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Lysiane Gagnon
Lysiane Gagnon

Lysiane Gagnon

Playing the coalition card is risky Add to ...

By raising the spectre of the opposition coalition returning to back his call for a majority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making a risky bet.

On the one hand, it might be a shrewd strategy. Remember the huge wave of anger last year's short-lived Liberal-NDP coalition (propped up by the Bloc Québécois) raised throughout English Canada? A revival of the same threat will rally the militant base of the Conservative Party and mobilize many undecided voters who otherwise would have been tempted to stay home.

On the other hand, the strategy might backfire because it will be extremely divisive. It will pit Quebec - where the coalition was very popular - against the rest of Canada, and it might jeopardize the Tories' chances in the second-largest province. But maybe they are resigned to writing off Quebec? Conservative organizers are already contemplating the possible loss, at the hands of the Bloc, of as many as half of the 10 ridings they hung onto in last year's election.

In a recent fundraising speech in Sault Ste. Marie, that the Liberals released to the CBC, Mr. Harper denounced the idea of a coalition of Liberals and "socialists and separatists" overthrowing a minority Conservative government, adding that the election of a majority Conservative government was the only way to prevent such a scenario.

Is such a scenario unthinkable? Certainly not.

Last year, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was unsympathetic to the coalition - he was the last MP to sign the petition to the Governor-General, and he quickly distanced himself from the endeavour. But later he reopened the door to the idea by proclaiming: "A coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition."

Mr. Ignatieff might have had his own reasons to dislike the coalition. It would have comforted then-leader Stéphane Dion, suddenly transforming him into a prime minister and derailing Mr. Ignatieff's own leadership ambitions.

But today, who knows whether Mr. Ignatieff, frustrated by another minority Conservative government, wouldn't be more compliant to the pressure of the NDP, which certainly would push again for a coalition. If indeed such a coalition were to be resuscitated, the Governor-General might allow it to form a government in order to avoid a third election in two years.

Already, there are signs the Canadian left is ready to go down the same road. "Why did so many … object to a coalition last winter?" left-leaning commentator Rick Salutin wrote in these pages recently. "It was the very definition of making Parliament work in a minority situation. … A Liberal minority could well find enough common ground with the Bloc and the NDP to enact many things that most citizens would value."

The dream of a coalition is also quite alive in Quebec's nationalist and left-leaning circles. Many Quebeckers liked the idea of the Bloc being closer to the centre of power, where it would be positioned to extract more advantages for the province. These same voters thought Mr. Harper wanted to ostracize the Bloc, and they especially hated his way of characterizing the Bloc as a party of "separatists" - an illogical reaction since the Bloc's first mission is indeed to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada. (For years, the secessionists have used the softer and more pleasant word "sovereigntist," but both words have the same meaning.)

The other funny thing is that quite a few commentators are indignant that Mr. Harper, in his Sault Ste. Marie speech, referred to the NDP as a "socialist" party, as if this were an insult or a lie or the beginning of a witch hunt. Don't its own members proudly identify themselves as democratic socialists? Logic, please!

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