March 14, 2007 by Joseph Krohn
OTTAWA–The federal New Democratic Party may have to enter into “some kind of informal coalition” with the Liberals or risk political obscurity, says a veteran NDP MP.
“It shouldn’t be considered heresy to state the obvious,” Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) told the Toronto Star yesterday, adding that the next election will be a make-or-break moment for the NDP.
According to recent polls, support for the New Democrats has slid to the low teens from 17 per cent in the 2006 election. One poll from Decima Research had the NDP and Green party tied at 13 per cent, even though the latter has no members in the House of Commons. “We have to unite the left somehow,” said Martin, who was first elected to the Commons in 1997. Known for speaking his mind, Martin said it is not good enough for the 46-year-old party to languish in fourth place while the Conservatives gain strength.
“We need to mobilize our troops. This should be a call to arms, a sounding of the alarm … If (they) don’t get on board this time, how much longer can we hang on?” he said. An election is expected as early as this spring as the minority Conservative government looks to take advantage of favourable polls.
Martin said the NDP can’t keep spending more than $15 million every election just to elect 29 MPs or fewer. “You would be crazy not to ask yourself, `How much longer can we continue to spend that kind of money for these kind of results?’ I am only putting into voice what an awful lot of people are thinking,” he said. “I guess we could carry on forever like this, but people have to ask themselves is that what they want?” Martin’s comments seemed to leave NDP Leader Jack Layton scratching his head.
Layton, denying there is any kind of dissension in his party’s ranks, said the growing prosperity gap in the country makes Canadians realize “we need a strong NDP to make sure their interests are front and centre because they are not seeing that from the other parties.” Martin resisted the idea of a formal merger with the Liberals, saying he would “rather stick pins in my eyes,” but he said the NDP has to expand its base “to swallow up the centre” or resign itself to Conservative governments becoming the norm for the next several years.
“I’m talking about some kind of informal coalition,” Martin said, “and those are things we could have done under (former prime minister Paul) Martin but (he) wasn’t willing. The phone never rang.” A Liberal party spokesperson said: “I will not waste any breath on the musings of Paul Martin.” The Winnipeg Centre MP said the left and centre-left parties find themselves in a similar position to that of the centre-right parties – Reform/Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives – when they were splitting votes during the 1990s.
He said while he is loyal to Layton and the party, “I don’t think staying silent on these things is any kind of political strategy, especially when it is staring you in the face.”