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Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he is questioned about coalitions during a media availability following a campaign speech in Brampton, Ont., Sunday March 27, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he is questioned about coalitions during a media availability following a campaign speech in Brampton, Ont., Sunday March 27, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Stephen Harper's curious attack on majority rule Add to ...

The worst part about Stephen Harper's attack on the Liberal Party for being undemocratic in its alleged plans for a coalition government is not that it is irrelevant, hypocritical or probably false (though it is all that). The worst part is that it comes from a leader whose own legitimacy rests on holding less than half of the seats in the House of Commons.

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Yet Mr. Harper cannot seem to speak without mentioning the dreaded word. He uttered it 21 times in a speech on Sunday. He continued using it on Monday. He may not be able to stop himself on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking to a suburban audience in Brampton, Ont., that included immigrants from unstable or undemocratic regimes, he implied that a coalition is something like a coup, a danger to Canada's stability. The Liberals, he said, would move with "lightning speed" to form a "reckless coalition" with the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois, if the Conservatives win the largest number of seats in the coming election, but not a majority.

A coalition is not a coup. The party that wins the most seats has first call on forming a government. If that party loses the confidence of the House, the other parties are entitled, in the parliamentary system, to ask the Governor-General for permission to govern. Britain has a coalition government. Many democracies with a system of proportional representation have coalition governments.

Is it less legitimate to have the majority rule, even if that majority involves two or more parties, than to have a party rule that represents a minority of voters, puny by comparison? The Conservatives currently hold 143 of the 308 seats. (Three seats are vacant, and two are held by independents.) Mr. Harper may be leading Canadians to a conclusion he may regret, in the event he wins another minority government.

The whole thing is a charade, anyway. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has stated flatly that his party will not be part of a coalition. He expressed misgivings when his predecessor as leader, Stéphane Dion, attempted to form a Liberal-NDP coalition, backed by the separatist Bloc Québécois, in 2008. And Mr. Harper, in opposition in 2004, was open to being part of a coalition.

Mr. Harper said many times as Prime Minister that the number-one issue is the economy. Why not, then, focus the election on the economy? Let's confront the real issues facing the country.

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