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New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, left to right, shown preparing to sign a coalition deal amongst the three parties to form a government, on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa Monday Dec. 1, 2008. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, left to right, shown preparing to sign a coalition deal amongst the three parties to form a government, on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa Monday Dec. 1, 2008. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

Globe Editorial

The coalition of 2010 is Stephen Harper's fantasy Add to ...

Political parties are entitled to agree with each other from time to time, without being accused of having formed a coalition. For several weeks, the federal Conservatives have been claiming that the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois are in a coalition. A particular convergence of opposition parties on this or that issue is no sign of any such alliance.

Stéphane Dion, when he was the Liberal leader, entered into an accord with the New Democrats in December, 2008, to try to form a government, which the BQ promised to support. It was a disturbed moment in Canadian politics. The Conservatives' economic update of Nov. 27 was a minimalist response to the onset of a particularly unsettling recession. But the proposed coalition was unsettling in its own way, with the Liberals' dependence on the Quebec sovereigntist BQ, as well as on the left-wing NDP.

At the time, Michael Ignatieff expressed his misgivings about the accord. His ascent to the party leadership and the Liberals' renunciation of the coalition were, so to speak, one and the same event. Consequently, it is singularly unconvincing, almost two years later, for Conservative politicians to repeatedly accuse Mr. Ignatieff of being the leader of a resurrected version of the coalition he opposed.

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."

Jim Flaherty, the Minister of Finance, managed to assert the existence of this coalition 14 times in a speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa on Sept. 21. And Tony Clement, the Minister of Industry, has attributed the parliamentary opposition to the abolition of the mandatory long-form census to the alleged coalition, though this cannot be interpreted as a separatist plot by the BQ, or as a decree of the Socialist International that has been transmitted to the NDP.

The same reasoning has been applied to the long-gun registry question, even though the New Democrats have shown a range of opinion on that controversy - not a united front of left-of-centre solidarity.

The Conservatives should know - and when they pause to think, they do know - that the Canadian public is not gullible. They cannot persuade the electorate or win their desired majority by repeating the word "coalition" again and again.

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