Jean Chrétien says this, at his "hanging": "It's never out of the question. If it is doable, let's do it!"
And then Roy Romanow says this on CBC: "We actually had a coalition agreement signed up with the Liberal party in Saskatchewan. There's a contract. It's much like the UK model: a contract, an agenda of things we should do. I brought in the Liberal leader, and a couple of other people into the ministries. They worked very well. We had our differences. But overall the public goal was achieved. If I may say, I'm biased, but it was a pretty good government from 1999 to 2004. I just take a look at this nature, there's a dissipation of the unity of the country. Maybe a coalition would be something that can be put on the plate and considered."
Romanow added with familiar self-deprecation: "Whether they're doing it at the political level or not, I don't know. Chrétien and I can talk all we want, we're not in the game."
In fact, the debate we've been having in recent days proves that Chrétien and Romanow are very much in the game. Judging from these snippets, they seem willing to think in creative and new ways about what a solid majority of Canadians may well be open to: a new Canadian political chessboard, which might improve the odds that Stephen Harper's government will be replaced, very soon, to the immense benefit of the country.
Chrétien and Romanow, along with their good friend Roy McMurtry, are co-authors of one of the great capstones of the Canadian political fabric -- the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This puts them in a very small group of Canadians in our long history who have left permanent imprints on our country. As we have seen, a brief comment at a picture unveiling and a brief clip during an interview on health issues can help shape the national Canadian political debate - when those comments come from leaders Canadians respect, and look to for solutions.
Certainly, there is more to be said about this matter than the boring and predictable repetition of Paul Martin's partisan political strategy by its authors -- a strategy that installed Stephen Harper in office, has facilitated his government ever since, and continues to fail as it heads into its second decade.
On the positive side, we can tell that we might be on to something because it is making Prime Minister Stephen Harper nervous. And when Harper gets nervous, he deals with it by inventing new chapters of our constitution off the top of his head. This time: "losers don't get to form coalitions," the Prime Minister declared in Britain last week.
What Harper means by this is that in his latest self-serving interpretation of our constitution, only the party with the most seats after an election has the right to consider working with other parties in Parliament.
This being the Prime Minister's view, it is his duty to inform his good friend and soul mate Israeli Prime Minister and loser Benjamin Netanyahu that he heads an illegitimate and undemocratic government, and must immediately resign and hand over the reins to winner Tzipi Livni and the winning Kadima party, . Winner Ms. Livni and her winner party received 28% of the vote and 28 seats in the most recent Israeli election as compared to loser Netayahu and the loser Likud party, who only received 27% and 27 seats.
As the next step in his global democratic mission, Harper must then fly over to Prague to tell loser Petr Necas, leader of the loser conservative party in that country, that he must refuse the request of the President to form a coalition government (a very interesting situation over there right now ).
After all, the winner Social Democrats won the election with 22 per cent of the vote. The loser conservatives ("Civic Democratic Party") got only 20 per cent. Notwithstanding the illegitimate views of the President of the Czech Republic, loser Necas therefore must step aside for the winning Jiří Paroubek, who must unresign and would likely govern in coalition with former communists. That is mandatory and there is no alternative, according to Harper.
Perhaps Harper could provide Necas with some funding to take the Czech President to court for improperly asking Necas to form a government - something Harper was apparently considering doing to Canada's Governor-General had she not most unfortunately and regrettably bowed before him a year and a half ago.
But Harper is not done yet. His next stop must be Australia, to inform his other good friend and soul mate loser conservative Michael Howard that he owes the people of Australia a craven apology for having governed that country, illegitimately and against the constitution. After all, loser Howard took power in 1998 with only 34 per cent of the vote, well behind the winning Australian Labour party with 40 per cent. Loser Howard took power in coalition with the also-losing National Party of Australia, who won only 5.29 per cent of the vote.
(Much of this has been rather wittily discussed over at www.rabble.ca/babble, if you'd like more of it.)
Let's put the point directly. Prime Minister Harper's latest comment on the constitutional and democratic rules of the game doesn't hold up to a moment's scrutiny. It is another piece of nonsense - like much of what he has had to say on this topic. The truth of it is that Harper does not like talk about coalitions because he has no friends in the House of Commons, and is therefore not in a position to form one.
That is a permanent vulnerability. The issue is whether his opponents will have the collective wit to exploit it.
How is that working out so far?
New Democratic Leader Jack Layton seems clear that he is not going to close any doors, and is open to any option that might work.
Ignatieff on Sunday reversed his apparent position, halfway. Last week his office issued talking points saying he wasn't interested in the topic. Now he is. "Co-operation between parties to produce political and electoral stability is not illegitimate. It's never been illegitimate, it's part of our system," he told Canadian Press. "But the right way to do it is to run your flag up, (opposing parties) run their flag up, you fight like crazy, you put your choices clearly to the Canadian people, they make their choices and then you play the cards that voters deal you." Canadian press goes on: Ignatieff insisted he still believes the Liberals can win the next election. But should no party win a majority and the numbers make it feasible for a Liberal-led coalition to provide "progressive, stable, compassionate, good government," Ignatieff said he'd "make it work for Canadians."
With a little help from Chrétien and Romanow, progress is being made. Pity he didn't see it that way last winter.