A merger with the NDP may be the only option

For much of Canadian history, the Liberals have been the dominant party in federal politics. The period from 1896, when Wilfrid Laurier first won office as Prime Minister, to 2006 might be called Canada’s long Liberal century. During these 110 years, the Liberals were in office over 70 per cent of the time. Thirty-two general elections saw twice as many Liberal as Conservative victories. The Liberals were truly the “Government Party.”

In 2004, following an unprecedented internal power struggle and the regicide of a successful Liberal Prime Minister, the Liberals lost the majority they had held for three straight elections, and then in 2006 they lost government altogether. Leaderless in Parliament, incompetent in opposition, buffeted this way and that on crucial policy issues, they faced a Conservative Prime Minister who looked confident, focused and decisive, with a clear vision and a plan for how to get where he wanted to go. Worst of all for the battered Liberals, the Conservatives had against all odds made inroads into one of the Liberals’ traditional bastions, federalist voters in Quebec, just as the Liberals seemed in free fall in Quebec after the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery Inquiry. Was it possible that the long Liberal century was at last coming to an end?

This is indeed is a possibility. Of course, the Liberals have lost before, and sometimes it looked as if it might be terminal. In 1958, John Diefenbaker swept to a mighty landslide, nearly crushing the Liberals. In 1984, Brian Mulroney fashioned a Government Party–style victory for the Tories. But however dispirited and disorganized the Liberals seemed in the face of these adversities, Diefenbaker was gone in six chaotic years, and Mulroney’s finely crafted edifice crumbled so completely that after nine years in power his party was reduced to a derisory two MPs in 1993. It is possible that the Conservatives will once more self-destruct and the Liberals, with a new leader in place by December, will yet again inherit their accustomed seats of power.

Possible, but times and circumstances have changed in the early 21st century, and some of these changes have been dramatic. Even if the Liberals with a new and effective leader do return to power in the near future – by no means a sure thing – it will be as quite a different animal from the old Government Party.

Harper’s Quebec gamble

When the Diefenbaker and Mulroney Conservative governments self-destructed and the Liberals rebounded, there was a historical logic at work. In both cases, Quebec was at the root of both the Tories’ misfortune and the Liberals’ resilience. Both Diefenbaker and Mulroney initially fashioned majority governments by stealing the Quebec monolith that the Liberals had held, with the odd stutter, since the hanging of Louis Riel in 1885 and the conscription crisis during World War I. In each case, however, they did so via a different route than the Liberals had used. The Tories made alliances with Quebec nationalists, the bitter opponents of the Liberals. By Mulroney’s day, negotiations were with “soft” nationalists who later revealed themselves to be indépendantistes. Mulroney’s prized Quebec lieutenant, Lucien Bouchard, defected along with a number of other prominent Quebec Tories to form the Bloc Québécois, thus precipitating the Conservatives’ Canada-wide collapse.

The Liberals, on the other hand, never courted “soft” or any other kind of nationalist/sovereigntists, and when the Conservatives failed to hold their prize, the Liberals were there to inherit the steadier support of remaining Quebec federalists. However, there were already worrying signs in the 1990s that this historical pattern was weakening. Jean Chrétien was never able to reestablish the old hegemony; instead the BQ held most of the seats in Quebec during each of Chrétien’s three majority governments. Only a new Liberal monolith in Ontario (magnified by the electoral system) offset this loss.

Chrétien and his close Quebec coterie fought back, publicly with ideas (Stéphane Dion’s Clarity Act), which might have worked, but also secretly, and fatally, with millions of sponsorship dollars to bolster the federalist image. This turned into the sponsorship scandal, with corrupt connections to Quebec Liberal Party finances, and the public humiliation of the Gomery Inquiry. But worse than this was the perceived insult to Quebecers implicit in the very nature of the sponsorship program – buying support for federalism by sticking maple leaf logos on events, treating Quebecers as if they were children to be bribed with candy. In the aftermath of this fiasco, the federal Liberal Party’s prospects in francophone Quebec have shrunk to even lower levels.

