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For Canadians, Brian Mulroney's appearance before the commission looking into his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber was a teachable moment. For six days, viewers saw him slip and slide and do his best to avoid answering difficult questions. In politics, that kind of slipperiness is a survival skill - the public be damned. And Mr. Mulroney was and is a master at it.

Based on weekend news reports, here are the questions I'd like to see our current crop of political leaders pinned down on.

1. Prime Minister Stephen Harper

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Mr. Harper: Is it not true that - protests to the contrary notwithstanding - you actually would prefer an election now over cooperating with the opposition?

Why he should be asked this question:

Harper, according to some of his advisers, believes Layton is now angling to do the same thing to him that Layton did to Martin: extract concessions to advance the NDP agenda, then withdraw that support and campaign on the party's achievements in advancing that agenda.

"Harper will be damned before he lets Layton do that," said a former member of the prime minister's communications staff, speaking on condition he not be identified.

2. Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff

Mr. Ignatieff: If the Conservatives win the most seats in the election, will you rule out trying to take power through an arrangement with one or more opposition parties?

Why he should be asked this question:

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"Let me be very clear - the Liberal party would not agree to a coalition. In January we did not support a coalition and we do not support a coalition today or tomorrow," Ignatieff said yesterday.

… However, when asked whether he excluded a coalition with the opposition parties if the result of an election were another Conservative minority, Ignatieff called it a hypothetical question he didn't "like."

3. NDP Leader Jack Layton

Mr. Layton: If the Conservatives win the most seats in the election, will you rule out helping the Liberals take power? And would you rule out helping the Conservatives take power if the Liberals win the most seats?

Why he should be asked this question:

NDP Leader Jack Layton has helped to keep the issue alive by refusing to rule out participating in an Ignatieff-led coalition.

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"We have shown a willingness to work with any party in the House to get things done for Canadians," he said during an interview with Canwest News Service and Global National.

4. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe

Mr. Duceppe: If the Conservatives win the most seats in the election, will you rule out helping the Liberals take power?

Why he should be asked this question:

"[Bloc House leader Pierre Paquette]added that the Bloc Québécois would not rule out supporting a coalition government formed by the Liberals and NDP if it offered the same favourable policies to Quebec as last December."


Update I see that Jack Layton says that an election is not inevitable.

Over to you, Mr. Harper - for an answer to the question set out above.


Another update Asked last night by La Presse about reports that the Harper government will table a confidence motion this coming Friday, Jack Layton's press secretary, Karl Belanger, replies:

"Right now, this is just speculation based on anonymous sources.… While the Conservatives seem to be bloody-minded about having an election, we still hope that Stephen Harper will choose to work with the opposition parties in order to help people during this economic crisis."


A third update You will find here a draft of the remarks Jack Layton will make to his caucus tomorrow. And here's what the NDP leader had to say on CTV's Question Period today.

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