The Agenda

Does Canada’s Liberal Party Deserve to Survive?

Rather remarkably, the Liberal Party of Canada, a storied political party that has played a crucial role in the development of Canadian national identity, fared so poorly in three by-elections this week that it fell behind the insurgent Green Party in total votes across all three ridings. David Scanlan of Bloomberg writes the following:

With all polls reporting, Conservative Joan Crockatt had about 37 percent of the vote to win Calgary Centre, a downtown district of condo dwellers and oil and gas headquarters, beating the Liberal challenger who had 33 percent support and the Green candidate who had 26 percent. In Durham, outside Toronto, Erin O’Toole retained the seat for the Conservatives with more than half of the vote.

In the Calgary race, “it’s remarkable that the Conservatives have gone from winning a minimum of 51 percent of the vote to about 36 percent,” said Melanee Thomas, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary political science department. “That’s a pretty significant erosion of their support base.” …

In Victoria, British Columbia, the official opposition New Democratic Party held its district after a strong challenge from the Green Party. The NDP’s Murray Ranking took 37 percent of the vote to win, while Green candidate Donald Galloway had 34 percent, according to Elections Canada.

Thomas is struck by the fact that the heart of Calgary now has a left-leaning population, but this shouldn’t be too shocking given its demographic mix. The deeper question is whether the Liberal collapse means that the party should seek a merger with the social-democratic New Democratic Party, which emerged as the Official Opposition after Canada’s last general election. A merger of the center-left parties would have unpredictable consequences, e.g., many assume that the right-leaning faction of the Liberal Party would bolt, with many of its members joining the Conservatives, a party that itself represents the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance, which was itself an attempt at uniting Progressive Conservatives and members of the Reform Party. And if the CPC took on a more Liberal hue, one wonders if a new Alberta-based protest movement, like the provincial Wildrose Party, might arise, recapitulating Reform’s defection from the old Progressive Conservative coalition.

Many Liberals are confident that the NDP’s success is not durable, as it is built on successes in Quebec that will be difficult to repeat. Others, including Andrew Coyne, argue that the LPC is unlikely to reemerge as one of the two major parties in the near future but that it can flourish as a centrist third party. Canada’s partisan landscape is endlessly interesting, yet it doesn’t have obvious implications for or resonances with U.S. politics, where ideological maneuvering tends to happen within the two major party coalitions. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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