Time to unite NDP, Liberals: Martin

September 6th, 2011 - 7:57pm

BYLINE: Mia Rabson

SOURCE: Winnipeg Free Press

   OTTAWA -- Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin says he is prepared to throw his hat into the NDP leadership ring if no other candidates step forward on a platform to unite the party with the Liberals. Martin, one of the four longest-serving MPs in the NDP caucus, said the only candidate who will get his support is one who will bring the two parties together.

   "I firmly believe we have the ability to stop the Harper agenda," said Martin. "I'm serving notice that that's what I want to hear from a leaders candidate. And I'm not alone."

   He said if no such candidate steps forward, "I will do it myself."

   Martin admitted he has a history of some knock-out fights with the Liberals but also pointed out this is not the first time he has suggested the two parties co-operate.

   In 2007 he was nearly punted from his caucus after he said the NDP and Liberals should form an alliance. However in 2007 he did not favour an actual merger.

   Now he does.

   "It's time to bury the hatchet," he said. "Both our parties have serious flaws but we have way more in common than we have differences."

   Talk of a possible merger with the Liberals was hot in Ottawa as the Liberals met for an end-of-summer caucus retreat and the NDP begin pursuing a leadership campaign after the death last week of Jack Layton.

   Both former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrtien, and recent Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff were both heard musing recently about the possibilities of a united party. Liberal MP Denis Coderre said this week he, too, thinks the discussion should take place.

   However, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said it's not on his agenda, and the NDP officials dismissed the idea, saying their focus is on being the official Opposition and their leadership race.

   Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, believed to be among the most likely contenders, spoke about it for the first time since Layton's death Tuesday, saying he is gauging support for a leadership bid.

   The 56-year-old, who is fluently bilingual, indicated he would likely wait until after the House of Commons resumes sitting on Sept. 19 to say what he will do. He also wants to see the rules of the leadership contest, which will be announced Sept. 9.

   Mulcair had kept a relatively low profile since Layton's death last week. He spoke openly on Tuesday about beginning a consultation process that would include putting a communication and fundraising team in place.

   "I am receiving lots of support, lots of interest, and not only in Quebec where support is extremely strong," he said before giving a speech to law students at McGill University.

   "But it is going to be a pan-Canadian campaign and the support has to be there as well."

   Mulcair refused to categorically reject a merger on Tuesday, but appeared to suggest the NDP should seek out supporters among Liberal ranks.

   "Our sole goal is to form a government, and the way to do so is to have ideas that connect with the most Canadians possible," he said, pointing out the Liberals had previously turned down an NDP merger offer.

   "Wherever these progressive forces come from, we will ensure we have enough Canadians to form the next government."

   NDP president Brian Topp also says he is thinking about it and there are some serious backroom machinations underway to promote his cause. Numerous anonymous comments to reporters pushed Topp as the best candidate even before Layton's funeral.

   Ottawa MP Paul Dewar has said his name should be left on the list of possible contenders. And three other MPs -- British Columbia's Peter Julian, and Nova Scotia's Robert Chisholm and Megan Leslie -- said they're considering whether to enter the race.

   Pat Martinsaid he thinks the NDP could win the next election on its own but if the NDP and Liberals ran together, it would be a certainty and a majority.

   The two parties together had just under 50 per cent of the popular vote in the May 2 election. However, it is highly unlikely a united party would poll quite that high, as some voters would be turned off. In 2000, before the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties merged, they garnered 37.7 per cent of the vote together. In 2004, the first time they ran as a united party, they earned 29.6 per cent support.

   Martin acknowledged if the NDP and Liberals united, the more right-leaning Liberals would likely abandon the ship. But he believes most of the right-leaning Liberals have already done so.

   "The benefits outweigh the costs and everybody knows that," Martin said. "If we believe all the things we say about Harper ruining this country, we have it in our grasp to do something about it."