Liberals unlikely to formally merge with the NDP…

I’ve got to admire the positive spin by some Liberal supporters out there after last night’s devastating and historic defeat.

The people of Canada made decisive choices yesterday. They voted for continuity and stability in government by rewarding Stephen Harper with a solid plurality of votes, which, under our archaic voting system, handed them a majority. And they voted for one clear and strengthened alternative to that government, Jack Layton and the NDP. I decided over the weekend to be a part of the country’s big change instead of resisting it and voted NDP in Davenport.

It’s clear now the NDP has replaced the Liberal Party as the national alternative to the Conservatives.

I estimate the only way Liberals will play a decisive role in federal politics in the near future is for party members to switch over and join the NDP (or the Tories). Some leadership candidates and others in the party are already talking about merger with the NDP.

However, I’d bet against a formal merger ever happening – not because of resistance from centre-right Liberals out there – but because the NDP will not be interested in the slightest. Jack Layton and the NDP have clearly developed a great brand across the country that has shown amazing strength. Now the NDP is the only other national party, perhaps even more national than the Conservatives. Why would they merge with the Liberals now? The NDP model being used by Jack Layton is the Nova Scotia model where they won power without merging with the N.S. Liberals (who themselves managed to bounce back partially after a disastrous third place defeat two elections ago. Now they form the official opposition in Nova Scotia again.)

Canada now has an opposition leader with a strong, clearly defined brand that will be difficult for the Tories to tarnish. I dread to see what the Conservatives will pull against Layton and the NDP in order to maintain their position. But I think Layton will be up to defending himself.

Once the NDP rejects any real discussions about merging with the fallen Grits, I expect to see many Liberal MPs eventually decide to join the NDP over the coming years. The shell of a Liberal party left will probably work very hard to survive and rebuild. But in the end, it may not matter who becomes the next Liberal leader. If Harper and Layton steer toward the centre over the next four years, I expect the Liberals to continue to lose seats in future elections as the country polarizes between the centre-left and the centre-right.

But I also don’t expect Stephen Harper to lead the Conservatives into the 2015 election. By then, he’ll have been prime minister for nine years. Perhaps a good time for an exit. Which would make this majority his legacy government. And that scares me.

But I pray the NDP’s new strength will keep the Conservatives more moderate. We shall see.