View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Been there … Got the T-shirt – May 5, 2011

View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Been there … Got the T-shirt – May 5, 2011

Cornwall Free News – Actually I have several of them… one for each leadership campaign and one for each election that the old PC Party fought after 1993, before merging with the Canadian Alliance and forming the new Conservative Party in 2003.

It’s always a bit sad to watch a party with a great history lose its way and then stubbornly refuse to admit that politics has changed in Canada and as the third party you are largely sitting on the sidelines.

Listening to the Liberals commenting on whether or not they should even discuss a merger with the NDP brings back flashbacks to similar moments for my old party after 1993, 1997 and 2000.

Those individuals with the most to lose- potential leadership candidates, party executives, senior advisors, leader’s staff etc will be the most entrenched and they will resist the strongest. Obviously they tend to be some of the most partisan folks around the Hill, they have been in the trenches day after day fighting the good fight and admitting defeat is never easy. That’s one of the reasons that any merger won’t happen over night. In our case it took a decade.

Like the Liberals our base remained in Atlantic Canada. We were obsessed with old victories and looked to former leaders to bring us back out of the wilderness. We brought back Joe Clark; will the Liberals now look to Chretien or Martin?

The downward spiral is slow but steady. As the third party you slowly lose your influence. Yes, veteran MPs will help you in the short term to punch above your weight and that will get you some media profile. But how long will that last? Eventually those MPs leave or they are defeated in subsequent elections.

Lack of funds for research staff means staff cut backs are inevitable, donors begin to keep their pocket books closed, experienced political staffers begin to return to the private sector and corporate memory begins to vanish.

It doesn’t happen over night. You fight on because that is what you do best. We were helped by the efforts of two former leaders- Preston Manning and Brian Mulroney both who saw that uniting the right was in our respective party’s best interests as well as the country’s. Are there former Liberal and NDP leaders out there who are willing to step forward and quietly work the backrooms so that at least a discussion of a merger takes place? Are there former premiers or former ministers willing to step up and push for a discussion? Bill Davis and Don Mazankowski helped move our process along.

Time will tell whether there is a merger of the Liberals and the NDP. Serious obstacles remain, but it isn’t an impossible dream.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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