Against all the conventional wisdom of the Quebec political class, Stephen Harper was the biggest winner in Quebec in the 2006 election. That an anglophone from Calgary with an announced aversion to opening up the constitution should win ten Quebec seats and become the next new thing in Quebec was surprising to say the least. Even more surprising, and much more challenging to the Liberals, was the way he did this. This time there was no Mulroney-like trap of appealing to sovereigntists in faux federalist clothing. Harper asked only for the votes of federalists, the Liberals’ traditional constituency. The BQ’s Gilles Duceppe began the campaign with dreams of sweeping every francophone seat in Quebec and making the Liberals “disappear.” In the event, the Liberals were reduced to a rump of anglophone- and allophone-dominated ridings in Montreal. But what Duceppe neglected was that there were francophone Québécois who wanted a non-Liberal federalist alternative to the sovereigntists, and found it in Harper’s Conservatives. Harper took the wind out of both the Liberal and the BQ sails.

Conservative viability in Quebec has yet to be proven. Harper faces major difficulties in building on his 2006 breakthrough. His party policies, and his own ideological convictions, are quite evidently offside with mainstream Quebec opinion. The increasingly bloody Canadian engagement in Afghanistan, the knee-jerk pro-Israeli position over the Lebanese fiasco, the pro-Bush foreign policy stance, the repudiation of Kyoto, the reopening of the same-sex marriage debate, hints about a “defence of religions” act; and finally the Conservative determination to scrap the gun registry in the face of the Dawson College shooting rampage in September 2006 – all these positions, while doubtless representing genuine conservative convictions, are at odds with the socially liberal, anti-imperialist and ecologically conscious Quebec mainstream. The longer Harper remains in office and the longer the Conservative policy record, the more Quebecers seem to conclude that this party is not one with which they can remain comfortable for long. By the fall of 2006, Conservative poll numbers in Quebec had begun to drop.

There is also the longer-term problem of the quid pro quo expected for Quebec federalist support of the Harper government. That there is a fiscal imbalance between Quebec and Ottawa is an article of faith among Quebecers of all political persuasions. That Harper must deliver the goods on restoring a fiscal balance (which means billions of dollars from the federal treasury moving to Quebec) is the bottom line on his party’s future fortunes. The BQ demands transfers to Quebec of $3.9 billion annually from the federal treasury as the price of keeping the Conservative minority in office. This cannot be done bilaterally or Harper will face a Meech Lake–like backlash from his own base in the West, not to speak of Ontario. But the other provinces agree neither on the definition of the fiscal imbalance, nor on the prescription to reverse it. The first ministers’ meeting on this subject scheduled for the fall of 2006 has been cancelled. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has hinted broadly that fiscal rebalancing means giving the provinces more tax room to raise more revenues from their own taxpayers – not at all what Quebec has in mind.

Another potential problem for Harper is his sweetheart deal with Quebec Premier Jean Charest. To Harper, a close alliance with the first unequivocally pro-federalist Quebec premier in generations is a win-win. If successful at both ends, it would certainly serve the cause of Canadian federalism. But Charest is an unpopular premier, and the PQ under its new leader André Boisclair stands a good chance of winning back power in an election that must be called within a year and a half. If Charest goes down, so may Harper’s party, which would lose its interlocuteur in Quebec.

This discussion of Conservative fortunes in Quebec might seem like a diversion from the Liberals. In fact, it is crucial to the Liberals’ future. If Harper’s Quebec gamble succeeds, he could establish the Conservatives as the new Government Party, uniting Quebec and Alberta as well as Ontario in a formidable pan-Canadian alliance – and consigning the Liberals to the wilderness of opposition that was the homeland of the old Progressive Conservative Party for so many decades. If Harper’s gamble fails, it will not likely pay off in immediate Liberal gains in Quebec: the party is too deep in the sponsorship merde for that. However, it opens the door to a renascent BQ taking back its lost seats, leading to a weakened Harper minority or even a Liberal return to power in Ottawa. After all, the Liberals did not finish all that far behind Harper in 2006 even with the manifest disabilities of the Chrétien-Martin regime clinging to them, and the Conservatives have so far failed to make gains in English Canada, apart from consolidating their Alberta/prairie base.

Quebec is a persistent worry for the Liberals. The best they can likely hope for is a negative result: a renewed dynamic on the sovereigntist side breaking the Conservative momentum in francophone Quebec. But that is also a prescription for trouble the moment the Liberals resume office in Ottawa.

