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Illustration by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Illustration by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Harper digs a coalition hole Add to ...

The more Stephen Harper and his Conservative war room talk about their coalition, the deeper they dig their hole.

Consider the latest as reported by the Globe's Steven Chase. Mr. Harper, talking in 1997, describes in clear, ordinary language a scenario where the Liberals lose power even though they have won the most seats, but less than a majority. In other words, he describes exactly the scenario he is decrying the Liberals for contemplating in this campaign.

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Not so - says the Conservative war room. Why are the two scenarios completely different according to them? Back to Mr. Chase's story:

"Conservative officials said the TV Ontario interview in 1997 was after Mr. Harper temporarily quit federal politics and was head of the National Citizens Coalition"

Ah, you see - Mr. Harper was a private citizen when he said a coalition of Reform and the "parties that want to form government" is legitimate. And, you see, when private citizens - be they lobbyists (in Harper's case) or people in other professions, ranging from journalists to academics say things in their capacity as private citizen - those views should never, ever be taken seriously. And they most certainly should never be brought back up - either in or out of context - on the off chance that said lobbyist or, hypothetically a journalist, does return to public life. Never.

To repeat: he was at the NCC, so don't take his views seriously - really, that was the Conservatives first line of defence. Because the Conservatives would never consider a statement - on video or in print - made by their political opponents while "elsewhere" against them. It's just not the way they play ball.

But then Mr. Harper himself did a bit of digging, stating that in that video "he was only talking about bringing together conservative-minded parties in the Commons. I don't think it was any secret we were trying to bring together the Progressive Conservatives, the Reform Alliance and the Democratic Representatives. We were very clear we were looking for mechanisms to bring us together - and we did create a merger as you know."

First off, the Democratic Representative caucus was created in May, 2001 - roughly four years after Mr. Harper's TVO interview. The fact that he foresaw their creation and wanted to bring them back into the fold is a remarkable testament of Mr. Harper's mastery of the time-space-continuum (for more evidence, see Monday's announcement of income-splitting, five years from now).

Moreover, during the 2002 leadership race - five years after that same video - Mr. Harper explicitly proclaimed that, "The Canadian Alliance is strong, and the Canadian Alliance is here to stay." That's Harper code for "a merger is just around the corner."

Lastly, look at what he actually said in 1997:

"What will be the test is whether there's then any party in opposition that's able to form a coalition or working alliance with the others."

The others. Plural. Is there any one party (singular) that's able to form a coalition with more than one additional opposition party. The alternative would have been "with another," not "with the others" - "the others" is an all-inclusive term - meaning all of the other parties, including … wait for it … the socialists and the separatists.

This is of course logical given that after the 1997 election, the Reform Party had 60 seats and the PCs 20. They were 75 seats away from having a majority of the seats in the House. The notion in 1997 that just joining those two parties alone was sufficient to defeat the Liberals - even if the Liberals fell below a majority - was laughable. The Stephen Harper of 1997 knew that, which is why he was fine with a coalition of multiple parties. The TVO video clearly demonstrates that, regardless of the lame spin that the Stephen Harper of 2011 mustered.

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