Political predictions are a sure sign that a new year is upon us. Here's my 2012 postulation.
The Liberal Party of Canada and the federal New Democratic Party will merge.
Will this happen in 2012? That would be a tad ambitious. But it will definitely occur before the next federal election, less than four years from now.
Why do I think this will be happen? Mainly because federal Conservatives have shown what can take place if like-minded members of similar parties can find a way to unite into one entity.
More importantly, federal Liberals and New Democrats are becoming increasingly aware that the nightmare of permanent opposition status may well be their eternal destiny unless they merge.
There will be obstacles, of course. The similarities of what took place among divided conservatives are food for thought and lessons for the journey.
There are well-meaning purists in each camp who dig in their heels at the prospect of merger. They must be convinced that clinging to the treasured traditions of their respective foundings will only lead to ongoing flounderings.
If those adherents cannot be convinced by logical debate from inside the upper echelons of party ranks, then they will be overwhelmed when the debate itself is exhausted and those points come to a vote.
The road to political union will not be easy. A key factor of resistance will be many of the New Democrat MPs themselves. They are still basking in the warm sunlight of their recent surprising rise to Official Opposition status.
The trappings of that status, however, extend to relatively few of them. Only one gets to enjoy the public housing project that is Stornoway. And less than a handful receive the bonus pay that goes with certain added parliamentary responsibilities of official oppositiondom.
For the remainder there remains a certain dark and stark reality. That is, that the best days as opposition members are still nowhere nearly as satisfying as the worst days as government members.
This depressing reality is of course more painfully acute for the Liberals than for their NDP friends. For years they have tasted and indeed sustained themselves on the diet of governing. For them, the grits of opposition gruel have been particularly unappetizing, especially since their humiliating reduction to less than "Official" status.
I am not saying that the quest for government status is driven by the sheer lust for power or the thrill of power itself. Every political party has some members who are driven that way. The implementation of their particular policies will rarely take place without the blunt instrument of governing firmly in their grip.
Conservatives faced the obvious
During the Conservatives' wilderness years of the 1990s the consequences of disunity became increasingly obvious and odious. Every year of disunity for the split conservative parties meant yet another year of Liberal dominance.
As I mentioned, the federal NDP are feeling a little light headed right now. Personally, I know how that feels. In the 2000 federal election the brand new Canadian Alliance party, even with its leader lacking federal-level experience, still managed to increase its number of elected MPs along with a significant increase in the popular vote across the country. Official Opposition status felt pretty good.
The harsh reality however was inescapable. More than one conservative-oriented party still existed. That guaranteed a splitting of the vote from coast to coast and the Liberals forming government almost by default. Something had to change. Stephen Harper as the next leader of the Canadian Alliance and Peter Mackay as the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party understood that.
To both of their credit they figured out how to overcome their significant challenges from within and pulled off the historic merger. Today the Conservatives govern.
Am I urging the Liberals and the NDP to merge? Frankly, no. I have friends in both of those parties and huge respect for anybody who enters political office. At the same time, history and practice convince me that their economic policies and penchant for large, centralizing governments would be injurious to the hopes and prosperity of Canadians.
Having said that, there would be a positive side to the health of political discourse in the country if liberal-oriented parties merged. The lines of debate on policy would be more clearly defined.
That would mean more focus on the actual proposals of the two main parties. That in turn would mean somewhat less negative personal attacking and more time and energy actually debating real differences. Voters would be the beneficiaries. (Smaller splinter parties whose positions varied drastically from both of the main parties could still hold to their own divergent views and influence specific policy issues.)
So, impossible as it may seem, my prediction stands. Somehow, defying all detractors, the two really may one day get together, for good.