The Liberal chameleon

Federalist Quebec was not the only pillar of the old Government Party. Another important source of past Liberal hegemony was the party’s chameleon-like ability to pre-empt the ideological dynamic in Canadian society. This goes back as far as Mackenzie King in the 1920s, and has sometimes been mistaken for a special Liberal capacity to pre-empt and co-opt the left. From King through Lester Pearson to Pierre Trudeau, they indeed showed a remarkable ability to head off potential challenges from the left by a kind of absorption, and the results were evident in the chronic inability of the CCF/NDP to establish a viable social democratic alternative on the national stage. But impressive as this record was, the impression of the Liberals as an exclusively centre-left grouping is misleading. In fact, the Liberals have been equally adept at pre-empting and co-opting the right whenever the prevailing winds were blowing from that direction.

When Jean Chrétien came to office in 1993, his razor-sharp political instincts told him that the new dynamic in Canadian politics was coming from Preston Manning’s Reform Party, which had just eradicated the Progressive Conservatives in the west. Soon he and Finance Minister Paul Martin were herding Reform MPs as human shields in front of them as they slew the deficit and restored fiscal soundness through, among other things, massive cutbacks to provincial health and education transfers. Three successive Liberal majorities and a stalled Reform/Canadian Alliance were the result. Yet at the same time, the Liberals were advancing certain socially liberal policies (gun control, same-sex marriage) that distinguished them from the right whenever such a distinction was electorally advantageous. The chameleon, it should be recalled, has no discernible colour of its own.

In the current context, this is a significant Conservative vulnerability and an opportunity for the Liberals. Stephen Harper’s Achilles heel may well be the obverse of one of his strengths – his intellectual conviction. Despite his government’s moderate platform and five priorities, there is ample evidence that he is the most ideological of all our prime ministers. Nor is this surprising, considering that the Conservative Party is dominated by its Reform/Alliance wing and by the political culture of southern Alberta that has nurtured a vibrant neoconservative movement. Everyone is aware of Harper’s intelligence, but it is intelligence in many ways shaped and directed by ideological conviction. There are two obvious downsides to this. It contributes to an impression of aloof arrogance (“my way or the highway”). More importantly, the ideological positions of the Harper Conservatives are out of tune with mainstream Canadian opinion, at least outside their core support base. This gap is most pronounced in Quebec, but it exists elsewhere in the country as well, southern Alberta aside. And on no issue is the Harper government more vulnerable on ideological grounds than on foreign and defence policy.

In the past, foreign policy scarcely caused a ripple in Canadian elections. But globalization has now come home with a vengeance. The Afghan war, with mounting casualties and no good end in sight, is a nasty undertow pulling against the Harper government’s popular support numbers. Most damaging of all is the widespread perception that Harper is keeping Canada in this quagmire only to please the dreaded George W. Bush. Actually, this is probably unfair. Harper’s hard conservatism and his sense of doing the right thing have no doubt led him independently to the Bush position. But perception is all in politics, and in 2006 the perception of doing the bidding of the most unpopular U.S. president in Canadian history could well be fatal.

For the Liberals, the government’s right turn offers a clear and unequivocal prescription for response. It would be disastrous for the chameleon this time to take on Tory blue colours. If Liberals try to compete with Stephen Harper on the battlefield of the right, they cannot win – and, more to the point, they will at the same time be outflanked on their left by Jack Layton’s NDP.

It is not just that Harper exercises a monopoly over right-wing thinking. Structurally, the new Conservative Party has united the right, ending the period of civil strife that doomed both the Reform/Alliance and the PCs to the wilderness for a decade. At the same time, the Liberals now have to compete in a divided centre-left, including not just the NDP but also the BQ, which holds most progressive Quebec support. Liberals are not suicidal. They fully understand that they must go hunting where the ducks are, and today that is clearly only on the centre-left. The only leadership candidate who visibly aligned himself on the right, Toronto MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, was the first to drop out – and throw his personal support to Bob Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario. None of the other candidates – not even ex-Tory Scott Brison – have tried to sell themselves as anything other than progressive Liberals. Their pitch is first to Liberal Party members, but looking beyond the Liberal convention, their claim is to be the best positioned to reach out to moderates, liberals, progressives and above all to the NDP’s voting base, actual and potential. (As for the centre-left BQ supporters in Quebec, realistically that may have to wait for another day.)

