The group will also be heavily involved in campaigning when it comes time for the Liberals to pick a leader. Biggar sees these in-party elections as a chance to establish electoral reform as a major citizen-driven issue, whether or not candidates like Cullen come out on top.
“No matter who wins these leadership races—on both sides—the larger the number of pro-cooperation members within the party, the more of a mandate whomever becomes leader will have to work on this issue,” said Biggar.
Electoral reform is one of Leadnow’s top priorities for long-term campaigning, and it’s something Biggar says they will be focused on over the course of the next three years. He explained that there was a big “bump” in interest last year after what many considered a disappointing election, but said the following months brought a bit of a lull.
“Now, from the crime bill to demonizing environmentalists, to just the incredible rhetoric coming out of the Harper government…a lot of Canadians are really saying we need to rethink what we’re doing here in our approach to politics to make sure that we can move past this kind of hyper-partisan demonizing politics towards a more post-partisan cooperative politics,” he said.
Biggar says he and his colleagues were “stunned” by the amount of support indicated by their recent survey, which asked their 80,000 members what they thought of a cooperative strategy between the NDP, Liberals and Greens. Out of almost 10,000 respondents, 95 per cent agreed with the proposal and over 72 per cent said they “strongly agreed”.
Of course, the survey was conducted within Lead Now’s limited audience of politically engaged citizens, most of whom are younger voters interested in the organization’s other campaigns (against things like the omnibus crime bill and the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline). More inclusive polls in the past revealed much less support for cooperation—a 2010 Harris Decima poll showed half of Canadians in favour of cooperation with no consensus on how it would work, while a similar poll in 2011 showed that a majority of voters rejected the idea of a Liberal-NDP merger.
SFU political science professor Patrick Smith says he’s not surprised that people are starting to warm to the idea of cooperation.
However, he disagrees with Biggar’s assertion that now is the time.
“It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s not going to happen,” said Smith.
“I think in the majority of both parties, neither think that in the short term, this is in their best interest. It doesn’t mean that sometime this might not happen, but the majority vote in both parties would be, from my read, not only that it won’t happen but that it should not happen.”
Smith said significant ideological differences between Liberals and the NDP are the primary reason for internal arguments over cooperation. While he doesn’t see the strategy working out in time for the upcoming election in 2015, he doesn’t discount the possibility further down the line.
“If another election happens and Harper has another majority with 39 per cent of the vote, you would think that what is being posed might have more interest,” he said.
“But I don’t think we’re there yet. There’s a bit of a way to go before we get to that.”
To cooperate, or not to cooperate?
Here’s a list of other notable MPs who have come out with opinions on the subject:
Bob Rae, Liberal interim leader – Says a Liberal-NDP merger, is “not on the agenda”.
Elizabeth May, Green Party leader – Supports cooperation between Liberals, NDP + Greens.
Brian Topp, NDP leadership candidate and party president (on leave) – Has ruled out a merger, but previously said the party shouldn’t drop their “willingness to work with others”. Recently said he did not support Cullen’s cooperation proposal.
Thomas Mulcair, NDP leadership candidate – Said he does not support joint nominations.
Pat Martin, NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre – Supports cooperation, says parties’ “marriage” may be premature, but they should get a hotel room and “fool around a bit”. Made strategic cooperation with Liberals a condition of his support for a leadership candidate.
Justin Trudeau, Liberal MP for Papineau, QC – Not convinced a merger is the right path, but says he’s “open” to discussion.
Denis Coderre, Liberal MP for Bourassa, QC – Says uniting the parties would be a “valid discussion”.