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Opposition disunity key to Harper win

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Power Trap

How Fear and Loathing Between New Democrats and Liberals Keep Stephen Harper in Power -- and What Can be Done About It

By Paul Adams

Lorimer, 296 pages, $23

There were many reasons for Stephen Harper's 2011 election victory, not least of which is the prime minister's particular and calculated genius for strategy, organization and party discipline.

However, as former Winnipegger Paul Adams argues in this extremely well-crafted, gripping and persuasive polemic, the main factor was -- and continues to be -- a divided left-progressive opposition, which, had it been united, would have overwhelmed Harper with almost 54 per cent of the popular vote.

The thesis of Power Trap is simple: that the parties on the progressive left must join forces, as did those on the right in 2003 when the Conservative party absorbed both the Canadian Alliance (Reform) and the Progressive Conservatives.

Adams is perhaps the ideal writer to make this case. A professor of journalism at Carleton University, former parliamentary bureau chief for the CBC and the Toronto Globe and Mail's onetime senior political correspondent but now on their Middle East file, Adams has been observing and commenting on Canada's political scene for many years.

As well, as a self-identified red Tory, he is ideologically tied to none of our current parties, and his writing will likely appeal to a broad, mainstream readership.

Canada's progressives, he argues, would mostly support a union of parties, since the policy distinctions between the NDP and the Liberals differ very little on paper, and those that do exist matter far more to party insiders than they do to the electorate.

He also points out (with considerable disappointment) that, during the last election, both major opposition parties were also largely indistinguishable from the Harper Conservatives on the matter of reducing government spending in the name of "tackling the deficit."

Power Trap sets out the case for unification in nine chapters, each of which poses a "why" question, including why the NDP "broke out" in 2011 and why the Liberals suffered their "strange decline."

In the case of the former, Quebecers were voting for change not because the NDP was well-organized (and with numerous rookie candidates it clearly wasn't). Meanwhile, the latter were blithely ignoring the dramatic changes underway around them and persisted in seeking a "saviour" to lead them, rather than engaging in any substantive re-evaluation of their policies.

Adams' case is logical, compelling and written with an engaging intensity that would surely win over any reader who might believe that Canadian politics are "boring."

Indeed, he shows just how high the stakes are.

While one party might perhaps eventually drive the other to extinction, Adams believes that this would take two or more election cycles and a second decade of Conservative government.

Given the Conservatives' blinkered enthusiasm for unregulated markets, militarism and evidence-free policy-making (particularly concerning climate change), Adams warns that this is a future Canada -- and the world -- can't afford; that the Conservatives' economic, environmental and social policies are not only contrary to the wishes and best interests of most Canadians, but have failed spectacularly elsewhere in the world, particularly since the onset of the financial crash in 2008.

Adams convincingly shows how the continued mutual antipathy and obstinacy on the part of the NDP and Liberal leaderships amount to putting their own agendas before the good of the country.

In showing how the parties can move beyond their troubled histories, Power Trap is a badly needed road map to a saner political culture in Canada.

Michael Dudley is the indigenous and Urban services librarian at the University of Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 J7

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