The virtual party

As they look to their leadership convention at the end of November, the Liberals are poised on a knife edge, the mirror image of the knife edge on which the Harper government rests uneasily. In the next election, the Conservatives could possibly transform their present minority into a hegemonic majority that could significantly change the Canadian political culture for years to come. Yet a quick turnaround sending the Liberals back to Ottawa is also a possibility – but that depends in the first instance on whom the Liberals will choose as leader. Even with the right (which is to say, centre-left) policies, the party will still require a saleable face at the top. Of course, an effective leader has always been important, but in 2006 choosing a leader is perhaps more important than it ever has been, for reasons that have to do with the changing nature of politics.

Given the circumstances of the Liberals’ less than glorious removal from office, there were many voices within the party calling for a period of reflection and serious reform preceding the choice of a new leader. Ideally, a policy and constitutional convention should have come first, with a renewed party then ready to choose an appropriate person to lead it. Unfortunately, Paul Martin’s quick exit on election night and the fact of a Harper minority precluded the longer time frame that dual process would have required. The Liberals need party renewal and a new leader, both ready for a snap election at any time. Inevitably, however, the leadership race overshadows the less sexy, media-resistant process of restructuring and renewing the party grassroots.

There was a flurry of activity during the spring and summer with a “Red Ribbon Task Force” reporting in August. Its report, A Party Built for Everyone, a Party Built to Win, recommended a more compact, less cumbersome governance structure for the party, along with various other reforms.

Notably, the task force recommended “inserting the policy development function at the heart of the structures of the Party.” Noting that “the vigour and creativity of policy development … is the lifeblood our Party,” the task force looked to new grassroots participation in policymaking. This is hardly a new idea: policy “participation” emerged with the Pearson and Trudeau Liberal parties in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only to wither away in subsequent years. Political scientists studying the steady decline of parties in the attention and affections of citizens, especially younger citizens, have observed time and again that people participate in parties most often because they wish to have a hand in policy, but are almost always frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of real opportunity to do so as party members.

The task force had no more innovative idea of how to encourage policy participation than to create a “Permanent Standing Committee of the Party dedicated to ongoing Policy and Platform Development.” Significantly, this bureaucratic structure would be carefully constructed to ensure that the party leader could dominate proceedings with his or her appointees. Indeed, to make absolutely certain that the “Leader has an ultimate (and appropriate) veto over the policies that he/she is asked to carry into an election and defend,” a “policy approval subcommittee” of senior party worthies would be “consulted” before the leader rejected any policies approved by the party membership.

It is no accident that policy as grassroots participation flares up only to reappear as just another weapon in the leader’s arsenal. The idea of renovating and democratizing the party is really only a nostalgic nod in the direction of a bygone era when political parties were, or tried to be, mass organizations. The Chrétien years, however electorally successful, witnessed a hollowing out of the old party structure and its transformation into a new, more contemporary, but less distinctive, form: the “virtual party” for the media age, in which a particular entourage or marketing team that gathers round and promotes a successful leadership candidate (spin doctors, advertising gurus, PR and media specialists, speechwriters, fundraisers, event planners, even the occasional policy wonk) then colonizes the central party apparatus, and finally the Prime Minister’s or Premier’s office when an election is won. This entourage forms the virtual party, which in some ways shares little more than a name with the original party. The party name is in effect a franchise with an existing market (brand loyalty) and a distribution chain. It is the franchise holder – the party leader – and the team assembled around the leader who control and shape the message that is delivered to the electorate and the policies that are implemented when in power.

This structure is not at all unique to the Liberals. The Mike Harris Conservatives in Ontario were the fullest expression yet of the virtual party in Canada, and their Common Sense Revolution was the product delivered by the Ontario Tory franchise – until the hapless Ernie Eves, succeeding Harris, squandered the brand. Rebranding an old franchise is sometimes an advantageous strategy for a new leader facing negative baggage from the party’s past: Tony Blair created “New Labour” and parlayed a Thatcherite social and economic agenda dressed up in “New” clothes into three successive majorities. Now he has been forced to step away by the emergence of a rival from within, Gordon Brown, who will, if successful, no doubt rebrand the old party yet again.

