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Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins)
Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins)

Brian Topp

Coalition redux: Things come together Add to ...

On Monday I posted a piece here titled " The Prime Minister makes a big mistake," narrating the Conservative government's foolish attempt a year ago to bankrupt the opposition, its failure to address the economic crisis and the resulting decision by the Liberals and the New Democrats to hold talks about replacing Stephen Harper's government with a new and better one.

On Tuesday I posted " The shape of the deal," which described the initial exchange of views between the red and orange teams.

Wednesday it was " The shape of the new government," where we discussed what the new government was going to look like - how it would be structured and governed.

Here, I describe some of the discussion that occurred around the policy priorities of the new government. We were pinching ourselves by the end of this day. It had all come together. This might just work. We were tantalizingly close to removing the Harper government and replacing it.

- - - - -

Sunday, November 30, 2008: The Blackberry flood started early for a Sunday.

Kathleen Monk (8:18 a.m.): "Iggy will be on Newsworld at 9 a.m. Baird will follow. Apparently Iggy and Kory T. were seen having lengthy tête-à-tête last night at the gallery dinner." In the morning light that still didn't sound good.

Dawn Black (8:26 a.m.): "Ujjal. We just spoke. He said we must be hard line - not give an inch to the Conservatives no matter what they bring forward. His view was that Peter J[ulian]and Paul Dewar left an impression on TV we would consider a new package if one is brought forward from the Conservatives."

This, of course, is exactly what Dosanjh and his Liberal colleagues themselves would agree to do only a few days later.

Herb Metcalfe and I met for breakfast in the restaurant in the Delta Hotel in downtown Ottawa. We loaded up on comfort food for what was going to be a long day, and got down to business.

By 9:09 a.m. the cards were on the table. I BlackBerried a report to Dawn Black, so that she could brief Jack Layton and the rest of the team meeting at NDP caucus office: "[The Liberals]offered eight parliamentary secretaryships. Agreed that if PM feels he must have more than 24 ministries, our proportion would be maintained. They offered five seats. I countered with five + deputy PM, or six seats. Liberal negotiator is choking on deputy PM because if Liberal PM is run over by a bus, we're PM. I offered to write a line that this won't happen. No take-up. We've recessed. He's off to talk to Dion. Will get back at 9:30 or so. I think he'll recommend six seats in a 25+1 cabinet (i.e. another Lib added too). He believes scenario is Dion will be PM until May, and then be replaced by a new leader, likely Ignatieff. We gossiped. Rae easy. Ignatieff extremely reluctant. Dion listening to Chrétien, who was very tough with them last night."

Metcalfe was gone somewhat longer than expected. Eventually he returned looking a little flustered - police had pulled him over and he had received an ill-timed traffic ticket. This BlackBerry exchange with Jack Layton tells the tale of what happened next:

Me to Jack Layton (10:13 a.m.): "Final offer: They are offering 5 ministers + 8 parliamentary secretaryships/privy councillors. No to DPM. No to 6. 24 ministers + PM. If a larger cabinet is selected then our proportions are maintained. Instructions please."

We marked time while our principals talked directly to each other. Ed Broadbent and Jean Chrétien discussed the issues. They spoke to their principals. Eventually, Metcalfe looked at his buzzing BlackBerry and then looked at me.

"Okay, it's six," he said.

We shook hands and the government accord was complete.

Me to Layton (10:58 a.m.): "Excellent work well done. Everything signed and sealed."

Whew! Back in the boardroom of NDP caucus office, Layton, Broadbent and Blakeney were meeting with a fairly large group of NDP research and communications staffers. Our staff quickly finalized our policy pitch document; we grabbed a quick bite to eat; and then we gathered ourselves together and set off two blocks away to the hotel for the next round of talks with our new friends and allies on the red team.

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