Orange is the New Blue
Rewind to the last General Election and you would have found me cheering for a Conservative majority government. I was knocking on doors, attending rallies, and being obnoxiously partisan on my Facebook newsfeed.
But this weekend, I cast a vote for the NDP in the advanced polls.
To be clear, I am not much of a tribal partisan. My politics is one of seeking a significant reduction in the bureaucratic state and reclaiming our basic civil liberties from government encroachment. In other words, I am a libertarian. And consequently, my support falls behind the party that echoes those principles.
People of a similar political persuasion have called the Conservative Party their home for a while, particularly with Stephen Harper at the helm. Libertarians found his promises of reducing government spending, cutting bureaucracy, and emancipating us from state interference encouraging.
But in recent years, the Harper government has decidedly shifted away from its libertarian intentions. From anti-terrorism legislation that increases surveillance-state powers to the arguably pointless niqab debate, the government has made it clear that its policy objectives do not prioritize individual liberty and small government.
And with Harper turning his back to the libertarian wing of his party, they have (in large part) decided to migrate to the New Democrats.
Many people might not think that the NDP, with its strong trade union support and its scorn for de-regulation, would be the natural second-choice for libertarians. But there are some areas of common ground—like a shared mistrust for an overly strong central government and a cautious view of interventionist foreign policy.
And this migration to the NDP has far reaching consequences.
Now, I won’t claim for a second that the libertarian constituency is large enough to single-handedly throw the tide against the Conservatives. But it did have a significant intellectual influence on the party.
It was a tempering force: one that toned down the more authoritarian instincts of the right wing of the party, and allowed the party to become more progressive—and electable.
Our First Past the Post electoral system requires successful parties to form coalitions within themselves, so it is really a question of strength in numbers. There are not enough loyal partisans to cause a government to be elected on its own, so parties need to form a good coalition of interested groups that will propel them forwards.
The Conservative Party, for example, has formed a complex coalition of right-wing populists from the old Reform Party, progressive Tories from the old Progressive Conservative Party, and a plethora of other groups with their own political agendas, like the libertarians.
It was a very successful coalition that propelled the Conservatives from a non-existent force at the beginning of the new millennium to a decade-long government today.
But with the Conservatives abandoning civil liberty, and the libertarian vote migrating to the NDP, this coalition is in danger of unravelling.
The tenor of the party has changed significantly in the past few months, becoming more controlling, more openly dictatorial, and breaching topics that were categorically off the table when the libertarians were within the party.
The government’s new politics of division has certainly reinvigorated the base, which must have felt neglected for the past few years. But it has turned the party inwards. It has eschewed the necessity of keeping its coalition intact. And therefore, it has become less electable.
The NDP, on the other hand, benefits from this new cabal of libertarians within its wings. We have already seen the moderation of the party’s policy and its leader, particularly on economic issues.
What this means is that the NDP is expanding its message and is widening its coalition of political partners, whilst the Conservatives are retreating to their base.
For the latter, it’s not exactly a winning formula.
Adnan Subzwari is the News Editor for Juris Diction. He is a 2L student.