If the future of the Liberal Party was to be the party that it was under its last two leaders then maybe it would be time to throw in the towel and pack it in. The right and part of the centre wing of the Libs could gravitate to Harper. The left and some of the centre might more or less willingly sign on to the new NDP ship of state. A number of Libs might just wish a pox on both their houses and withdraw from politics or go Green.
But the rationale I most often hear for merger assumes that one election, the last, foretells the future and that's just silly. Weak Liberal leadership, strong NDP leadership and wiley and deftly manipulative Conservative leadership all played a big role in the last election outcome. As far as the Libs were concerned, the vote was a referendum on a leader and leadership that's now safely gone. Is there a Lib who thinks his or her party gave it their all, gave Canadians their best in that election? If so, please join the merger line.
Something else that hasn't been resolved is just what the LPC would merge with? This comes down to the heart and soul of the New Democrats - socialism. Jack Layton, to his credit, very skilfully smothered the issue of whether the NDP, in opposition and with hopes to form a government, would expunge the party's historic commitment to socialism. Mr. Layton knew that was a powerfully divisive threat if he let it come to the fore. But, even if New Democrats are willing to let that sleeping dog lie, Liberals tossing about the idea of merger need to know the answer before they go ahead. Will they be merging into a party that's avowedly socialist?
If the Liberal Democratic Party is to be openly socialist that is going to weigh heavily on the numbers of Liberals, centre-right Libs who will be interested in signing on. A number of them will migrate, even if begrudgingly, to the Conservatives. That will greatly weaken the Libs bargaining position in merger talks. Look what happened to the Progressive Conservatives when they stepped into Harper's lion's den.
If the Liberal Democrats are not to be socialist but choose the path of centrism instead then there are going to be plenty of NDP faithful who won't want any part of it. After all, some of them have spent generations denouncing the Liberal Party. Why would they want their own party to take on that mantle? What about everything they've so proudly stood for all these generations?
As a centre-left Liberal, I should be the least troubled by the idea of merger but it still concerns me deeply. What's the rush? If there is to be a merger, it's going to take time and effort and a lot of compromise if we're to get it right. We can't risk getting it wrong. That goes for both sides. We have to measure our compatibility, our commonality of interests and in that identify our differences and weigh each side's ability to overcome them. Who gives? What? How much?
We still need to consult the public and the best way to discern their opinion is at the polls. We need another election, probably two, before we can safely gauge public support for a merged party. The whole idea could backfire with the electorate.
I have always associated the New Democratic Party as a party of lofty ideals and fiercely held principles. I have always valued the immeasurable role the NDP has played as the conscience of Parliament. But if the NDP want to pursue the path to Sussex Drive, they'll have to embrace pragmatism and compromise. Their future progressivism will have to be sharply muted from what it was in the past.
If the NDP believes it can campaign its way into government on a socialist platform then it should reject the Liberals. They'll only drag you down. If, however, the NDP believes it should become a latter day centre-left liberal movement, then it should come to that decision openly and democratically. Its lifelong, dedicated members deserve nothing less.
No, merger initiatives at this point smack of desperation and are riddled with potential pitfalls. The NDP needs to consolidate its organization in the wake of Mr. Layton's horribly untimely death. The Libs need to rehabilitate their own tattered organization. Neither side is currently ready for merger.