What impact will the Liberal-NDP alliance have on the Conservative leadership race?
By Mark Wegierski
The somewhat unexpected Liberal-New Democratic Party alliance might have a profound impact on the federal Tory leadership race.
First of all, it will tend to strengthen those contenders who are currently sitting M.P.s, as they will not have to rely on a sitting member to resign, so they can run to enter Parliament in a by-election – or, even worse, actually wait until 2025 to run in the general federal election. To be an M.P. currently in place would be a distinct advantage.
Secondly, the Liberal-NDP alliance will probably contribute to a climate of increased polarization, so that will tend to help those candidates who are perceived to be more right-wing. That would most obviously be Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis.
However, it could also be argued that with the Liberals becoming less centrist, it might make a centrist candidate more attractive, as he or she would be more likely to attract disaffected Liberals who are least somewhat fiscally conservative. A more conservative leader would probably be unable to appeal to that group, who are repelled by ideological stridency and/or social conservatism.
The predominant strain in the current Conservative Party is probably to support a more “small-c conservative” candidate. However, the two main “moderate” contenders, Jean Charest and Patrick Brown, might be able to sign up a large number of new members (they have until June 3), which would change the ideological complexion of the Party.
It is also important to consider (because of the structure of the Conservative leadership selection process) the possible down-ballot support of different candidates. This might be an area of weakness for Poilievre – whereas the “moderate” contenders may be stronger in that regard. Indeed, Charest and Brown have some kind of deal to support each other in the leadership battle.
Both Charest and Brown are definitely “outsider” candidates, who are not currently sitting in the federal Parliament.
As the leadership race continues, it will be important to see how the Liberal-NDP alliance unfolds. If it leads to radical measures, or a radicalization of the Liberal Party, the more conservative candidates in the leadership race will have an opportunity to launch pointed attacks on the “socialist coalition.”
If the Liberal-NDP alliance is perceived as being dominated by the Liberals, and as not being especially radical, this will probably help the more centrist candidates in the leadership race –
as they will not have to engage in ideologically strident arguments that are not to their taste.
It has been argued that the Liberal-NDP alliance (if it holds) would be a good thing for whoever is chosen as Conservative leader, as he or she would have a solid two to three years to build up their “brand” and Party.
However, if the alliance happens to break down (for whatever reason), the Conservatives could be thrust into an election they are ill-prepared for.
It is arguable whether the Liberal-NDP alliance actually guarantees political stability until 2025 – there are too many imponderables involved. Perhaps if the polling numbers are especially good,
the Liberals will want to have a federal election, so they will provoke the NDP into jettisoning the alliance.
Some Liberals have said that they would prefer Poilievre rather than Charest or Brown to win the Conservative leadership – as Poilievre can easily be painted as a “far-right extremist” – and, so,
handily defeated in the federal election. However, it is not entirely certain that Poilievre can be easily “pejoritized” so thoroughly. He is an excellent debater.
Should Charest win the leadership, there is the possibility that some small-c conservatives will bolt to Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada. However, Charest’s supporters would argue that he would gain far more of centrist Liberal voters, than he would lose of hardcore conservatives. This would especially be the case in Ontario and Quebec, where Canadian elections are usually decided.
The Liberal-NDP alliance might have a large influence on the federal Conservative leadership race, time will tell.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based, Canadian writer and historical researcher, published in Alberta Report, Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, and The Hill Times (Ottawa), among others. His article about Canada was reprinted in Annual Editions: World Politics, 1998-99 (Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1998).