Below is an Evan Solomon interview with then-Opposition Leader Stephen Harper on the role of the opposition in Parliament from 2004.
It confirms negotiations were underway at the time with both the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to form a new Harper-led government if the Liberals could not sustain confidence.
I've removed the middle section that focuses more on the policy debates of the time. If you want to check for anything relevant in that section, the entire interview is here.
There are lots of positions here that are in opposition to the Prime Minister's current stance, from the "if the government wants to govern, it has to come to Parliament and it has to show that it can get the support of the majority of members" to "if you want to be a government in a minority Parliament, you have to work with other people."
But the real news is Harper's confirmation that -- while he would not allow other parties to have Ministers in his government -- he was open to working with the other two parties to form an alternative government in a move remarkably close to what he is today calling a "separatist coalition."
Throughout the interview, Harper notes the difference between a coalition government -- meaning a Ministry composed of Ministers from different parties -- and relying on other parties to sustain it on matters of confidence.
And more to the point, Mr. Harper is frank about his on-going discussions with Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe about forming a new administration to "make Parliament work" if the Liberals are unable to get the confidence of the House.
Harper admits: "I've consulted pretty regularly with Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton to get a sense of what they're looking for - it's up to the government to do the same thing."
"I can tell you that our party and I'm sure Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton from our conversations want Parliament to work - it's in the interests of the Opposition for this Parliament to go on for a while and be effective. It is only the government that wants to end this state of affairs and go to have another election," Harper adds.
Later in the interview, Harper states that he has no plan to form a new government if the Liberals fall, which Solomon finds unbelievable and challenges Harper:
"You're telling me you don't have a plan B in the event this government falls to a confidence vote - you haven't talked to other parties - Layton, Duceppe, anybody - about forming a government?"
Harper: "I'm telling you that I've always my responsibility is to be prepared to form a government so we're always working at that."
So Harper has admitted "we" are working on an alterative government formation.
Solomon: With who?
Harper: "Well I've said I would not form a coalition under any circumstances - I said that in the election campaign, nothing changes. I expect we're going to put forward our program for the country, how we would make the House of Commons work. I know that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton don't want an election, I think the Liberals may have a different view. We'll just see. We'll do whatever's necessary..."
So it is an alternative government composed of solely Conservative members. But -- since the NDP alone would not have the votes to sustain such an administration -- it must involve Duceppe, and Harper notes that Duceppe and Layton don't want an election either.
Later in the interview, Harper says coalition with the Bloc Québécois is out, not because he is morally indignant at the possibility. It is because the Bloc has stated they will not form a coalition with anyone where BQ members sit in the Ministry. Harper seems entirely open to working with the BQ; only that both sides agree that BQ members would not be Ministers in a Harper-led government.
Harper: "I've said we wouldn't, we're not looking to form a coalition, the Bloc Québécois has been very consistent that they're not going to form a coalition with anybody, so we wouldn't look to form a coalition - but the present government isn't in a coalition either."
Solomon then asks Harper directly if he would form a government if the Liberals fall.
Harper replies, "The current government believes it doesn't have to be in a coalition and I share that view. There's a lot of options in the House of Commons - what I expect the Liberals to do is try to seek different allies for different pieces of legislation."
Finally, Harper elaborates on his belief that the official opposition must oppose the government's agenda and be prepared to form an alternate government.
"There's going to be other parties, the third parties and that's usually where the government's going to have to seek its mandate to try to get a majority in the House of Commons and it's - that's really their primary responsibility. They've got to get these other parties supporting them regularly or they can't command the confidence of the House. And the same would be true for me if I had the most seats, I would have to find a way of governing."
So, the government's responsibility is to get the third parties (note that Mr. Harper uses the plural here, meaning both the NDP and the Bloc) supporting it regularly.
And Mr. Harper would do the same.
And the only other opposition party with enough votes to sustain Mr. Harper in his discussions with the Governor-General about forming a new government would be the Bloc Québécois.
Evan Solomon: Parliament opens on Monday, and in a sense you're the most powerful Opposition Leader in a generation and people want to know how you're going to use your power. So the fundamental question is: under what circumstances would you call a vote of non-confidence?
Stephen Harper: First of all, I can't forget my first responsibility - which is to be the Leader of the Opposition and that's to provide an alternative government. We've always said we'll support the government when they do things that we can accept, which you know the health accord... I supported the health accord, I called for the government to end the pay increase, they're going to do that, I'll support that, but in general my obligation is to provide an Opposition. It's the government's obligation to look really to the third parties to get the support to govern.
Solomon: But providing an Opposition in this case is very different from what Canadians have understood because your opposition could bring the government down. Are there trigger points that would bring the government down?