In the case of the Liberals, a most unusual two-headed virtual party characterized the first two Chrétien governments, with Finance Minister Martin providing the virtual second head. It worked for a time, but it was destined to fail. The third term turned into the ugly civil war that brought about the sacking of Martin and finally the unprecedented spectacle of the Martinites unseating a successful three-term Prime Minister and propelling Martin into control of the Liberal franchise. This was accomplished as much more than a simple takeover. It was a new, rebranded party, the Paul Martin party, and the virtual party team of Martinites swept out the Chrétienites in much the way that an incoming government sweeps out the old. This discontinuity was sharpened even further when the sponsorship scandal drove Martin to his ill-fated and ill-conceived strategy of playing the cleanup guy and targeting his predecessor as the enemy. This strategy backfired doubly, failing to convince the public while driving a fatal wedge into the Liberal Party. Martin himself proved a huge disappointment in office, and the Martinites quickly demonstrated incompetence as a virtual party. Thus the Liberal franchise crashed and burned.

The new faces

This is a roundabout way of explaining why the choice of a new leader is in fact all-important for the Liberal Party. The new leader will in effect be the party. Luckily for the Liberals, none of the big “stars” from the past like John Manley, Frank McKenna or Brian Tobin was willing to enter the contest. If they had, all the baggage of the civil war would have been on display. Instead a new generation of potential leaders came forward: Michael Ignatieff had been outside the country for the last few years; Bob Rae and Scott Brison came from other parties; Gerard Kennedy came from the Ontario Liberal Party; and Stéphane Dion and Ken Dryden had served as ministers but managed to stay aloof from the internecine struggles of the past. Partisans of both camps in the civil war have reemerged behind leading candidates, but not along the old lines. Whoever is chosen as the new leader will have the manifest advantage of being a new face disconnected from the past. When the Chrétien backroom boy Eddie Goldenberg produced a book attacking the Martinites on the eve of the Liberal leadership vote in the constituencies at the end of September, it landed not as a bomb but merely as a voice from a past that sensible Liberals would prefer to forget.

Of course, the candidates all bring their own baggage. Ignatieff, clearly the chosen golden boy of what remains of the party establishment, especially that part centred in Toronto, has a sparkling reputation as an international intellectual (a 21st-century Trudeau?), but carries the dreadful burden of having been a public apologist for George Bush’s fiasco in Iraq. And on the question of Canada’s own military role abroad in Afghanistan, which may prove to be the defining issue of the next few years, Ignatieff has lined up with Stephen Harper and against all the other Liberal candidates save ex-Tory Brison. Although Ignatieff describes himself as a left-of-centre Liberal, and no doubt is on social and economic issues, his candidacy poses the question whether the Liberals or the country need a liberal apologist for Bush’s imperial adventures to oppose a conservative apologist for Bush’s imperial adventures in Harper. Then in early October, Ignatieff stumbled badly with his statement about an Israeli “war crime” in the bombing of Lebanese civilians in Qana. This statement was meant to redress a callous earlier remark about “not losing any sleep” over Lebanese civilian deaths, but instead it once again stirred up the Israeli lobby hornets’ nest that had earlier led to Jewish Liberal defections to the Conservatives over the Lebanon invasion. It also raised questions about the academic’s capacity to adjust his thoughts to the mine-infested field of politics, where an idea once uttered may become a devastating political gaffe.

In the “super weekend” balloting across the 308 Liberal constituency associations, which set the levels of support on the first ballot, Ignatieff clearly emerged at the head of the pack with just under 30 per cent. But polls indicate a weakness in second-ballot preferences. In other words, Ignatieff is a polarizing candidate and potentially vulnerable to an alternative “anybody but Iggy” candidate, were one to emerge.

Bob Rae, with over 20 per cent, will be number two going into the convention, although well behind his old university buddy Ignatieff. Rae has considerable strengths: intelligence, experience, maturity, excellent French and, above all, a background in the NDP where the Liberal Party must go hunting for votes. He is relatively strong in second preferences. Rae’s baggage is his one term as Ontario Premier, which has been unfairly characterized by right-wing critics as a disaster. Actually, given the disastrous economic situation he inherited with the NDP’s unexpected victory in 1990, and given the limitations of the vehicle he led – a party with no experience, little idea of what do with power and a union constituency with unrealistic expectations – he had little chance. It was Rae’s own disillusion with his left wing that led him to the Liberals, but at the same time he brings a sharp critical perspective to bear on Harper’s neo-cons.

