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Robert Silver

Blowing up landmines before the war Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff ruled out a post-election coalition or accord today in the clearest language imaginable. Conservative partisans and bloggers will try to keep this issue alive for the next eight weeks or however long we have until Election 2009. Reasonable people and the Liberal Leader (which are of course not mutually exclusive in any way) will move on to other issues that matter to voters.

The Liberals had three options in terms of how to deal with future coalitions:

1. Rule it out explicitly;

2. Rule it in explicitly ("It is a legitimate part of our democratic system and we will consider all options after the election..."); or

3. Have a muddled message/don't address it directly/have caucus contradict the leader at every turn because of the muddled or non-existent message/have the media ask about those contradictions at every campaign stop/allow Stephen Harper to define the Liberal position for you.

Option 2 would have been clear but I would argue would have been untenable politically post-December 2008 (at least outside of Quebec).

Option 3 would have ended up being a far less clear, far more damaging version of Option 2 thanks to Harper and would have stuck around like a bad pimple for the entire campaign blocking out any and all other messages the Liberals tried to put out.

Thus the option Ignatieff chose, while not perfect (since it does play into Harper's hands, to a certain extent) was the only real option available to him. Substantively, voters have a right to know the leader's position on what form of government they would consider participating in and thus this is not only a tactical issue (the partisan in me should take a shot at Harper for his previous coalition musings when he was in opposition). Tactically, he needed to express this position unambiguously and prior to the writ being dropped. He did both today and thus can now focus the narrative on stronger Liberal ground and away from where Harper wants to drive it.

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