All of a sudden there’s a lot of smoke billowing in the media about the possibility of a merger of the federal Liberals and New Democrats.

This raises the inevitable question: whatever can it mean?

One thing this story surely does not mean is that anyone in either party is seriously suggesting there should be a merger. Indeed, it’s possible that a clear majority of Canadian New Democrats would vote for any party other than the Liberals, especially the Liberals under an unreconstituted right-winger like Michael Ignatieff.

Surely similar numbers of Liberal party supporters would vote for the Conservatives before they’d support Jack Layton’s NDP, even if Jack’s daddy was a Liberal (not to mention a Tory) for a spell.

In fact, a telephone tracking poll in March by EKOS Research Associates showed only about a third of decided NDP and Liberal supporters nationwide who listed a second choice would vote for the other party if they couldn’t vote for their own. More than a quarter of the Liberal supporters polled listed Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives as their second choice! Given time to think about it, those results might even get worse from the perspective of a merged party.

So, to mix metaphors, that dog don’t hunt.

However, as the late American president John F. Kennedy wisely observed, “where there’s smoke, you’ll usually find somebody running a smoke-making machine.” So who is pumping up the smoke machine this week?

Well, sometime Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella, obviously, seeing as he’s the media’s go-to guy on this story, swearing affidavits and giving interviews right and left to say, yes, they really mean it, there really are “high level” talks about a merger — notwithstanding the fact that the leaders of both parties are in full denial mode, racing screaming for the exits.

But why? And why does the story have legs?

All this is pure speculation, of course, but surely it is not impossible that the idea is being kept alive by people in the Liberal Party who have grown disenchanted with Michael Ignatieff’s flagging faux Tory leadership?

After all, the idea of a merger would only make sense if the imagined new party had a more appealing leader than the gruesome Ignatieff. Consider that Angus Reid poll last month that suggested a Lib-Dipper coalition could only win with Layton in the lead. This can’t have thrilled too many Liberals.

By keeping speculation about a merger alive, Ignatieff’s intramural foes draw everyone’s attention to the increasingly obvious fact that what the Liberals really need is a leader with more political sex appeal.

Meantime, of course, the mainstream media’s incessant chatter about this non-story diverts attention from the bizarre fake lake brouhaha that dominated the previous news cycle to the embarrassment of the government — much to the relief of the media’s owners and their man at 24 Sussex Drive, no doubt.

Somewhere down the line — after a federal election — a Liberal NDP coalition might fly. But a merger? Never!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...