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NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe shake hands as then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion looks on after signing a coalition agreement on Dec. 1, 2008. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe shake hands as then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion looks on after signing a coalition agreement on Dec. 1, 2008. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Norman Spector

Harper's nutty suggestion Add to ...

In a video clip obtained by the CBC, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seen telling Conservatives in Northern Ontario that he needs a majority in the upcoming election. Otherwise, "the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will combine and they will form a government."

Where, you ask, might Mr. Harper have gotten this preposterous idea?

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Who knows for sure? But perhaps he got it from a recent column by Chantal Hébert, in which she argues that the Liberals - sliding in yet another poll released this morning - don't actually have to win the election in order to win the election:

"In a published interview in Le Devoir earlier this week, Michael Ignatieff once again ruled out another Liberal attempt at crafting a governing coalition with the NDP in the next Parliament. But he also left the door open to other undefined 'arrangements.'

One obvious possibility would be a two-year governing agreement, copied on the Ontario deal David Peterson struck with Bob Rae's NDP in the mid-1980s. … Paul Martin could have made overtures to Layton to try to stay in power. … Back then, though, the Bloc would almost certainly have vetoed the arrangement. … Since then, the Quebec climate has changed for the worse for the Conservatives.

Duceppe's decision to formally support a Liberal-NDP coalition led by Stéphane Dion last fall met with widespread approval in Quebec. … In the probable scenario of another four-way split in the House of Commons, winning 100 seats in the next election could be enough to put the Liberals within reach of power."

Or maybe Mr. Harper came up with this wacko notion reading the words of a "Toronto area Liberal and former denizen of the Hill" who gave this answer to a question posed by my esteemed fellow blogger Doug Bell a few days ago:

"I asked (for the thirty millionth time)…whether he agreed with the idea that in order for the Grits to overcome the problems inherent in vote splitting on the left they needed to explore the possibility of an entente cordiale with the NDP. And that perhaps Bob Rae might be the right man for that job.

I agree. But that is a conversation for after the writs are returned."

Wherever Mr. Harper got the crazy idea that he shared with party members in Northern Ontario, and now with us, it should be easy enough to dismiss it as being within the realm of the possible.

The CBC says it obtained the video clip from a Liberal Party source - presumably because the source thinks it will help the Liberals in the election they are poised to precipitate. It should be a no-brainer, then, for Michael Ignatieff to shut the door firmly on negotiating any Bob Rae-type accord or Stéphane Dion-like coalition - which Mr. Ignatieff signed onto last fall - after the next election. And, while we're at it and just to be sure, how about getting the same sort of iron-clad disavowal from Mr. Layton, Mr. Duceppe and from Mr. Harper himself?

UPDATE Robert Silver - Tim Powers's Liberal sparring partner on this site - serves up some good advice, and a fine speech, for the leader of his party.

ANOTHER UPDATE I see in this Globe report that Michael Ignatieff "says the proof that he's not scheming to head a coalition government is that he rejected the prime minister's chair in January."

That's not quite true, as the Globe's Lawrence Martin reported in his column of December 11, 2008:

"Some Liberal MPs find him [Ignatieff]coldly arrogant. They cite his performance at a caucus meeting last Friday where he warned, perhaps wisely, against being gung-ho on a coalition. "Michael got up and did a rant and it was a disaster," said one participant. "His finger was jabbing at us. He was saying, 'Don't you assume that if we bring down the government that the Governor-General will let us govern.'

In other words, Mr. Ignatieff rightly understood last year that the Governor-General could call an election if the Harper government were defeated. Now, on the cusp of a campaign, he would be wise to heed the advice of Robert Silver, as noted above.



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