The unfortunate public perception that politicians are habitual liars received a major boost this month, with Peter MacKay’s decision to sign an agreement to merge his Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance. This move came less than five months after he signed another agreement (with fellow leadership contender David Orchard) in which he promised that he would never allow a merger, or run joint candidates, with the Alliance.

The fact that, even when it was signed, the first agreement was such an obvious power grab (and Orchard such an obvious dupe) does little to remove the stench of MacKay’s betrayal. All it reportedly took was for Belinda Stronach and Peter Munk to waive their wallets in his face, and he quickly forgot the deal that allowed him to win the leadership. Gosh, now that he’s broken this part of the agreement, I guess this means that the Tories won’t be reversing their stand on free trade or making “environmental protection front and centre” either.

According to MacKay, merging the two parties means that “two plus two can equal more than four.” Assuming that this statement was not a glimpse into the proposed new party’s fiscal platform, MacKay was presumably referring to the belief that the united right will attract more votes than the two parties have attracted on their own.

At first glance, that theory appears to have some credibility. According to the most recent Environics poll, the Liberals enjoy 46 per cent in popular support, with 15 per cent supporting the NDP, 14 per cent supporting the Alliance and 13 per cent supporting the Tories. Based on the simple addition of these numbers, the new party could expect to have at least 27 per cent of the vote. While those numbers would still put them far behind the Liberals, that’s not a bad starting point.

But, voters aren’t numbers and they don’t respond well to simple addition. For one thing, pollsters who ask about second choices often find some surprising results. Many Tory voters say that they’d vote Liberal if their party wasn’t on the ballot — and with a multi-millionaire shipping magnate about to take over the Liberal Party, why wouldn’t someone who wanted conservative policies give them a serious look? Moreover, hard as it may be to believe, many Alliance supporters would return to the NDP in their quest for a protest party. Even some red Tories (and not only those in the Orchard camp) have said that they’d vote NDP before they ever voted for the Liberals or the Alliance. Most Alliance voters will react to the mention of the name “Brian Mulroney” with the same visceral hatred that is evoked by the name “Stockwell Day” among Tories. The reality is that two plus two may equal little more than two.

Of course, all this talk will be meaningless if the two parties fail to get past the many logistical and legal hurdles that still stand in the way of the merger. The vote among Alliance members would appear to be a slam dunk, but the vote by PC members is far less certain. The battered and bruised party constitution calls for the merger to get a two-thirds vote, and that target may not be achievable — especially given the fact that people like Joe Clark, Senator Lowell Murray and MPs Andre Bachand and Rick Borotsik are speaking out against it. While Alliance members are clearly responding to the opportunity to flood the Tories with memberships, the fact is that there simply aren’t enough Alliance members in most of the country to affect the process (unless they resurrect all of the members that Tom Long signed up in the Gaspe).

When Harper took the merger deal to his caucus, he joked that “no principles were violated. It’s not a marriage, it’s a civil union.” In doing so, he not only made a bad joke; he unwittingly identified a key problem faced by the new party. If the merger gets off the ground, it could still crash land over questions of policy. Hot button issues such as same-sex marriage promise to test the newfound love between former rivals. Another recent Environics poll found that 56 per cent of Canadians supported same-sex marriage. Among Conservative voters, the percentage in favour number was actually higher, at 57 per cent. But, among Alliance supporters, a whopping 72 per cent were opposed.

It remains to be seen what stance the new party will take on these issues. If they adopt more progressive policies on bilingualism, multiculturalism and same sex marriage, they’ll scare away the hardcore Alliance members. If, one the other hand, they adopt the Alliance’s hardline policies on social issues, they’ll simply scare away voters.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...