Stephen Harper has no plans to compromise on his next Throne Speech or his next budget if he wins only a minority government, because he believes it wouldn't matter.
The Conservative Leader insists that, unless his party receives a majority of parliamentary seats in the federal election May 2, Michael Ignatieff will force his defeat and become prime minister.
The question of who would govern in the 41st Parliament if no party has a majority of seats is threatening to overwhelm this election, after the Liberal Leader said Tuesday he would be prepared to form a government if the Conservatives won the most seats but were defeated on their Throne Speech.
The obvious next question is whether Mr. Harper would be willing to temper that Throne Speech and compromise on the budget to secure opposition-party support.
But Mr. Harper was having none of it.
"I don't accept the [premise of the]question," Mr. Harper replied, when asked by a reporter if he would be prepared to compromise to stay alive.
The other parties "are saying that even if we receive a mandate from the people they will defeat us on our budget if they can," he maintained. "They will get together and form another alternative, of some other kind of government."
All three opposition parties said in March they couldn't approve Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget because it continued with reducing corporate taxes and spent money on things they opposed while not spending enough on things they supported.
But the Conservatives have vowed to reintroduce that budget if re-elected - indeed, it forms the core of their election platform.
It would be reasonable to ask whether that budget could be modified to assuage opposition concerns so that a third minority Conservative government could survive, avoiding a possible political crisis that could lead to a fifth general election in seven years.
But Mr. Harper was clear Wednesday that he was unwilling to compromise because compromise would, he believed, prove fruitless.
"If you listen to what the others are saying, they will defeat us," he insisted. "They're just saying they're going to defeat us. And [Mr. Ignatieff]will then sit down with the NDP and Bloc Québécois to negotiate a different government. ... This is not an abstract constitutional debate; this is a very real choice facing the voters."
For his part, Jack Layton says his number one goal is to defeat Mr. Harper and his Conservatives but he is willing to work with other parties in the event of a minority government - including one led by Mr. Harper.
"I've done it a thousand times," the NDP Leader said Wednesday while campaigning on a farm in Southwestern Ontario. "Well, not a thousand. It sometimes feels like a thousand - he keeps saying 'we don't agree, we don't agree.'"
But nonetheless, Mr. Layton said he is always prepared to work with other parties. "I have shown that in my 30 years in politics. And I think that's what Canadians want."
Mr. Harper, however, has clearly abandoned any hope of a fall-back position, in the event his bid for a majority government fails. Knowing that most Canadians reject the idea of a party that comes in second in an election forming government, he is doing everything in his power to convince voters to prevent that by giving him a majority.
If the electoral result is ambiguous on May 2, anything might actually be possible. But for the last 12 days of this campaign, for Mr. Harper, it's majority or bust.
With a report from Gloria Galloway