This is a guest Northwest Notes blog written by Nikki Skuce, an community and environmental activist based in Smithers, British Columbia

What do Liberal Joyce Murray and NDP Nathan Cullen have in common? Neither of these British Columbian Members of Parliament (MPs) are the leaders of their respective parties. 

Not that they didn’t try. Both ran leadership bids that focused on platforms of one-time electoral co-operation. The idea would be to have local riding associations in swing ridings decide whether or not to co-operate in 2015 by having only one of the historically vote-splitting NDP, Liberal or Green Party candidates run against a Conservative. Nationally, this would mean about 10 per cent of electoral ridings.

Murray and Cullen’s campaigns resulted in grassroots movements and thousands of people (in particular youth) taking out party memberships and signing up as supporters of a political party for the first time ever. They invigorated discussions on our faulty electoral system where a majority government means 41 per cent of the vote from a low voter turnout rate.

For many across the country, there’s an urgency to elect “anyone but Harper” in the next federal election.

The Conservative federal government went too far in 2012 with budget cuts, two nation-changing omnibus bills, the permitting of foreign takeovers of natural resources, and trying to silence dissenting voices (in particular around tar sands pipelines). The Conservatives took us out of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce our global warming emissions, and cut funding for UN efforts to combat desertification. Our international development agency, CIDA, no longer exists and our foreign aid is now driven by the need to make money for Canadians. Foreign temporary workers can now get paid at least 15 per cent less than Canadians and companies can get bulk approvals by the Minister after only a couple of weeks of posting jobs. The list goes on.

The Conservative Government has profoundly changed Canada and challenged many of the values that Canadians hold dear.

While recent polling shows the Conservatives losing support, it would be foolish to ignore Harper’s sophisticated strategic operations with specific electorate and in key ridings. Which is why Harper must have been smiling this past week.

After the NDP national policy convention and the Liberal leadership convention held over the weekend, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau both came out denouncing co-operation and ensuring they let the nation know that they would have candidates in all ridings.  

While they have the backing of the majority of their parties, the federal NDP and Liberal leaders are giving themselves too much credit for being able to take their parties to victory.

In looking ahead at the electoral landscape for 2015, we need co-operation between progressive parties in a small number of key swing ridings. This isn’t a merger. The NDP and Liberal accord to temporarily join forces when the Harper Conservatives prorogued Parliament in both 2008 and 2009 wasn’t even a merger (imagine where we might be today if leadership hadn’t shied away from co-operating then?).

The Conservatives spin co-operation among other parties to be undemocratic, a useful communications tool even though they themselves are the result of a co-operative merger between the Reform Party and Progressive Conservatives. Opposition party traditionalists are religiously dismissive of co-operation and fear losing their identity.

As both Cullen and Murray’s campaigns showed, thousands of party-supporters and non-partisan Canadians want a vote-winning strategy that speaks to their values.

Murray and Cullen surprised pundits and came in second and third respectively. Given support for them and their campaigns (both of which also included strong environmental platforms, including the rejection of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tarsands pipeline through B.C.), why are their parties and leaders ignoring the grassroots they successfully engaged? Why are they firmly closing the door on co-operation instead of leaving space for on-going discussions? And, most importantly, why do they think they can win the next election without it?

Perhaps it will come down to riding associations and grassroots mobilizing to make the right decisions. Will the Liberal Party association in North Vancouver Island refuse to put forward a candidate knowing they’ll never win? Will the NDP riding association of Calgary Centre pull out their candidate to allow voters to choose a Liberal or Green Party MP?

Even though Joyce Murray and Nathan Cullen lost their leadership bids, they inspired and generated hope for political change. If co-operation is too volatile a word, call it layered or tiered democracy. It’s what we need to defeat the Tories in 2015. 

Nikki Skuce
Smithers, B.C.

Tyler Shandro during a June 25 news briefing. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Tyler McCreary

Tyler McCreary is an Indigenous solidarity activist based in northern British Columbia. He is also currently working towards his PhD in geography at York University.