NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attend a panel discussion at the “iVote - jeVote” event in Ottawa, Tuesday March 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attend a panel discussion at the “iVote – jeVote” event in Ottawa, Tuesday March 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

There is probably no word in the Canadian political lexicon more maligned than “coalition.” This wasn’t always the case.

There was a brief, magical moment after the 2008 election – when it seemed like Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion might join forces to pull the rug out from under Stephen Harper’s minority government – but then we saw that grainy video of the owl-eyed Liberal leader stuttering his way into the dustbin of history and all bets were off. Since then, the media has been perennially asking the Liberals and the NDP whether they’d be willing to put their differences aside and work together to represent the +60% of Canadians who want a non-Conservative government.

You know, like parties do in pretty much every other democratic system on earth.

Thomas Mulcair has so far played pretty coy about the whole thing. Every party’s main objective is to win on their own terms if they can, but even at their most hostile the NDP have always hinted that they’re willing to co-operate whenever those jerkface Liberals decide to give them a chance. Casting partisan barbs while appearing to be flexibly non-partisan is a smooth move.

For his part, Justin Trudeau delivered a pretty clever quip about it last month – namely, that he has no problem working with the NDP, but it’s their leader he can’t stand. Smartly, this manages to effectively foreclose the possibility of a coalition during and after the upcoming election – the Liberals are, after all, in it to win it – while at the same time not alienating all the anti-Harper voters who are still on the fence.

At least, it was smart before Trudeau came out literally a day later to reverse his position and affirm that he is actually categorically opposed to joining with the NDP under any circumstances, because they’re just too radically different. So not only does the guy come off like a dick, but now he comes off like a flighty, waffling dick (the worst dick of all). 2015 is shaping up to be another banner year for Canada’s ‘progressive’ parties to murder each other while the Tories divide and conquer.

You’re tearing me apart, Justin.

But then again, maybe the fundamental mistake is in assuming the federal Liberals are a progressive party. After all, Trudeau has been standing pretty close to Harper on a lot of things lately – like his support for the government’s increasingly unpopular anti-terror legislation, the Canadian military training program in Ukraine, the almost-certainly-doomed Keystone XL pipeline, a laissez faire approach to controlling and reducing Canadian carbon emissions, and reluctance to bring in a comprehensive national childcare program. If the two of them hadn’t been bitten by separate partisan parasites, the b’ys would probably get along swimmingly.

Trudeau is trying to straddle the amorphous centre in Canadian politics. Mostly this involves posturing for the camera and playing up manufactured nostalgia – for Trudeaumania ’68, for a Chrétien era that only Real 90s Kids will (mis-)remember, for the good old-fashioned and entirely imaginary Liberal utopia we’re told 20th century Canada used to be. But he’s also banking on fence-sitting moderates still believing the NDP are a bunch of scary left-wing radicals.

But the longer the Liberals stay out of power, the less compelling this appeal becomes. This isn’t the 90s anymore. This isn’t even the Aughts anymore. The country has changed and the middle of the road may be the worst place to drive. If the quintessentially ‘centrist’ Alberta Tories can’t scare the most conservative voters in Confederation away from the NDP, then what chance does Justin Trudeau have?

Article by Drew Brown