Is the Liberal-NDP love-in over in Vancouver?

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Is this how Iggy would react if Gregor Robertson decided to join a Liberal slate?

A week or so ago I caught an op/ed in the Vancouver Sun by Liberal Party apparatchik Mark Marissen that rejected the notion of a Liberal-NDP merger at the federal level of Canadian politics. Marissen suggests that at their core the two parties stand for something completely different – "One is about sensible, pragmatic government; the other is about labour and dissent."

That line gets a big harrumph from NDP supporters who think they stand for something more. The Globe and Mail's Rod Mickleburgh, for example, ridiculed Marissen's suggestion. NDP's track record in and out of government has not done a lot to prove Marissen wrong though.

Over recent decades, Liberal party supporters in Vancouver civic politics have thrown their support to different parties – TEAM in the '70s, Larry Campbell, and for many years the NPA. In the last election several threw their support behind Vision Vancouver, so it's always worthwhile to see where Liberals are parking their support to guess who might come out on top in the next election.

As a coalition of moderates the NPA provided pragmatic government through most of the last three decades. It attracted folks from the left and right of the political spectrum. But then the self-doubts began to creep in during the previous term of government and some folks – many of them Liberals – began looking for a new dance partner. Waiting with open arms was Vision Vancouver.

Vision and its supporters successfully branded themselves while defining both COPE and the NPA as out of touch. Curiously, the NPA didn't attempt to defend its own reputation as Vision put them into a box. It resigned itself to being an organization devoted only to the selection of candidates and preparing for the next election.

Between elections the NPA were like the scene in Apocalypse Now where Captain Willard stuck in his hotel room in Saigon. "Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger."

Vision were Charlie, raising money and constantly organizing. And they proceeded to crush the NPA.

Vision fundamentally were always a labour-friendly faction of the NDP, who by distancing themselves from the baggage of COPE's 1960s New Left mentality were able to position themselves closer to the centre in the public mind. It was enough to woo several Liberals to Vision – even reportedly Mark Marissen and several of his acolytes – during the 2008 campaign.

Has anything changed since then? Perhaps. We've heard that some Liberals are finally realizing that there is a glass ceiling for non-NDP or non-Hollyhockers within Vision's organization. For this reason a few are taking a second look at the NPA. For example, the NPA board is currently dominated by Liberals, which is not surprising given that Tories usually get more involved at campaign time.

It will be interesting to see whether Liberals continue to be intoxicated by Gregor Robertson's hai karate-like appeal, or if they decide to end the common law relationship. Robertson himself has not been a good fit for the labour guys – note his departure from the BC NDP where he left a voicemail for Carole James just before declaring himself a mayoral candidate. Robertson is more in keeping politically with the Liberals, and rumours persist that he may jump to Fed politics as part of Ignatieff's team.

The NDP-Liberal relationship might be on the rocks out in Ottawa, but as we get close to the one-year countdown to the 2011 election it will be worth noting where the majority of Vancouver's Grits wind up. It'll be back with their old compatriots in the NPA, or the grass may look greener over with the NDP & Vision.

- post by Mike

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