Now that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has fallen and we are into another federal election, I would like to propose that Conservative supporters putting a “coalition myth” to bed immediately. Why? So we can move away from the past and press forward with current and future issues that are important to ALL Canadians. In other words, lets not get into the trap of re-running the 2004 and 2008 campaigns or getting too sure of ourselves.
My prediction is that the results of Election 2011 will see a paradigm shift either right or left — a reality we won’t know until the last ballots are counted. For example, when we wake up the day after the election, what will our country’s government look like?
- Will it be a Conservative majority?
- Will it be a Liberal majority?
- Or, will it be a Liberal/NDP coalition majority?
Because, one thing it will NOT be is another Conservative or Liberal minority– at least not for long. Meaning, CPC candidates and supporters had better deal with the myths surrounding a coalition option sooner rather than later because remember, the Liberal/NDP/Blog agreement was valid until June 2011.
So, what about that letter in 2004? The reality is that while it did not mention a possible coalition agreement specifically, it does imply intent to do so. Signed by Stephen Harper, then Conservative Opposition Leader, Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP and Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Quebecois, here is what it states: (My italics and underlining.)
“As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program.
We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.”
So, while the 2004 letter did not propose a coalition per se, it did imply that intention when it highlighted the fact that the “opposition parties together constitute a majority.” Just what was up Mr. Harper’s sleeve in September of 2004, we will never know but it is not enough to say it wasn’t about some kind of power sharing, a coalition by any other name.
Update Saturday, March 26, 2011: When Prime Minister Harper spoke at Rideau Hall this morning, he made it VERY clear that the 2004 letter was not signaling his intent for a coalition government — just some kind of working arrangement. As such, it is no longer an issue . What is an issue, however, is the fact the Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff supposedly said he did not plan to put a coalition in place if the Liberals won a minority. What he didn’t clarify, however, was: (1) under what “other” conditions might he might agree to a multi-party coalition; and (2) that if his stated position today is a Liberal Party of Canada position — important because all Liberal MPs elected in 2008 signed the Liberal/NDP/Bloc agreement (e.g., Bob Rae).
Further update Sunday, March 27th, 2011 — Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun has a very good column on this topic today. It’s about how the essence of politics is about deal making and there is nothing wrong with that unless the negotiating party is willing to allow: (1) the party with the fewest seats (the NPD) to have members in Cabinet; and (2) allow the party whose sole purpose was the breakup of the country (the Bloc Quebecois) to have veto power over most, if not all, government decisions. Which is precisely what Liberal Leader Stephane Dion was obviously willing to do in 2008. And, therein lies the major difference between the 2004 letter of intent and the 2008 coalition formal agreement. Prime Minister Stephen Harper would never have allowed either to happen.