Stéphane Dion has been the surprise of the contest. Dion had made himself a hated figure among the Quebec nationalist and sovereigntist intelligentsia with his forthright, and sometimes abrasive, defence of federalism. Yet he has emerged as someone who can mobilize passionate support for his environmental convictions, and has attracted support from green and social movements. The question weighing down the Dion candidacy is whether the Liberals can afford yet one more Quebec leader in a party dominated by Quebecers for most of the past four decades.

Gerard Kennedy brings youth and enthusiasm, and strong support from younger MPs and party activists. His negatives include very poor French and no appeal in Quebec, and a sense that his pretensions outrun his achievements. He ran for the Ontario Liberal leadership before he was even elected to the legislature, and now wants to start at the top of the federal party. Kennedy might, however, be influential at the convention and an important minister in a future Liberal government.

As a negative surprise, Ken Dryden presents the oddest combination of potential and disability. A Canadian hockey hero, Dryden had already established a reputation as a writer and thoughtful commentator before running for Parliament, and then enhanced his stature with the remarkable achievement of pulling off a national child care agreement with all ten provinces – before Stephen Harper pulled the plug. Dryden can bring any Liberal audience to rapt attention with his passionate and deeply sincere articulation of what it means to be a liberal and why Harper’s pinched, mean-spirited conservatism must be defeated. But Dryden seems to have confused his desire for a new way of doing politics with neglecting the old-fashioned means needed to win the leadership: organization and funds. He has little of either and although his voice is respected, it has not got through. Ironically, Dryden is quite possibly the Liberal with the strongest potential support in the country at large. Yet with no virtual party around him he looks like a driver with no vehicle.

With these candidates, the Liberals can count a rather remarkable collection of intelligent, thoughtful and articulate potential prime ministers. The prospect of a competitive convention – something not seen for years – and a large potential audience for this showcase of new and attractive Liberal personalities is one to make Liberal backroom hearts beat hopefully. Unfortunately, the disgraceful old politics of Joe Volpe (kiddie donors, dead bodies signed up as supporters) brought back to public attention all the worst elements of the old Big Red Machine that Liberals would like voters to forget. And then Volpe blamed his bad press (and a $20,000 party fine and rebuke) on discrimination against an Italian-Canadian. Nonetheless, he managed to poll almost as many delegate preferences as Dryden, and more than Brison. He will likely be there at the convention with his small but loyal bloc, dogging the Liberals’ pretensions to be a new and different kind of party.

Once the choice is made, the Liberals should be reasonably well poised to take on the Harper government in an election next spring. The new leader will, however, have some tough slogging to get the party’s finances in order. A new financial reality for the Liberals is an ironic consequence of Jean Chrétien’s democratic legacy, his act banning corporate and union contributions and limiting individual donations to $5,000. It turns out that the Conservatives, backed by the enthusiastic “theo-con” religious right, have been superb at raising many small contributions from a large base of donors, while the Liberals have been poor at shaking their old corporate fat-cat financing habits and adjusting to the new reality. In a piece of sheer opportunism, the Conservatives now plan on further lowering the limit on individual donations to $1,000 – even though Harper had bitterly opposed the entire Chrétien law when it was before the House. This move is, as the Red Ribbon Commission acknowledges, a strike at the jugular of the Liberal Party. The new leader must quickly launch the party on a new course as a mass fundraiser – perhaps not an easy task for a party lacking the ideological clarity and attraction to zealous (and lucrative) moral movements that characterizes the Harper Conservatives.

The next election will be one of unusual significance. If Harper succeeds at gaining a majority, he will have both the numbers and the strategic vision to reshape the country along the lines of the neo-con and theo-con agendas. If Jack Layton “succeeds” – which can mean no more than electing more New Democrats by defeating mainly Liberal opponents – he will have helped hand Canada over to the mortal enemies of the very progressives his party claims to represent. For all those who wish to save Canada from the Bushites (Canada) Ltd., the choice ought to be clear: elect the Liberals under a new leader with left-of-centre policies. If that fails, and Harper sails on, the next step on the agenda for progressive Canadians will have to be a “unite-the-left” movement to merge the Liberal Party with the NDP.