The C-word

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Eric Sorensen

No sooner had Stephen Harper insisted Michael Ignatieff will form an “illegitimate” coalition, than Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe revealed that Mr. Harper discussed a coalition back in 2004, when the three of them were in opposition. Suddenly, Mr. Harper is on the defensive about coalitions and his own behind the scenes maneuvers. Not exactly the best story line for the prime minister after day one of the election campaign.

But you can’t blame Harper for wanting to carpet bomb the very idea of a coalition. If there’s no threat of a coalition, then there’s little threat to Harper forming the next government, according to the polls.

But if the opposition parties were willing to band together to form a government, it would require Mr. Harper to win a majority to snuff it out. And a Harper majority is by no means a slam dunk.

So Harper’s fear is very real: he could win and still lose.

That’s why Harper made such a big fuss to smoke out Mr. Ignatieff. And it worked — Iggy was forced to kick off his campaign with this headline: No Coalition. (It also smacked down my first Tweet on the campaign.)

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But is that the end of it? OK, there won’t be a formal coalition — so no cabinet seat for Jack Layton I guess — but does that mean if Harper wins the most seats that Mr. Ignatieff rules out becoming Prime Minister BEFORE another election is held?

On the contrary, it seems to me. Yes, Ignatieff stated whoever wins the most seats “should be called on to form the next government.” But he went further — laying out what would happen if the Liberals were to finish first and the Conservatives second: “I will be required to rapidly seek the confidence of the newly-elected Parliament. If our government cannot win the support of the House, then Mr. Harper will be called on to form a government and face the same challenge. That is our constitution. It is the law of the land.”

It’s a straightforward description of the obligations of the leaders, but really, the Liberals aren’t likely to win. So let’s substitute the more realistic hypothetical — the Conservatives first and the Liberals second. Then Ignatieff’s statement comes out like this: “Mr. Harper will be required to rapidly seek the confidence of the newly-elected Parliament. If his government cannot win the support of the House, then I will be called upon to form a government…”

Say what? If Mr. Ignatieff had phrased it that way, it might have got more attention.

So, not a formal coalition, but Ignatieff has laid out clearly how the Conservatives – or some other fill-in-the-blank party – could finish second and still form a government without another election. That is our constitution. It is the law of the land.

You can see why Mr. Harper might lose sleep over it. According to Layton and Duceppe, he’s known for a long time how a minority prime minister could be sidelined by a majority opposition.

Eric is one of Global National’s Washington bureau chief, and spent years covering Canada’s political arena. Follow him on Twitter: @EricSorensenDC.

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