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Time for a Liberal-Green Coalition?

By Stuart Hertzog
May 5th, 2011

Elizabeth May and Michael Ignatieff - opposite reactions

While the national media pundits have been fantasizing about the possibility of a coalition between the remains of the Liberal party and Jack Layton’s frothy orange NDP, the Green party’s unexpected success in getting its leader Elizabeth May elected in Saanich North has opened up a juicy, sizzling, and wholly tantalizing new prospect.

How about a coalition between the Green party and the Liberals?

To my mind, this is entirely more possible than any talk of a merger between the Liberals and the New Democrats, two long-established parties with widely different philosophies and decades of animosity piled up between them.

But co-operation between the Greens and the Liberals is an entirely possible scenario.

It’s happened before

In 2008, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP Blair Wilson briefly became Canada’s first Green MP after being ejected from the Liberal caucus and barred from renomination following allegations of election financing.

May needed to have at least one Green MP sitting in parliament to be included in the upcoming televised leadership debate. After examining Wilson’s election finances, May declared them legitimate, even though the Liberals thought him so beneath even their own questionable standard of ethics that they won’t allow him to return to their fold.

Politics, they say, is the Art of the Expedient. The trick worked for May: she was allowed into the leaders’ debate and made an impression; Wilson ran for the Greens but didn’t get elected. Justice works in mysterious ways.

Both are centre-right

Despite suggestions of NDP-Green similarities, there’s no love lost between them. In fact, they’re quite different. The NDP stretches from the far Left to slightly right of centre, while the Green party increasingly is becoming avowedly centre-right.

Greens and Liberals are much closer philosophically, as their erstwhile leader Stéphane Dion demonstrated. Perhaps he and not Wilson should have run as a Green? His life would have turned out much better than his present state of political exile.

In many ways, the Greens are a better expression of contemporary liberalism than the moribund and shrinking Liberal party. Greens label themselves as environmentally concerned, socially progressive, and fiscally conservative. Isn’t that pure liberalism?

Occupying the sweet spot

Politically, the Green party occupies a sweet spot in the centre of Canadian politics. It’s attractive to the new generation of voters now emerging from their teenage obsessions. It also appeals to the growing ranks of small-c conservative retirees who are becoming concerned about the kind of world they’re about to pass on to their grandchildren.

Despite the Liberal bravado about rebuilding the party, I don’t see much possibility of it happening. Rather than pouring money into a tainted and crumbling vessel, I believe that many Liberals are going to look to the Greens for their political rejuvenation.

Some right-wing Liberals will drift into the Conservative camp as Harper relaxes into his iron-clad political hegemony, and a very small number will find comfort with the NDP. But with the deep-seated animosity between Liberals and socialists, I don’t see much of the latter happening. Throwing their lot in with the Greens will be much more palatable.

Liberal MPs defect to Green?

How do I see this all playing out? I don’t foresee an official inter-party union, at least not at first. There’s too much egotistical pride in the Liberal camp for that. But if I were the leader of the Green party (an unlikely prospect!) I’d be making overtures to as many Liberal MPs as I could find who are disgruntled with their party’s leadership.

May has done it before, admittedly in an extreme case. But for today’s few dozen Liberal MPs, the prospect of being a big fish in a vibrant and growing Green pool could be tempting. Stepping away from the desperate attempts at renewing the Liberal cadaver into an untainted party whose energy is bubbling and youthful could be very refreshing.

It would take only a few Liberal MPs moving to the Greens to start a major trend. Perhaps then the Liberal hierarchy would realise that their once-dominant political dynasty is a train wreck that cannot be rebuilt, and that for any of the 34 elected Liberals, their path back to political power is clearly painted Green.


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