“Merger” isn’t the real issue for Canadian progressives right now .. but three cheers for Pat Martin anyway ..

Aug 31st, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Maverick federal New Democrat Pat Martin, MP for Winnipeg Centre, as he looked in 1979. Right on, Pat. Whatever else, Canada needs more politicians like you.

According to today’s Globe and Mail: “The push for a merger between the [federal] Liberal Party and the NDP has quickly become a major issue among the growing field of candidates to replace Jack Layton … The top contenders for the NDP leadership — party president Brian Topp and House Leader Thomas Mulcair — are being forced to deal with the thorny issue after maverick MP Pat Martin [Winnipeg Centre] said he will run if no one else takes a pro-merger position.”

In the same newspaper on the same day the always shrewd John Ibbitson has no doubt explained the real-world-of-politics bottom line on this issue right now: “Talk all you want — but Liberal and NDP pieces just won’t fit … Until both parties no longer have reason to hope [that they can win majority governments all by themselves], neither has reason to merge … Beyond that, the two parties will be fighting each other across the country in provincial elections this fall and into next year” (to say nothing of the federal by-election in Jack Layton’s  Toronto-Danforth riding — held by the Liberals “for three elections before Mr. Layton won it in 2004”).

Ibbitson’s explanation has been underlined by the latest Canadian federal politics poll, just released today as well: “A new poll suggests Jack Layton’s untimely death has triggered another orange wave across the country … The Harris/Decima survey conducted for The Canadian Press pegs NDP support at 33 per cent — tied with the ruling Conservatives and well ahead of the Liberals at 21 per cent.”

Even this encouragingly strong result for the federal New Democrats still falls far short of any majority government, of course. And the obvious pragmatic response to Pat Martin’s progressive merger challenge is also alluded to in Ibbitson’s customary shrewd Globe and Mail article: “‘In politics, timing is everything,’ observes Robin Sears, the former national director of the NDP who is today a consultant. ‘And this ain’t the right time.’ … That does not mean, he adds, that people of good will in both parties can’t talk to each other about possibly co-operating in the runup to the 2015 election. But now is not the time for those talks. And the time, says Mr. Sears, is probably ‘later rather than sooner.’”

* * * *

MP Pat Martin in November 2010, with his “Movember stache” to “raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer.” Compliments of Rosemary Barton at the CBC.

Both “top contenders for the NDP leadership — party president Brian Topp and House Leader Thomas Mulcair” already seem to be following Robin Sears’s advice, more or less. According to Mr. Mulcair: “No matter where these progressive forces come from, we will make sure we have enough Canadians to form the next government.” And:  “In an e-mail, Mr. Topp said he will follow in Mr. Layton’s footsteps and continue to encourage collaboration with other parties in the House without focusing on a merger.”

As Randall White noted in a posting on this site last week, there similarly appears to be some prospect that the coming Ontario election could lead to fresh precedents for Liberal-NDP co-operation at the provincial level in Canada — despite Mr. Ibbitson’s undoubted truth that the “two parties will be fighting each other across the country in provincial elections this fall.” According to today’s latest poll on this front: “With the Oct. 6 campaign officially kicking off next Wednesday, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is at 38 per cent, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty is at 31 per cent and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is at 24 per cent.”

The Maverick supports another of his many progressive causes, spring 2011!

(Mmm, let’s see now, if you put the Liberal and NDP numbers here together you get 55% for the progressives to 38%  for the Conservatives. Assuming the distribution of seats is not too skewed in a Conservative direction by our current twisted electoral system, we could wind up with at least something like the Ontario Liberal-NDP Accord of 1985 all over again?)

Finally, whatever else, when you read the account of Pat Martin’s merger musings in today’s Winnipeg Free Press, you do seem to hear some ring of the long-term plain truth (or at least we do, as mere progressive voters worried about our country): “Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin says he is prepared to throw his hat into the NDP leadership ring if no other candidates step forward on a platform to unite the party with the Liberals … Martin, one of the four longest-serving MPs in the NDP caucus, said the only candidate who will get his support is one who will bring the two parties together … Martin admitted he has a history of some knock-out fights with the Liberals but also pointed out this is not the first time he has suggested the two parties co-operate … In 2007 he was nearly punted from his caucus after he said the NDP and Liberals should form an alliance. However in 2007 he did not favour an actual merger … Now he does … ‘It’s time to bury the hatchet,’ he said. ‘Both our parties have serious flaws but we have way more in common than we have differences’.”

Pat Martin in the 2011 federal election campaign, when he won Winnipeg Centre for the New Democrats yet again.

The Winnipeg Free Press report continues: “Pat Martin said he thinks the NDP could win the next election on its own but if the NDP and Liberals ran together, it would be a certainty and a majority … Martin acknowledged if the NDP and Liberals united, the more right-leaning Liberals would likely abandon the ship. But he believes most of the right-leaning Liberals have already done so … ‘The benefits outweigh the costs and everybody knows that,’ Martin said. ‘If we believe all the things we say about Harper ruining this country, we have it in our grasp to do something about it.’”

Speaking the truth like this is not always good for your shorter-term political career, in the leanest and most opportunistic sense, of course, of course. But from where we sit the unusual Canadian maverick Pat Martin — aka “Soong-Wi-Wi-Itong (Strong Eagle Speaking Spirit)”, as he has been officially re-christened by the Assembly of First Nations —  is without any doubt (and here as in so many other cases) on the side of the angels. At some point down the road he will get his reward in heaven.

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