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Harper stirs separatist pot in quest for a majority

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper greets supporters at a rally in Yellowknife on April 18, 2011.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

National unity, once a peripheral issue in this election campaign, has now become a dominant theme for the Conservatives, with Stephen Harper invoking it as a principal reason why he needs a majority government.

At a campaign event here in the Northwest Territories on Monday, the Conservative Leader launched into a grim warning of the dangers of another minority Parliament with strong representation by the Bloc.

"Mr. Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois have now come out to say why they want to block a Conservative majority government," Mr. Harper told a small gathering of supporters. Preventing one "is their first step to moving to another Quebec referendum on breaking up the country."

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Mr. Harper was responding to comments by Mr. Duceppe on the weekend at a Parti Québécois conference that affirmed the leadership of Pauline Marois.

"We have only one task to accomplish," Mr. Duceppe told delegates. "Elect the maximum number of sovereigntists in Ottawa, and then we go to the next phase: electing a PQ government.

"A strong Bloc in Ottawa. A PQ in power in Quebec. And everything becomes possible."

Mr. Harper has argued that a minority government led by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff would increase spending, raise taxes, weaken the military and undermine the Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda.

Now he as added the national-unity argument to the mix.

"Mr. Duceppe's words make the choice extremely clear," he told reporters. "And they also underscore the foolishness of Mr. Ignatieff's and [NDP Leader Jack]Layton's views that they can somehow cobble together a government even if they lose an election."

Mr. Harper was referring to a by-no-means certain scenario in which the Conservatives win by far the most seats May 2, yet fail to obtain a majority, enabling the Liberals, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc, to bring down his government and replace it with a Liberal government under Mr. Ignatieff propped up by the other parties.

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That is only one, and not the most likely, of many possible outcomes in this election. But as long as the Liberals remain behind in the polls, and the Conservatives short of a majority, it survives as a possibility - one that Mr. Harper appears willing to devote virtually all of his national tour to addressing and opposing.

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