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Majority government or bust, Harper warns Conservative supporters

Stephen Harper has ramped up his election pitch for a majority government, warning in a Winnipeg speech there is no way he can hold power if he wins a minority of seats.

The Conservative Leader told a crowd of more than 800 Conservative partisans that he believes a coalition of parties led by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will seize power if the Tories win less than 155 seats in the Commons.

"Friends, don't be under any illusion. There won't be a Conservative minority government after this election," Mr. Harper said.

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"There's either going to be Mr. Ignatieff put in power by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois or there will be what Canada needs to keep this economy moving forward: a strong, stable national, majority Conservative government."

Mr. Harper has steadfastly ignored a March 26 pledge by the Liberals that they won't seek a coalition with the NDP – backed by the Bloc – as they tried in 2008.

The Conservative Leader's stump speech has taken on an increasingly dire tone as the first week of the campaign unfolds. He warns each crowd that Canada is an oasis of calm in a troubled world and cautions a "coalition" of rivals including the separatist Bloc would threaten this.

The only solution, he says, is a majority Conservative government, a goal Mr. Harper has sought in four election campaigns, beginning in 2004.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harper faced questions about a 1997 interview in which he discussed how parties in the Commons could form a "coalition" to oust Liberals as government even if that party won the "largest number of seats" in the House.

It appears to contradict the Conservative Leader's campaign message, in which he repeatedly disparages the idea of a minority government being replaced by a coalition of other parties that won less seats in an election.

The TV Ontario interview shows Mr. Harper predicting a day will come when the Liberals win the most seats in the Commons but do not have enough to form a majority government.

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"The way the Liberals are eventually going to lose office, whether it's in this election or the next one, is they're going to fail to win a majority," he says in the clip.

"That's where I think you're going to face some day a minority parliament with the Liberals maybe having the largest number of seats," he says.

"What will be the test is whether there's then any party in opposition that's able to form a coalition or working alliance with the others," the younger Mr. Harper tells a TV interviewer.

"I think we have a political system that's going to continue to have three or four different parties – or five different parties – and so I think parties that want to form government are going to eventually have to learn to work together."

Mr. Harper, speaking to reporters at a campaign stop in Regina Tuesday, played down these past comments.

Conservative officials said the TV Ontario interview in 1997 was after Mr. Harper temporarily quit federal politics and was head of the National Citizens Coalition, a right-wing lobby group. The Calgary politician resigned his Commons seat in January, 1997, and returned in 2002 as leader of the Canadian Alliance.

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The Tory Leader told reporters covering his campaign that he was only talking about bringing together conservative-minded parties in the Commons.

Throughout the 1990s Canada's political right was divided between two parties: the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party, which later transformed into the Canadian Alliance.

"This clip was a clip of me discussing uniting the right," Mr. Harper told reporters Tuesday.

"I don't think it was any secret we were trying to bring together the Progressive Conservatives, the Reform Alliance and the Democratic Representatives. We were very clear we were looking for mechanisms to bring us together – and we did create a merger as you know."

He stressed: "I have never attempted to take office without winning an election. The other guys did."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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