Don’t let “merger” be our 2015 version of “coalition”

In my last post, I discussed the need to distinguish the Liberal party from the NDP as a prerequisite for our party returning to power. Unfortunately, any such discussion will be hampered by the specter of a merger between our two parties. The “merger question” has the potential to be just as damaging to our electability in 2015 as the “coalition question” was in 2011. It is important to put this issue to rest as soon as possible and now, with our leadership race imminent, we have the perfect opportunity to do so.

Over eight months, the Liberal party is going to choose its next leader. Though there has been much talk about moving the party away from being completely leader-driven in our agenda, the supporter class will almost guarantee that this remains unchanged. By opening up the voting to anyone, the traditional power structures and power bases will be circumvented – anyone among the public who so chooses will vote – and since the leader has enormous power under the Elections Act, they will have enormous power within the party. Moreover, the voices of the Liberals who stayed loyal and worked hard during the dark days of 2006 to 2012 (or thereabouts), will have their voices drowned out by the throngs of new fair-weather supporters eager to have their opinions counted. Though the temptation is to take a hipster-like attitude towards the party (“Oh, I volunteered during the 2011 election when we had no chance under Ignatieff. You probably haven’t heard of him.”) we need to accept this situation as the opportunity that it truly is: all of our ideas will now be vetted by the engaged segment of the liberal-leaning public. Elections are decided by the undecideds; we’re lucky enough that our leadership candidates will now endure a trial by fire.

Though I have (clearly) not always been in favour of the idea of a supporter class of Liberals, the role that supporters will play in the next leadership race has the potential to help us a great deal in the quest to kill the “merger question”. With this in mind, it becomes vital that we have a pro-merger candidate participate in this race, who then makes their case to the country and is defeated soundly. Should this happen, we can fairly say that the idea of a merger has been put to the general public, since anyone can vote in our race. As credibly as Stephen Harper can say that voters have rejected the Green Shift, the Liberal party will be able to say that voters have rejected a merger.* At that point, we’ll be in a much better position to talk about Liberal values and positions relative to the other parties and specifically the NDP.

The Liberal party will not return to power until it has properly made its case for its necessity. The call to merge, in a lot of ways, has muddled this discussion. It is difficult to view the Liberal party as a necessary entity when the plausibility of a merger implies that our similarities are more salient than our differences. Just as the NDP elected a candidate who has made it clear that a merger is off the table, the Liberal party would be wise to make a great show of doing the same thing.

*should the pro-merger candidate win, well, maybe us anti-merger Liberals were wrong…

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