Liberals and New Democrats are deceiving themselves, says Green Leader Elizabeth May.
“I believe that both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party are suffering from the all-too-typical delusions of political parties,” May told the Straight in a phone interview.
A few days before MPs returned to Ottawa today (January 26) for the last sitting of Parliament before this year’s federal election, May said that Liberals and New Democrats think “that they can succeed in the first-past-the-post system, win a majority government, and not have to deal with the other parties”.
The Saanich-Gulf Islands MP was in the Lower Mainland on January 22 for a speaking event at SFU, and the launch of scientist Lynne Quarmby’s campaign as Green candidate for the new Burnaby North-Seymour riding.
While on her way up Burnaby Mountain on that day, Canada’s first elected Green MP talked at length about her past and ongoing attempts to forge electoral cooperation among opponents of the ruling Conservative Party.
As May acknowledged, the prospects for cooperation this year aren’t promising.
“The evidence at the moment is that they’re not willing to cooperate with each other or with Greens,” she said.
It only reinforces what the environmentalist has observed about Canadian politics.
“Having been in politics now for nine years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not an accident that the most nasty attacks by one party against the other will be against parties closer to each other on the ideological spectrum,” she said.
According to May, it’s largely because of the first-past-the-post voting system, where the winner takes all.
“The parties that are closest to each other on the ideological spectrum, because of the first-the-past system—and this needs to be stressed, it’s only because of the first-past-the-post voting system—that parties that are closer to each other ideologically or through their policies are more likely to be their sworn enemies because their vote and their voters and their support base might bleed off to that other party,” she said.
The Conservatives were like this in the past. May recalled that the Reform Party—of which Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a founding member—and the Progressive Conservative Party “spent a lot of time attacking each other and not necessarily focusing” on the ruling Liberals at the time.
The Reform Party became the Canadian Alliance, which eventually merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form what is now the Conservative Party of Canada, the same party that has governed the country since 2006.
According to May, Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens could have done a lot better since Harper came to power.
“But there’s all this jockeying for position, trying to kneecap the other guy from the opposition side, that undermines our effectiveness and our job as members of Parliament…to hold the government accountable,” she said.
According to May, “there’s far too much wasted effort in hyper-partisanship, of parties fighting with each other, thinking about when they are going to make their gains in the election”.
Citing an example, the Green MP said that she has observed that the NDP spends “more effort at making the Liberals look bad than really making a focused effort to criticize Harper”.
May has a mandate from the Green party’s national convention last year to seek electoral cooperation on a one-time basis only with other parties willing to commit to do away with the first-past-the-post system in favour of proportional representation.
“It wasn’t actually framed as an anybody-but-Harper initiative,” May said. “It was framed as, ‘We want to get rid of first-past-the-post.’”
As far as New Democrats are concerned, their job as the official Opposition going into the election this year is clear.
According to New Westminster-Coquitlam NDP MP Fin Donnelly, it’s to show that New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair is a credible alternative to Harper.
Donnelly was asked at a January 18 event in downtown Vancouver how his party looks at the idea of cooperating with Liberals.
“It assumes that the Liberals are progressive but I would argue that’s not case,” Donnelly told the Straight.
Liberals aren’t warm either to the idea of working with the New Democrats or Greens.
“To be very honest…the thing is that there is so much momentum right now within our party,” Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry told the Straight in a phone interview on January 23.
According to Fry, her party led by Justin Trudeau has “over 300,000 new members across the country”.
“We have people lining up in every single riding across this country, fighting nomination battles, you know, continuing to want to run for us,” Fry said.
Fry’s son Pete is the campaign manager of the Greens’ Quarmby.
“He’s an independent guy,” Fry said with pride when told about what her son Pete is doing. “He can think and do whatever he wants. I’ve always brought him up to be his own man.”
In 2012, May sent confidential letters urging opposition MPs to consider electoral cooperation to defeat the Conservatives.
May recalled that while there was enthusiastic reaction, the party hierarchies of the NDP and Liberal party put a clamp down on such talk.
Although the indications aren’t good that May will succeed in convincing New Democrats and Liberals to cooperate in this year’s election, the Green MP isn’t about to stop prodding them to do so.
May said: “I remain hopeful because I have the capacity for boundless optimism in the face of the evidence.”