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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail (Brian Gable)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail (Brian Gable)

Brian Topp

Coalition redux: Lessons learned Add to ...

This is the conclusion of a six-part series discussing last year's attempt by the New Democrats and Liberals to combine around a new and better federal government. If you haven't already, you can also peruse parts one, two, three, four and five.

I conducted an interesting experiment a couple of weeks ago.

"What," I asked, "would happen if you submitted a 60,000-word blog post to the globeandmail.com?"

I can report that when you do this, the patient editors of this site (almost unique for its diversity and openness to different views) are cheerful, generous, encouraging, and gentle in pointing out the natural limits of this particular medium.

So if you dote on detail and might like to read more about how we came reasonably close to pole-axing and replacing Stephen Harper's minority government last year, watch for it early next spring in the Internet 0.1 format (Low editability. High portability. Good power-outage resistance. "Ink" on "paper." Between "covers." Who knew?).

To wrap up for now, let me offer you the following.

• A caveat.

• A comment on Chantal Hébert's column on the series so far in the Toronto Star.

• A few words on lessons learned for our parliamentary system.

• And a few words on the opportunity Canada missed because we did not succeed in this endeavour - the fundamental reasons that I still very much regret that it was an idea slightly before its time.

- - - - -

First, a caveat: I should have found a place earlier on to say that I haven't tried to offer a history here of these events even from the perspective of the New Democrats. A complete history is work for a professional historian (I promise to buy your book). The guy in the middle of everything was our leader, Jack Layton. He's a great writer and will have much more light to shed on all of this from our perspective in his memoirs, many years from now. As may, if they choose to do so, the other players from other parties. I'm describing (on the first anniversary of these events, and as a small first effort to not let our opponents have the last word on it) a bit of what I saw within the scope of my limited role, within the tight limits of a blog.

I plead guilty to the charge, levelled by several gentle readers, of bias. Partisans are "partisan." I'm one of those. That said, I think any fair reading of these events suggests that all of the players in it - the New Democrats, the various loosely-attached Liberal factions and grouposcules, the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois - played out their hands fundamentally honourably and over a great public issue. It is a shame that doesn't happen more often in Ottawa, and is worth reporting on when it does.

Speaking of the Bloc, a few words in reply to Chantal Hébert: In her column in the Toronto Star on Friday, Ms. Hébert argues that the biggest mistake we made in these events was not the prominent role of the Bloc Québécois, but the decision to retain Stéphane Dion as putative prime minister.

That is a fair argument. It is certainly true that the Bloc Québécois were in no way malevolent or intentionally unhelpful. On the contrary, they were being quite constructive in these events, as they often are in Parliament when the cameras are off or their sovereigntist agenda is moribund and unengaged. There are some excellent Parliamentarians in the Bloc Québécois. They were trying to work with us and the Liberals in good faith to give Canada (including Quebec) a better government.

But I continue to hold that we should have handled the optics of their parliamentary support more carefully, a point that Gilles Duceppe himself had on his mind on the day of the three-leader coalition press conference. He should have been listened to. By not doing so, we provided Mr. Harper and his government with the sword they needed to win the short-term argument in English Canada.

As for Mr. Dion, I'll have more to say about him in another place. The key political point is that we didn't have the luxury of more aggressively shopping in the Liberal Party for a better prime ministerial candidate, since Michael Ignatieff and his team were so clearly of a mind to be more than unhelpful to this work.

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