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Bloc Québécois Leader Gillles Duceppe waves the 2004 letter signed by him, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton proposing a coalition government to replace the then-ruling Paul Martin Liberals.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Bloc Québécois Leader Gillles Duceppe opened his May 2 election campaign Saturday by accusing Conservative Leader Stephen Harper of lying when he denies the Conservatives had a plan to build a coalition government in 2004 against the then-ruling Paul Martin Liberals.

Mr. Duceppe, Mr. Harper and the NDP's Jack Layton sent a letter to Governor General Adrienne Clarkson in September 2004 urging her to consider options other than calling an election, should Paul Martin's Liberal minority government fall. The letter pointed out the three opposition parties constituted a majority of the House and had been in close consultation.

Mr. Duceppe's signature appears just below Mr. Harper's on the letter, which Mr. Duceppe waved for the cameras at his Saturday press conference.

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"When he says only the party that received the most votes can form a government, he said the opposite in this letter. He lied this morning."

The Bloc Leader said there was a key meeting in a Montreal hotel where the subject of the opposition parties banding together against Mr. Martin was thrashed out.

"He (Mr. Harper) came to my office and said: 'What do you want in the speech from the throne'?" Mr. Duceppe said.

Despite denials by Michael Ignatieff, Mr. Harper says the Liberals, NDP and Bloc are hiding their intent to form a coalition government, even if the Conservatives come out ahead in the May 2 vote.

Mr. Harper says such a plan would be undemocratic and illegitimate. The Conservatives maintain the 2004 letter did not constitute a coalition agreement. The letter dated Sept. 9 does not mention coalition and all three party leaders, including Mr. Duceppe, denied they had formed a coalition at the time. The leaders maintained their only intent was to co-operate.

"Let me be perfectly clear: unless Canadians elect a stable national majority government, Michael Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois," Mr. Harper said as he opened the Conservative campaign earlier Saturday.

"Imagine a coalition of arch-centralists and Quebec sovereigntists trying to work together. The only thing they'll be able to agree on is to spend more money and to raise taxes to pay for it."

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Minutes before he spoke, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff ruled out a coalition with the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois after the May 2 election if Mr. Harper takes the most seats but fails again to win a majority.

In a statement, the Liberal Leader said he will not ask the NDP or the Bloc to serve in his government, if he is asked to form one.

"We will face Parliament with exactly the same team, platform and agenda that we bring to Canadians during this election," he said in a statement issued Saturday morning. "What Canadians see in this campaign is what Canadians will get if we are asked to form a government.

"We categorically rule out a coalition or formal arrangement with the Bloc Québécois."

Mr. Duceppe joked later that all three main national parties come looking for his help and then deny their willingness to work with his party.

"They all come to us when they need us. They all want to be in our bed, but they don't want to marry us," Mr. Duceppe said.

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In his opening campaign speech, Mr. Duceppe also stuck to the theme of Quebec's alienation from Canada. He said Quebec's aspirations - whether economic, financial or cultural - are met with indifference in the rest of Canada.

"Canada's closed mind toward Quebec has been amplified under the Conservatives," he said.

The Bloc campaign got off to a leisurely start, with the official Day 1 itinerary wrapping up in time for lunch.

Mr. Duceppe started with breakfast and his first campaign news conference in Old Montreal at the Hotel Nelligan, a charming stone inn converted from three 19th century warehouses.

One major event is planned for Sunday. Mr. Duceppe is expected to drop in on the nomination of candidate Marie-France Charbonneau in a riding in the suburbs north of Montreal. The Marc-Aurèle-Fortin riding was vacated by the retirement of Serge Ménard, one of Mr. Duceppe's more effective MPs.

Mr. Duceppe is expected to spend the first days of the campaign in the Montreal area, where he will attempt to consolidate the hold of a handful of Bloc MPs who won with narrow margins in the 2008 election.

The Bloc won 49 of Quebec's 75 seats in the last election in 2008.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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