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Talk of Liberal-NDP merger dies down

OTTAWA - Talk of a “progressives” <font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch"><font class="matchSearch">merger</font></font></font></font></font></font></font></font></font></font></font></font> between the NDP and the Liberals has slipped into a deep coma.

OTTAWA - Talk of a “progressives” merger between the NDP and the Liberals has slipped into a deep coma.


Liberal MP Bob Rae mused publicly about such an option as the devastating results rolled in last Monday night.


But since then, the NDP has made a point of ignoring comments about a merger.
Fellow Liberals say Rae has damaged his chances of leading the party by
putting forward such an idea. And even he is backing away from his own
utterings.


“It would be irresponsible not to listen to what Canadians think about this question,” Rae said in a recent interview.


But he added that a merger
“can never be about one party taking over another party. The discussion
has to be about is there a possibility of a new, broader alliance. And
if there is, fine. If there isn't, that's fine too.”


Rae said on Friday he only commented on the merger possibility when asked about it by reporters.


In any case, for the foreseeable future, the discussion is going nowhere.


The
NDP would much rather take its newly won power and harness it so it can
focus on becoming a credible government in waiting, at first, and then
going on to winning the next election.


“Right now, the momentum is obviously with the NDP,” said veteran New Democrat MP Libby Davies.


Rae's
comments on election night prompted “a visceral reaction” among many
New Democrats, insiders said - mainly because they saw his remarks as
an expedient power grab from someone who had betrayed them in the past.


Rae
was an NDP premier of Ontario well before he left that party and
eventually became a Liberal MP with leadership ambitions. Now, his name
has become synonymous for merging the two parties - both among Liberals
and New Democrats.


“There's still a lot of hard feelings about
Bob,” said Tony Martin, a long-time New Democrat who just lost his seat
to a Tory in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.


Martin says the best hope
either party had of working together was in a coalition government. The
NDP caucus was solidly behind the idea a few years ago, and was also
receptive to a coalition with Liberals to face off against Stephen
Harper if he were to have won a minority.


Even then, however, the idea of a merger was not a first choice for New Democrats.


“There was no appetite for merger. There certainly was appetite for working together.”


But
now, with the Liberals suffering such a major setback, the focus of the
NDP will be on setting up a solid official opposition, Martin says.


Party
veterans are keenly aware that their sudden surge could just as easily
evaporate if they don't deliver on their promises, keep their new MPs
on the straight and narrow, and prove to the electorate that they are
the best alternative to the Conservatives.


It's a chance of a
lifetime, and they are adamant about not squandering it by flirting
with Liberals - especially since they saw little willingness on the
Liberals' part to talk seriously when they were the official opposition
and the NDP was a distant third or fourth.


Plus, the differences
between the parties run deep. The Liberal Party includes many a
right-leaning member who would balk at being complicit with the
social-democratic roots of the NDP. And the NDP mistrust of the
Liberals, whom they find impossible to pin down, is a large obstacle.


Eventually,
however, so-called progressives in both parties will want to discuss
how to make sure Harper doesn't win again, Martin added. Indeed,
despite the knee-jerk negative reaction New Democrats have to Rae, many
NDP insiders are reluctant to close the door on talks with the Liberals
of some kind, some day.


“Now we're in a position where we could actually lead a discussion to keep the Conservatives at bay,” Martin said.


The best bet for reflecting the voice of progressives is not in merging, but in democratic reform, says Davies.


The
first-past-the-post system has long been in the NDP's crosshairs, since
it penalizes third parties. Instead, the party wants to see a
proportional representation system that would be more reflective of
popular vote.


“One thing that needs to come forward is debate
and discussion about our democratic electoral system. The fact is, the
Conservatives only squeaked up a couple of per cent in terms of popular
vote, and yet they got a majority,” Davies said.


“The
first-past-the-post does create those kind of results that do not
reflect the way people are voting. I think more and more people are
getting that.”

 
 
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