Harper: Well there are lots of things that could bring the government down, but my opposition can not bring the government down. The government can only be brought down because it alienates several parties in the House. And the first obligation in this Parliament, if the government wants to govern, it has to come to Parliament and it has to show that it can get the support of the majority of members, through the Throne Speech, through legislation, and through budget and supply, and the government to this point has made no effort to do that, but that's its first obligation.
Solomon: But you are a key player at that, let's not make any mistake - courting Stephen Harper is very important if it wants to stay in power, no?
Harper: We'll support the government on issues if it's essential to the country but our primary responsibility is not to prop up the government, our responsibility is to provide an opposition and an alternative government for Parliament and for Canadians. What the government has to do, if it wants to govern for any length of time, is it must appeal primarily to the third parties in the House of Commons to get them to support it.
Solomon: Alright, Tuesday is the Speech from the Throne. You've gone on record saying you will oppose it, or at least make amendments to it. Now tradition is that the Leader of the Opposition often does that.
Harper: We can't find an instance of the Leader of the Opposition either almost always moving an amendment, but in any case opposing the Speech from the Throne, with or without an amendment.
Solomon: But it's always been a formality because of a majority...
Harper: Same thing's true in minority parliaments. The Leader of the Opposition's constitutional obligation - the obligation to Parliament - it's the reason we did the merger! - is to make sure Canadians have an alternative for government.
Solomon: But when does an amendment, if you pass an amendment, when does it function as a de facto confidence vote?
Harper: Well that's a matter of some debate - but I think the short answer is when the government won't accept it. And what I've been trying to do in the last.. over the summertime, is talk to the other parties and think about what would be agreeable to a lot of people. I don't think - we're just not going to go in and say 'take our amendment or leave it,' because we know such a thing would be rejected anyway.
Solomon: So what amendments do you have?
Harper: We're doing what governments should do, which is examine the Throne Speech - if I were Prime Minister, what I would have done is I would have talked to all three other parties extensively to find out what would pass in the Throne Speech, and what might not pass, and what they would like to see. The government has not done such an exercise, at least not to my knowledge.
Solomon: So do you know what's in the Throne…
Harper: I don't know what's in the Throne Speech. I only know in the vaguest terms - we were told on, a couple of days ago after the Throne Speech had been printed, we were told generally what was in it. The general description was that it was the Liberal Party platform from the election.
Solomon: So what amendments... are you proposing?
Harper: Well, I'll look at the specifics. You can be sure whatever amendments we propose will be consistent with what we believe and are not in the Throne Speech.
Solomon: But I'm just trying because this is important a detail - are some amendments deal breakers? In other words, if you propose an amendment and the Liberals reject it - does that mean we could have a confidence vote on the Throne Speech?
Harper: If the Liberals can't pass their Throne Speech, then they aren't able to form an effective government. But I think the Liberals have every opportunity to do that - what they've got to do is consult with people and make sure they tailor their program so that the majority of MPs in the House of Commons will actually vote for it.
Solomon: But you're saying they haven't consulted with you.
Harper: Well, they haven't consulted me, and I wouldn't expect them to extensively consult me, because I think they understand that it's not going to be the Official Opposition that props up the government, but my impression is they haven't done a lot of consultation with anybody. I've consulted pretty regularly with Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton to get a sense of what they're looking for - it's up to the government to do the same thing. If you want to be a government in a minority Parliament, you have to work with other people.
Solomon: Would you describe this government's position because of its lack of consultation as precarious?
Harper: I'd describe it more as arrogant. And I think the real problem that we're facing already is that the government doesn't accept that it got a minority. The Liberals think the natural state of affairs is a Liberal majority - they're not happy about this, they don't accept it and quite frankly, they're going to look for any opportunity to call an election. I can tell you that our party and I'm sure Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton from our conversations want Parliament to work - it's in the interests of the Opposition for this Parliament to go on for a while and be effective. It is only the government that wants to end this state of affairs and go to have another election.
Solomon: Are you suggesting that the Liberals are baiting you to call a confidence vote because they want another election and you don't want another election?
Harper: I think the government's strategy will be to have an election as soon as possible. Maybe not this fall, but I think the government wants an election.
Solomon: And you don't!
Harper: They can't stand having a minority. We accept that it's a minority - for all the other parties we've been in a kind of relatively powerless position for a long time. I think we're looking forward to the opportunity of having some influence for the next few years. And I'm happy to do that and continue to take the time to build and organize my party which, as you know, is relatively new. I think it's only the government that just can't stand this situation and wants out of it.
