Last week two Canadian political parties caused a brief tempest in the national teapot when they formed an alliance to fight the upcoming general election.
Stephane Dion, leader of the once-mighty Liberals, and Elizabeth May of the until-now irrelevant Greens have agreed not to run candidates in each other’s ridings, a pact made all the more mystifying by the fact that May has no riding to bargain with, and even with the Liberal pull-out, is still a third-place long shot in Central Nova.
If it seemed likely that the Green leader would succeed in her Quixotic attempt to unseat Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Peter MacKay in his hometown, the picture would be different.
We might say, ah, a planned Liberal/Green merger after the election, how clever!
But MacKay is a successful and popular incumbent, despite the fact that he’s a fatuous twit, and the Liberals and the Greens ran respectively third and non-existent in the riding last election. So what is being achieved with this merger?
OK, Dion gets rid of a perceived left wing candidate in his riding, where he too is perceived as left wing. That’s a good thing for him, even though the perception is rubbish in both cases, but what does it do for the Greens?
Why are they running their leader in a lost-cause riding? Why giving the Liberals this strange gift?
It helps to know that May and Dion have been making friendly faces almost since a convoluted twist of fate tossed Dion up on the leadership stage, probably as much to his own surprise as anyone else’s.
And the love has grown warmer lately. Last December May said, “If they try to smear (Dion) and say that he’s somehow associated with past Liberal corruption, they’re just barking up the wrong tree,” and, “If they try to say he was anything other than a very strong environment minister, they’re making it up.”
In January, Dion said he would approve of May’s presence at televised leaders’ debates despite the fact that neither she nor her party have a seat in Parliament, and praised her “long experience in the issues of sustainability and the environment.”
Again, the question jumps out, why? What’s in it for Dion to praise a rival — if unthreatening — leader? Was this deal in the works since last year?
May claims, a bit disingenuously, that there has been no “back-room deal” between Grits and Greens, because the arrangement was made between herself and Dion personally.
It wasn’t done in hotel rooms, but in their regular every-day offices, she points out.
This undisguised leader-to-leader dealing confers on the outcome, we are to understand, the squeaky cleanliness of a front-room deal, so much more wholesome than a back-room one.
Politcal dealing, floor crossings, vulnerable minorities, and party alliances are all features of a multi-party democracy at work, a system Canada’s had more in name than in fact until now.
The Liberals’ long hegemony broken, the Conservatives too far right for the majority of voters, what’s effectively been a two-party system is showing signs of weakening.
But what’s behind this latest dealing? Who are the dealers, and what is being dealt?
We know the Liberals already from many years of experience, but who are these Greens?
Much of the comment on the recent arrangement seems to be based on the notion that it’s a merger of left-wing parties, a notion that’s false in both cases.
The Green Party of Canada, unlike its European namesake, has never been a left-wing party.
Former leader Jim Harris, an inspirational business speaker, once described the Greens as “fiscally conservative, socially progressive, and economically sustainable.”
They endorse progressive views on subjects like Afghanistan, poverty, equal rights, and of course the environment, but espouse a free-market system, regulated by tax incentives as much as by penalties.
It might seem odd for the Liberals to align themselves with a fringe party trying to stake out the ground once occupied by the late Progressive Conservatives, but multi-party democracy is a strange and boisterous beast.
Not so long ago, the Conservatives were the Reform, just another fringe regional party struggling for relevance. Not so long ago, the Liberals were the natural rulers of the country.
Any number of things could happen now that the old two-party stranglehold is weakening.
Maybe the Greens will win some seats, and form a coalition government with the Liberals.
Maybe the Liberals will take such a dive that the NDP will enjoy a surge.
Maybe a sudden rush of body bags from Afghanistan will overwhelm the Conservatives and drive them back to Alberta. It’s no longer possible to define the impossible in Canadian politics.
As to whether the conservative-conservationist Greens will make a good fit with the Liberals, there’s no reason to expect not.
So long as they’re willing to run left and govern right, to make lots of progressive promises at election time and then spend their years in office bragging about the 10 per cent of them they kept, and to quietly pursue Big Business’s agenda for an integrated North America, the Greens will make perfect Liberals.