For Wednesday's column, Chantal Hebert got her hands on a new book written in French launched last night in Montreal. The book, by former La Presse reporter Gilles Toupin, consists of a long interview with Gilles Duceppe - very little of which relates to the coalition near-crisis of 2008, but is nevertheless interesting on that question.
Ms. Hebert writes: "According to Duceppe, Layton first sounded out the Bloc about participating in an opposition coalition designed to unseat the re-elected government three weeks before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stood up in the House to present his update. … [He]says he first contacted Dion and then told Layton to get in touch with the Liberal leader. Having set up a date between his two opposition colleagues, Duceppe also prodded them into endorsing his party's spending plan. 'We alone had a realistic, detailed and fully costed plan'."
The headline on Ms. Hebert's column says it all: "Duceppe hands Harper fresh anti-coalition ammunition." Yet, in a recent editorial, The Globe and Mail argued that a coalition government is "Stephen Harper's fantasy":
"The tenuous evidence for what is a little like a conspiracy theory seems to have been a remark by Denis Coderre, a Quebec Liberal MP, but no longer a senior member of the shadow cabinet (let alone a spokesperson for the Liberal Leader), who had said, 'I am not against a coalition after the election if the numbers ensure a more stable government'."
I had not seen Mr. Coderre's statement prior to reading the Globe editorial; I had, however, read an interview in which Michael Ignatieff, like Mr. Coderre, is reported to be open to forming a coalition government after the next election - an interview that the Leader of the Opposition has not backed away from or disavowed:
"Michael Ignatieff says coalition governments are 'perfectly legitimate' and he'd be prepared to lead one if that's the hand Canadian voters deal him in the next election.
But the Liberal leader says it would be disrespectful to voters and damaging to his party to try to strike any deals with the NDP before voters have spoken."
Is the prospect of a coalition government after the next election a fantasy, then? I think not. Nor - as it is often described in news reports - is it a spectre, which my OED defines as an "apparition" or "phantom".
Canadians quite reasonably differ on whether a coalition government after the next election would be a fantastic idea or not. Analysts will no doubt differ on whether raising the possibility during the next election campaign would be a good strategy for Mr. Harper or not (the Globe editorialist is in the latter category). The only difference between Liberals and Conservatives on the issue is that Mr. Harper wants to discuss the prospect of a coalition government now, while Mr. Ignatieff says he will only consider it after the next election.
On all these questions, therefore, the final word today must go to EKOS pollster Frank Graves, who "doesn't see a majority for Conservatives or Liberals and doubts the Conservatives will frighten many voters beyond their core by raising the bogey of coalition government because 'everyone knows that a coalition is a possibility'."