Solomon: Last bit of business here - Parliament gets back in session, you're the Leader of the Opposition - is there any trigger issue in the first week that we could see the Conservatives bring a confidence vote to this government?
Harper: Well we're going to put an amendment to the Throne Speech that's almost inevitable because as I say the chances of the government producing a Throne Speech that's exactly the speech we want are pretty low and it's the obligation of the Opposition to show its alternative.
Solomon: Could that be a confidence vote?
Harper: Yeah sure it could, absolutely...
Solomon: It could...
Harper: ... But it will ultimately depend how the other parties vote including how the Liberals vote. The Liberals always have the option of endorsing something that we put forward.
Solomon: You met with the Governor-General
Harper: Yes I did
Solomon: You haven't commented much about that meeting...
Harper: By law I'm not allowed to, I'm a privy councilor, all my discussions with the Crown are supposed to be of the highest confidence until the day I die - I can't even tell my wife!
Solomon: Okay well let's skirt around the issue a little bit - are you preparing, do you have a plan in the event the government falls to form a government instead of calling an election?
Harper: No such plan. Our plan is always to be ready to be an alternative government. But my assumption is the Liberals will make the compromises necessary to be a government in this Parliament.
Solomon: Now I've known you for a while, chance favors the prepared mind, no one would accuse you of not being a prepared mind. You're telling me you don't have a plan B in the event this government falls to a confidence vote - you haven't talked to other parties - Layton, Duceppe, anybody - about forming a government?
Harper: I'm telling you that I've always my responsibility is to be prepared to form a government so we're always working at that.
Solomon: With who?
Harper: Well I've said I would not form a coalition under any circumstances - I said that in the election campaign, nothing changes. I expect we're going to put forward our program for the country, how we would make the House of Commons work. I know that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton don't want an election, I think the Liberals may have a different view. We'll just see. We'll do whatever's necessary but I think we're going to be the official Opposition in this Parliament, I think that's how things will work.
Solomon: I just want to clarify something - you won't work with other parties
Harper: No I said we will work with other parties..
Solomon: You will, but you won't form a coalition -
Solomon: You won't form a coalition, therefore in the event this government falls we cannot expect you to turn to another party and try to form a government, in other words it will be an election?
Harper: Well you're getting into a lot of hypotheticals...
Solomon: That's what this is all about!
Harper: I've said we wouldn't, we're not looking to form a coalition, the Bloc Québécois has been very consistent that they're not going to form a coalition with anybody, so we wouldn't look to form a coalition - but the present government isn't in a coalition either.
Solomon: So why did you write that letter to the Governor-General with Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton saying in the event of a confidence vote situation do not call a snap election - are we to assume that therefore you're working to form a coalition?
Harper: There seems to be an attitude in the Liberal government - that they can go in, be deliberately defeated and call an election - that's not how our constitutional system works. The government has a minority - it has an obligation to demonstrate to Canadians that it can govern. That it can form a majority in the House of Commons. If it can't form a majority, we look at other options, we don't just concede to the government's request to make it dysfunctional. I know for a fact that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton and the people who work for them want this Parliament to work and I know if is in all of our interests to work. The government has got to face the fact it has a minority, it has to work with other people.
Solomon: Other options meaning that you would have to govern though - don't you have to be in a coalition de facto - isn't that the implication?
Harper: The current government believes it doesn't have to be in a coalition and I share that view. There's a lot of options in the House of Commons - what I expect the Liberals to do is try to seek different allies for different pieces of legislation.
Solomon: This is a fascinating...
Harper: That's what I think they'll do but they're going to have to make some compromises to do that...
Solomon: This is fascinating because usually we think of the Leader of the Opposition in a minority government as trying to bring the government down - you're saying they want to bring themselves down and they want to continue the status quo! Which is a kind of ...
Harper: Canadians want the Parliament to work - but look we're not going to roll over to agree with the government just so they can stay in office. But as I say we've been away from minority government's for so long we've forgotten how they work. The government is still the government. The official Opposition is still the Official Opposition. And these two parties are still going to battle for govenrment in the next election. And that's how the system works. There's going to be other parties, the third parties and that's usually where the government's going to have to seek its mandate to try to get a majority in the House of Commons and it's - that's really their primary responsibility. They've got to get these other parties supporting them regularly or they can't command the confidence of the House. And the same would be true for me if I had the most seats, I would have to find a way of governing.
Solomon: Is there a similarity between this government and the Joe Clark government?
Harper: We'll see. We'll see - time will tell - but there does seem to be an attitude that they can govern as if they have a majority. And as I've told you I think Joe Clark taught us I think that's the wrong attitude to have in a minority Parliament.
Solomon: They didn't consult...
Harper: It didn't work either.