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Bad idea is voted off riding

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BRANDON -- The idea of tactical co-operation between the NDP, Liberal Party and Green Party in the coming Brandon-Souris byelection, or in the three other byelections for that matter, is dead, as it should be.

Last weekend, Brandon-Souris NDP riding association president Vanessa Hamilton floated the idea of co-operation between the three parties to challenge the Conservative candidate in the Tory stronghold.

"There is nothing to lose for NDP, Liberals and Greens to collaborate and support one candidate from the left in the Brandon-Souris by-election," she argued.

She then took to Twitter, saying "I'll consider seeking the NDP nomination in Brandon-Souris if I have support from all three leaders on the left," and asked Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May for their support.

The idea was quickly shot down by the Liberals' national office, saying they have no interest in collaboration between parties and definitely will be running a candidate in Brandon-Souris. The NDP's national director, Nathan Rotman, took the same position Tuesday.

"We will be running a candidate no matter what," he said. "We believe that voters have a right to choose and we invite voters to stand behind Tom Mulcair. We have spoken to Vanessa and advised her of our position."

While Green Party Leader Elizabeth May appeared receptive to Hamilton's proposal, she indicated she would be more willing to consider it if other parties agreed to not run in other ridings. It's an idea Rotman dismissed as "ridiculous."

Hamilton's idea is theoretically defensible. Other than the period of 1993-1997, Brandon-Souris has been represented by a Progressive Conservative or Conservative MP for more than six decades. In the 2011 election, Tory Merv Tweed defeated the second-place NDP candidate by almost 14,000 votes.

Given such a large margin and the riding's history, it is virtually impossible for any of the three opposition party candidates to defeat the Conservative candidate in the coming byelection in a four-candidate contest. The task would appear less difficult, however, if the three parties put their support behind a single candidate.

That's the theory. In the real world of Canadian politics, however, it is an idea that won't work, for a number of reasons.

At the top of the list is the fact that the idea of collaboration was thoroughly aired in the recent NDP and Liberal leadership contests and was soundly rejected by the membership of both parties.

It is naive, with gusts to nonsensical, to expect Mulcair and Trudeau to ignore such clear directions from their parties' membership bases, especially after the two leaders were so forcefully opposed to the idea during their respective leadership campaigns.

Then there are the challenging mechanics of the strategy -- the selection of a candidate and the running of a campaign. Though many collaboration proponents have proposed a primary process to select a compromise candidate, such a process would inevitably result in hard-fought, divisive contests between the three parties and would not guarantee that the best candidate emerged the victor.

The issue of predictability is probably the greatest flaw in any collaboration scheme. It is overly optimistic to assert that any "collaboration candidate" would receive all the votes that would have been cast for candidates representing the three parties.

Just as polling has shown that a merger of the Liberals, NDP and Greens would actually result in an increase in support for the Conservatives, the idea of collaboration ignores the likelihood that many committed Liberal, NDP and Green supporters would be reluctant to support a candidate from another party. Some would vote for the Conservatives, while many more likely would not vote at all.

Finally, there is the lingering issue of the "coalition" that the NDP and Liberals have worked so hard to distance themselves from. Joining forces to defeat the Conservatives would give Stephen Harper a fresh script to once again warn voters about the perils of an unstable coalition of left-wing parties. It would be a tactical windfall for the PM.

It is time to bring the distracting discussion of collaboration between the NDP, Liberals and Greens to an end. The parties don't want it, and it doesn't work. Let it die.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2013 A13

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