Liberals, NDP, Greens explore common ground
Uniting progressives at the grassroots level — is Simcoe North alone?
By Tim Harper Toronto Star June 5 2012
OTTAWA—In its most extreme form, it’s a merger.
More commonly, it is known as “loose co-operation,” or collaboration, or “uniting progressives.’’
Whatever you wish to call it, talk of co-operation between Liberals, New Democrats and Greens keeps popping up like a stubborn weed in a springtime lawn, only to be rooted out by party headquarters.
But what if it was happening at the riding level, albeit informally, fuelled partly by a shared opposition to the Conservative omnibus budget bill — despite the lack of sanction from any head office?
Let’s look at one incubator, Simcoe North.
The riding north of the GTA has become reliably Conservative, with MP Bruce Stanton gradually building larger pluralities since his first election in 2006, winning in 2011 with a smashing majority of 54.4 per cent of the vote..
But this is a riding that has often punched above its weight.
It has been represented by a Brian Mulroney-era Conservative cabinet minister, Doug Lewis, and a Jean Chrétien-era Liberal secretary of state, Paul DeVillers.
In February of this year, Green Party supporters in the riding, at their annual general meeting, agreed to have its executive reach out to Liberal and NDP representatives in the riding.
“The purpose of the discussions has been to explore areas of agreement on visions for a progressive Canadian future, including electoral reform,” wrote Alec Adams, the Green riding association president.
The three parties agreed it might be useful to express joint concern over government policy.
“Our goal is to galvanize the progressive vote in 2015, so people will cast their votes in a way that will make a difference,” he wrote.
The meetings have been “non-competitive and congenial,” Adams says, but he emphasized things are being done one small step at a time.
Just to be safe, they are representing themselves to the public as concerned individuals, leaving their party affiliation at the door.
Last Saturday, a protest against the omnibus bill was held in Orillia and it was jointly organized by all three opposition parties in the riding.
There were calls at the rally to field one “progressive” candidate in 2015. It’s a view held by many in Simcoe North.
Here in the capital, the Liberals and the Green Party have agreed to unite to table more than 200 amendments to the omnibus bill when it returns to the Commons for final debate.
Roger Pretty, a former NDP campaign manager and candidate, said he has not seen such common ground among opposition parties in more than four decades of political work.
“It’s energizing to sit down with our friends on the progressive side,” he said. “I would suggest there is a lot more in common between the Greens, the Liberals and New Democrats in this riding than there are among the former Reformers and Progressive Conservatives who joined as the Conservative party.”
Adams said voters in Simcoe North — and across the country — want to see their political parties acting in more “collaborative ways.”
In many ways, this riding is quietly toying with NDP House leader Nathan Cullen’s proposal during the recent NDP leadership race, the running of a single candidate agreed to by New Democrats, Liberals and Greens in select ridings where they could beat the Conservatives.
Without such co-operation, the parties to the left of the Conservatives will split votes and guarantee another Conservative victory, the theory goes.
Cullen finished a surprisingly strong third in the leadership race, but the victor, Tom Mulcair, has killed such talk. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae has also so far doused such speculation.
Both Adam and Pretty are certain of one thing — they are not alone. They hear anecdotal talk of quiet talks in other ridings.
Another meeting is scheduled for their riding this month.
So far in Simcoe North, these are old political associates who have found common cause.
It may go no further, because it is not approved by any political leader who holds the nomination levers.
But if the clamour for change bubbles up from the grassroots level, Simcoe North could be a laboratory for a major change over the next three years before Canadians vote federally again.
“Who knows?” says Pretty