But pass the beer & popcorn, Mr. Reid, because I agree with you wholeheartedly.
For as long as I can remember, the Liberal Party has operated as a "big tent" party capable of attracting people on all sides of the political spectrum in this country. As a social progressive with right-of-centre foreign policy views including an activist agenda to make the world safe for democracy plus a strong commitment to the principles of free trade and globalization, I can easily find a place within that tent and not feel as though I'm forced to accept a position that compromises my integrity and my values.
There has, of course, been a notable exception to that rule, as Paul Martin went completely off the rails during the 2006 election campaign and it took the party a good couple years to remember that it was something more than the Green Party with a commitment to liberalism. During this period I kept the party at more than an arm's length and even flirted with the concept of aligning myself with the Conservatives. On the issues that mattered most to me there was a degree of convergence; however, my past concerns about Harper and the social conservatism within their ranks prevented such an alliance from ever taking place. After the appointment of Michael Ignatieff as leader, my exile ended as I truly hoped that the brilliance he exuded in his political academic writings would come to the forefront as a politician and he would restore the party to its former greatness and restore the coalition across the political spectrum that served so well for so many years.
Things haven't exactly turned out that way, of course. Though Ignatieff was once hailed as a leading light among liberal internationalist scholars, he hasn't been able to provide a coherent and visionary platform for Canada's international agenda that would outflank Harper while remaining close to the new Obama administration. Sure, that's the least of Ignatieff's concerns given the economic climate and the day-to-day political gamesmanship that is Canadian governance, but it's been a disappointment for me personally. Too often he, and the rest of the party's talking heads for that matter, have gotten bogged down in mundane matters that have prevented them from attacking the Conservatives on the biggest issue of the day: the economy. Instead of relying on the neoliberal economic agenda that did so well for Canada during the Chretien-Martin years as a basis to launch a coherent and articulate agenda to get us out of the horrific deficit we find ourselves in, we get a lot of static and very little in the way of what a Liberal alternative would do differently than than the Tories.
It is because of that vacuum and a seeming reticence to take the party on a little trip to the right to remind Canadians that the Liberal Party can be very fiscally conservative in times of needing to tighten the economic belt that there are growing voices for a merger of the centre-left parties. Such a move would alienate those socially progressive/fiscal conservative/activist foreign policy members of the party, abandoning the big tent in the hopes that the left-of-centre tent is larger and better-funded than the right-of-centre tent. Recent history suggests that the Conservative fundraising machine can easily outdo the combined efforts of the Liberals and the NDP, and my suggestion here is that many suddenly-alienated right-of-centre Liberals may instead park their political donations with the party that doesn't have Jack Layton in a high position of influence.
What deals would the Liberals have to strike with Layton to make a coalition or merger acceptable to him? Would the Liberals abandon the relatively recent forward-looking transformation of the Canadian Forces into a relevant and effective force capable of waging a "3-block war" in the post-9/11 world, to go back to the days of "peacekeeping"? Would the Liberals accept suggestions of a new series of tax increases and greater social spending? Would the Liberals cede ridings in places across the country because it was calculated that the NDP would have a better chance of victory, thus ending the Liberal Party's standing as a truly national institution? There would be a heavy price to pay for Layton's support in any formal coalition or merger, and that price would almost surely be too heavy for many Liberals who are already concerned about the long, slow drift to the political left.
It is a plain truth that under the status quo, the Liberals will have to fight hard for votes on the left, the centre, and the right against a united right-of-centre Conservative Party. Small-c conservatives in this country have a singular option and a safe place to park their votes. Progressives in Canada do not have a united option; indeed, it is split among three parties and in Quebec among four. As long as the battleground on the left is so divided, it will be a strong challenge for any party to defeat the Conservatives in an election.
This begs the question: should the Liberals take the easy route and form an "anybody but Harper (and the Bloc)" to better increase their chances at reclaiming power as soon as possible, or should the Liberals roll up their sleeves, dig in their heels, and be prepared to do the ground work that is necessary to claim dominance over the centre-left and compete well enough on the centre-right to win an election the old-fashioned way: by being the party that holds the greatest appeal to the Canadian public?
For this Liberal, there can be only one answer: let's roll up our sleeves and remind Canadians why the Liberal Party of Canada is the most successful politicial institution in the Western world.