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A combination photo of opposition leaders in Ottawa on March 23, 2011. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)
A combination photo of opposition leaders in Ottawa on March 23, 2011. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)

John Ibbitson replies to your comments: On coalitions Add to ...

The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief will be responding to a selection of reader comments throughout the election campaign. Today, John Ibbitson replies to your take on his analysis of what could happen in the case of another minority government: Why Michael Ignatieff had to rule out a coalition.

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From reader Klondike: What I don't get is why Ignatieff wants an election when the polls seem to indicate a Conservative minority again. If he is not planning a coalition, then we are headed for more of the same at a great expense. Does he think the Libs can get more seats than the Cons? Is this his big plan? Can we really trust Ignatieff when he says he will not form a coalition? Did he really actually rule it out, or did he dance around the issue with clever words that he can recant later?

John Ibbitson: While Klondike and others think Michael Ignatieff continues to wiggle and wriggle, his word seem pretty clear to me: He will not form a coalition with the NDP and/or the Bloc Quebecois. Case closed. That leaves him with two realistic ways of forming a government: First, the Liberals get more seats than the Conservatives on May 2; second, the Liberals place a very strong second.

In the latter case, if the opposition combines to defeat the Conservatives on their Throne Speech, Mr. Ignatieff can take a shot at seeking the confidence of the House with a Throne Speech of his own. If it passes, then he gets to govern for as long as the opposition parties let him.

If, however, the Liberals place a distant second on election day, it will be much harder to form a government, and unwise in any case. Such a government would lack popular legitimacy. It would have a very difficult time getting anything through the House, and we would likely be into another election within a matter of months.

My prediction in that case is that the voters would punish the Liberals for seeking to form a government after having clearly lost the election. As I argued Saturday, Parliamentary experts can go on to their heart's content about how a government need only have the confidence of the House, but a party that dares to form a government against the popular will will wish it hadn't.

I think the Liberals know this and would support the Conservatives on their Throne Speech if the Tories beat them soundly.

As for the question of "Can we really trust Ignatieff?" - I have spent more than two decades covering politics by working on the following assumption: You should believe people until there is evidence you shouldn't.

I believe the Conservatives would balance the books by mid-decade because (a) they say they will and (b) last week's budget gives me no reason to believe they won't. I believe Michael Ignatieff when he says he will not form a coalition because there is nothing about the man that leads me to believe he would not live up to his word.

This approach can get you into trouble, from time to time, but I've found it's better to trust people - even politicians - even if it sometimes leads to disappointment. The alternative is hard on your soul and your dog.

From reader V ADS: The author misses the point completely. Canadians would be likely to support a coalition if the Bloc wasn't part of the equation. It is fundamentally untenable for any federalist party to form a coalition with a political party dedicated to the breakup of the country. It's a non-starter.

John Ibbitson: Agreed. A separatist party could never be part of any coalition at the federal level, and Saturday's piece made no such suggestion. This is another reason why the Liberals would have difficulty forming a minority government unless they won a great many more seats than they have now - at least enough to place a close second to the Conservatives. The weaker the governing party, the more it has to rely on the Bloc and the worse that looks.

That said, people are wrong to demonize the Bloc. The Conservatives have governed with their support, as well as with the support of the Liberals and the NDP. So did Paul Martin's Liberals before them.

While the Bloc identifies its interest entirely with Quebec's interests, it has behaved responsibly in the Commons through both majority and minority governments. It doesn't filibuster or otherwise try to wreck the machinery of Parliament. It casts responsible votes, often siding with the government of the day. Just last week it joined with the other three parties to support Canada's decision to join coalition forces in containing Moammar Gadhafi. The mandate of the Bloc Quebecois may be offensive to most Canadians outside Quebec, but no one has any reason to criticize its performance in the House.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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