment after Joe Comartin fell off the ballot for Speaker of the House of Commons:
So where does the NDP go now? To Milliken - or Scheer? And more importantly - what about the Bloc Quebecois? They were locked into Comartin - but now they’re free agents, as it were.
Now, it's worth noting that the Bloc presumably couldn't have been entirely locked into Comartin. After all, the combined vote of all of the NDP and Bloc MPs would have assured Comartin of a place among the top three contenders. And since it seems unlikely that many NDP MPs would have voted against their own partymate, the most likely conclusion is that there was at least some difference of opinion within the Bloc even while Comartin was still on the ballot.

Which is a shame in terms of the eventual result in the race for Speaker. But it may also serve some highly useful purposes in the long run: surely the more examples left-wing Bloc MPs and supporters see of their efforts being thwarted by the Bloc's other wings, the more likely they are to see some benefit in building stronger connections to the national party which shares their progressive values.

And indeed, Murray Dobbin's column yesterday suggests that there's already substantial cross-party work going on to set up an accord in Parliament:
Talk of a parliamentary accord between the Liberals, Bloc and NDP continues across the country, and inside and between the Bloc and NDP parties.

It would take the form of a Liberal minority government, following a non-confidence vote, with a proposal to the Governor General that the three parties would agree to govern for at least two years.

It would be based on a limited policy agenda -- for example, child care, climate change, the Kelowna accord, early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan -- defined by the considerable overlap in the three parties' election platforms.
Now, Dobbin spends most of his column criticizing the Libs for refusing to play along based on the fact that their corporate-friendly agenda would have to take a back seat under such an arrangement. But it's worth noting the possibilities that could arise even with only the NDP and the Bloc involved.

After all, the combined seat count of the NDP and the Bloc would exceed that of the Libs alone. So if the Cons were to lose a confidence vote or try to dissolve Parliament again, a strong argument could be made that an NDP/Bloc joint effort should receive the first opportunity to form an alternative government.

From there, one would have to expect a concerted focus on areas where the Libs' platform lines up with the NDP and Bloc, leaving the Libs with no reason at all to vote non-confidence. And to the extent of any disagreement (particularly on corporate tax cuts), any Lib threats to bring down a coalition would only serve to strengthen the ties between the other two parties.

Naturally, the greatest difficulty with that type of scenario would be the need for the Bloc to take an active role in government, rather than merely supporting an NDP/Lib coalition from the sidelines. But if Bloc members are already working with their NDP counterparts based on mutual agreement that the Cons need to be removed from power, the distinction need not be an insurmountable barrier. And indeed, the prospect of not only toppling the Cons but also ensuring a genuinely progressive federal governemnt could be just the catalyst needed to finally bring the Bloc around to the benefits of working within Canada as a whole.

It of course remains to be seen whether the current discussions will lead to that type of result. And it may be that the Libs will prefer propping up the Cons indefinitely to creating a situation where the left actually could unite. But it's almost certainly for the best that links are forming between progressives within the NDP and the Bloc - and a significant reward for such efforts may not be far away.

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